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 Robert Stout
President, BRAVER
Buckeye Region American Veterans For Equal Rights

an ordinary hero

by Denny Meyer

Sgt Robert Stout has a lot of integrity under his belt, along with some shrapnel, for a young man of 26.  He will live the rest of his life with the evolving result of having been injured by shrapnel from an RPG while on duty in Iraq, from being awarded a Purple Heart for that wound, and for having had the youthful idealism of personal integrity to come Out nationally while on active duty in the US Army.  He's had his fifteen minutes of fame, somewhat to his chagrin.  Now, he is dedicated to advocating the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell so that other American patriots, like himself, may serve our nation openly without discrimination.  He is leading a heartland chapter of American Veterans For Equal Right (AVER) in Columbus, Ohio.

Robert Stout grew up on a two-hundred-acre farm along an unpaved road in rural Utica, Ohio, which his family has owned since before Ohio became a state in 1803.  In this small American town in Licking County, population 6,000, everyone knew everyone else; his grandparents lived next door on the family farm; his teachers went to school with his parents; and even the cats, dogs, and pigs on the farm all knew each other on a first name basis.  He played clarinet in his high school band, marching down Main Street with siblings, cousins, and his Jack Russell Terrier running alongside, on balmy autumn evenings when the air was heavy with the sweet scent of new mown hay.  Robert could not wait to escape this Heartland paradise as fast as he could, as soon as he graduated from high school, by joining the Army.  And yet, after years at war, having served in Kosovo and nearly being blown to bits in Iraq, having led troops on patrol, and having attained national fame by telling the world that he is gay, he could not wait to go back home to his hearth in Licking County, Ohio.  It takes a special kind of courage to do all that he has done, particularly going back to rural America to take up the banner for our rights.

Robert's reasons for joining the Army had a lot to do with pride and tradition.  His brother and father had served and he sincerely wanted to do his part to serve his country.  He is proud to be an American and an Ohioan.  "Ohio led the nation in civil rights and integration of schools; it was the manufacturing base of America, and was the home of more presidents than any other state after Virginia, he told me.

"Did you know you were gay when you joined?" I asked.  He did.

"What were you thinking?" I wanted to know.  In '00 when he signed up, the DADT policy was read to him, he told me.  As he saw it, where he came from he was in the closet anyway.  "I can handle that," He thought. "I'll see the world, get job training and experience to last a lifetime!"  He put being gay aside in his mind, and signed the paper.  Indeed, as many have before him, he had experiences that would last a lifetime.

He was trained as a Combat Engineer, planting and removing mines, laying and removing concertina barbed wire, and learned to drive an armored personnel carrier.  He had his integrity from the start; beginning at his first duty station, he let peers know that he was gay; no one cared.  And yet, the foul breath of bigotry blew from above, where officers were heard referring to subordinates as "faggots."  Considering such unsophisticated command, the reason this young leader was not permitted to reenlist becomes clear.

In Kosovo, Stout was a night-shift RTO (radio telephone operator) a position of vital responsibility coordinating patrol and other units to prevent friendly fire, and acting as the calm conduit between command and field units when situations arise.

As preparations for OIF began, he was selected to accompany and assist flag officers, from his 1st Infantry Div. base in Germany, to Turkey.  

In the winter of '04 he was stop-lossed.  In March of 2004, on his 22nd birthday, he was changing the transmission on a Humvee in the desert in Kuwait, preparing to drive north to Baghdad.  Shortly thereafter he was among explosives engineers assigned to an airborne Calvary squadron of Apache helicopters at a forward operating base between Ballad and Tikrit where he lived in a leaky tent for four months, under constant mortar fire.  Their mission, as trained explosives handlers, was to precede convoys, and identify and explode IEDs.

On the evening of May 11, 2004, his unit got a routine call; a truck had been spotted out in a field near the base and it needed to be checked to see if it was holding ordinance.  They headed out, checked the truck, and found it had simply been abandoned.  Heading back, at 11 PM, Stout was the gunner with a .50 caliber machine gun atop a Humvee, which was the last vehicle in their convoy.  Wearing night-vision goggles, as they passed through a small town on a farmers road, he scanned a mud brick wall and houses, swinging the gun back and forth.  Suddenly there was a loud boom, his goggles went green with light and he was briefly 
blinded, and he was covered in blood.  He dropped down into the vehicle, "We've been hit, we've been hit!" The squad leader was shouting into the radio.  Soldiers ran back from the other vehicles, ready for ambush, and began pulling Stout and the others from the Humvee.  An RPG had ht the rear quarter panel by the door; the vehicle had absorbed a lot of the explosion, but Robert Stout got shrapnel in his left arm, legs, and face, more than 20 pieces of hot metal had pierced his body.  Some remain to this day.

He was rushed to the base aid station, bandaged and drugged, and then medevaced to the Army hospital in Balad.  All five in his vehicle were injured, the worst was his squad leader who had taken shrapnel in his eye.

