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Gay NWI soldier re-enlists after repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell

Art Martinez Jr. Highl(right) along with Sgt. Magen Fassoth (cq) recruiter Spc. Pedro Torres (center) smiles after being sworn as

Art Martinez, Jr. of Highland (right), along with Sgt. Magen Fassoth (cq) and recruiter Spc. Pedro Torres (center), smiles after being sworn in as he re-enlists in the Indiana National Guard at the armory in Gary, Ind. Tuesday November 22, 2011. Martinez is the first gay soldier from Northwest Indiana to re-enlist in the Indiana National Guard after the Don't Ask Don't Tell (DADT) policy ended. | Stephanie Dowell~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: December 28, 2011 9:52AM

Art Martinez Jr. told everyone that the day he was sworn back into the National Guard, he would likely cry like a baby.

Instead, the 48-year-old Highland, Ind. man instead stood stoically as Capt. Derek Sutton of the Indiana National Guard gave him the oath that will allow Martinez to serve the country once again.

He was tired from nerves that kept him up until the early morning and stunned he was around to see the day that “don’t ask, don’t tell” would be repealed.

Martinez, the first gay man from Northwest Indiana — and, as far as officers here are aware, the first gay man in the state — to re-enlist in the National Guard is used to waiting, both as a soldier and a man who was given an honorable discharge directly because of his sexuality.

“I never thought I would see ‘DADT’ repealed, at least in my lifetime,” a reserved but elated Martinez said after his swearing in last week. “I’ve been wanting this since the day I was discharged.”

A former Marine, Martinez enlisted in the National Guard in 2007 because he missed serving his country. Like many Guardsmen, he’d been deployed to Iraq with his infantry unit, and though he might not have broadcast his sexuality, he never went out of his way to hide it.

And never once did he have a problem with any of his comrades.

“I had soldiers tell me all the time that they had a gay friend or relative, so I think it’s more a generational thing, and it’s not such a taboo anymore,” Martinez said. “I do remember having to answer the question: ‘Have you ever had a homosexual experience before?’ when I enlisted in the Marines, though” in 1981.

The problem came in 2010, when Martinez decided he’d had enough of skirting around the issue. In January, he came out to his commanding officers, By February, they had removed him from participating in weekend activities.

By June, he’d received his papers: Discharged for homosexuality.

So Martinez started to watch. He pored over the Internet, newspapers and TV, waiting to hear if President Obama was going to make good on his promise to repeal the policy. When it finally happened Sept. 20, he called Sgt. Magen Fassoth to get the ball rolling.

The question for Martinez never was whether he would re-enlist; it was how fast he could. And the waiting — all the paperwork has taken almost two months to process — was just like he remembered.

Sfc. Pedro Torres, lead recruiter for the Guard in Northwest Indiana, also remembered having to answer the homosexuality question when he enlisted. And, like Martinez, he’d never seen any soldier not want to serve with a gay man.

“There is 1 percent of the American population that serves, so I respect that no matter who you are,” Torres said. “If you can pass the medical, moral and mental tests, (a person’s) sexuality is not important to me.”

Renee Heldt, of Hammond, brought her son, Collin Wilson, to see Martinez and his dream come true. Heldt, who’s Martinez’s boss at UPS, came because he has no family here, but for Wilson, 18, it meant a lot to see history being made.

“I think it’s a great step toward gay rights,” he said.

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