Robert had gotten the most shrapnel and was shipped to Germany for a month to recover.  He was put up for promotion.  By June of '04 he was back in Iraq, again a gunner atop a Humvee.  In August he was promoted to Corporal and became a team leader.  Within months he was a Sergeant, in charge of convoys doing munitions sweeps along the Tigris River.

By now, you should be wondering what relevance his being gay could possibly have on his ability and courage to serve his country and lead troops in combat.

In March of 2005, while he was back in Germany ready to reenlist, he got word through friends that organizers were seeking an active duty Purple Heart recipient who was willing to come out publicly in order to advocate the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell.  Believing in honesty and integrity above all else, and encouraged by his heterosexual peers in his unit who knew and respected his leadership, he volunteered.

Hearing Sgt. Stout tell me this gave me a creepy feeling, setting off a memory echo from long ago.  Over thirty years earlier in 1974, my friend, Air Force SSG Leonard Matlovich had heard a similar request.  A Vietnam War hero with 18 years' service, a Purple Heart and Bronze Star, Matlovich didn't hesitate; he volunteered, announced that he was gay and was promptly dishonorably discharged.  His case, the first of many to follow, took ten years to prove a point, that there is no reason why gay people cannot serve honorably.  Why is it still necessary, three decades later, for heroic young men such as Sgt. Stout, to have to fall on their swords and sacrifice their careers in the ongoing battle against bigotry?  How many honest heroes will it take for our nation to feel shame for dishonoring its most courageous sons?

After the news story hit the papers, there was quite a hullabaloo radiating down from the Pentagon to his unit command.  Here was a hero who wanted to reenlist, who happened to be openly gay.  Oy vey, what to do?  As often as this has occurred it was getting embarrassing for our government. His commander didn't really want to discharge him; Sgt. Stout had brought back his entire unit in one piece. Still, rules are rules.  He was not permitted to reenlist.  In due course, he was handed his honorable discharge and he joined the ranks of highly qualified leaders whom our armed forces have rejected and ejected.  Over 12,000 have been discharged due to homosexuality in the 15 years of the DADT policy.  Additionally, each year 4000 (a full brigade) senior NCOs simply do not reenlist, finding it unbearable to go on serving in silence.

Robert Stout returned to Ohio, not quite to a heroes welcome, to spend some time in solitude to remember those he served with who did not return; to his family and friends.

"Why did you go back there?" I asked.

"Home is the only place I know." He said, "I wanted to go back to someplace familiar," after all the shooting and explosions and war.  Robert Stout grew up on a farm; despite everything, he's a humble quiet person.

Now Sgt. Stout is rebuilding BRAVER, the Buckeye Region American Veterans For Equal Rights chapter in Columbus, Ohio.  Founded by another courageous disabled vet, Todd Shinkle, the chapter became inactive after his death.

According to Sgt. Stout, "Returning home to Ohio was one of hardest things I have ever had to face.  My native Ohio had ceased to become home to me."  While Sgt. Stout was training for his deployment to Iraq in November of 2004, Ohio passed one of the broadest bans on same-sex marriage in the nation.  Even though he knew the climate of Ohio had changed, Sgt. Stout returned home.  "I knew I was not going to be welcomed, I understood that I was now stripped of the rights I was sworn to protect, but it was my home," Sgt. Stout said.  Even after moving to Columbus, Ohio, with his partner and facing years of unemployment, hostility, and harassment, Sgt. Stout never considered abandoning his state.

Soon after returning, Sgt. Stout did find a place where he was welcomed. BRAVER, the local chapter of American Veterans For Equal Rights, had been working since 2003 to provide support for veterans like him.  In the spring of 2008, Sgt. Stout saw the need for BRAVER to return after it had become inactive for several years.  He  remembered the camaraderie and assistance that he was given when returning
home.  With more Veterans leaving the service and coming home to face challenges that were never anticipated, the need for an organization not only to honor our veterans' service but to provide for them was overwhelming.  As the only Veteran Service Organization in Columbus and Central Ohio for
the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgendered (GLBT) community, BRAVER is working to give a voice to the over 6,000 estimated GLBT Veterans of Central Ohio.

Remembering the trials that he faced and that continue to plague him, Sgt. Stout in Columbus has given new light to BRAVER.  Working to provide social support, access to benefits and even simple employment are key elements to its mission, BRAVER is now working to insure that all veterans are treated with the honor and dignity that their selfless service entitles them to, regardless of sexual orientation.  "The stigma placed on being a veteran at this time in our history is hard enough to deal with.  When you add on the bigotry you are forced to face for being LGBT, it becomes overwhelming at times.  I never thought I would have to deal with these problems coming out of both the closest and the military and I am thankful that BRAVER was there to help me through it.  And now it is my turn to help  other veterans in need," he said.

Robert Stout has been awarded the following
medals and ribbons for his service:

Purple Heart
Army Achievement Medal (3rd Award)
Army Commendation Medal (2nd Award)
Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal
Global War on Terrorism Service Medal
Kosovo Campaign Medal (with Bronze Star)
Iraq Campaign Medal
Army Service Ribbon
Overseas Service Ribbon
NATO Medal (Kosovo)
Army Good Conduct Medal
National Defense Service Meda
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  2008  Gay Military Signal