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After ‘Don't Ask, Don't Tell,’ Reclaiming His Place in the Air Force

“There were many times when I thought this would never happen,” says discharged staff sergeant

Four years after he was discharged under “don’t ask, don’t tell,” Anthony Loverde is poised to be reinstated in the United States Air Force.

Loverde, 33, a photography student at San Francisco’s Academy of Art University, is to be inducted at the United States Military Entrance Processing Station in Sacramento on May 23.

“There were many times when I thought this would never happen,” said Loverde, who will rejoin the military at his old rank, staff sergeant, with the same military specialty, loadmaster on C-130 aircraft. “I’d like to believe it’s going to be like riding a bicycle, but I’ve got a lot of catch-up work to do.”

According to the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, an advocacy group, Loverde will be the second person reinstated (with the same rank, pay and job that he held when he deployed to Iraq) since the policy was repealed last September.

His reinstatement comes as part of the settlement of a lawsuit filed by the service members network in Federal District Court in San Francisco. The suit, which was filed before gays and lesbians were allowed to serve openly, sought the reinstatement of Loverde and two other veterans who were discharged under “don’t ask, don’t tell.” It also sought to have the policy declared unconstitutional.

Other former service members discharged under the policy have rejoined the military under the Pentagon’s regular accession policy, but they are not typically assigned to their former job, at their old rank.

Pentagon policy does not require that individuals discharged under “don’t ask, don’t tell” be allowed to rejoin the military, said Eileen Lainez, a spokeswoman for the Department of Defense. Such veterans are “evaluated according to the same criteria and service requirements applicable to all prior service members seeking re-entry to the military at that time,” she said.

Lainez said the military did not know how many of the 14,000 people discharged under the policy had re-entered the military. “We don’t ask about sexual orientation, nor do we track,” she said.

David McKean, the service member network’s legal director, said Pentagon requirements have disqualified many of the people discharged under “don’t ask, don’t tell” from rejoining the military. Many are now too old to be accepted back, he said. Others have become overweight or have seen the duties of their military specialty change over time. Also, with the Iraq and Afghanistan wars winding down, the military is planning to retract and will be hiring fewer service members.

For Loverde, the road back has been challenging but rewarding. When he first visited a recruiter in September, he was 20 pounds overweight.

“I started running at least two miles a day and cut out everything I love to eat: my wine, my cheese. No more pizza, no more pasta,” he said. When he returned to the recruiter earlier this month, his weight was down to 165 pounds.

“I’m excited,” he said. “I’m ready for this to happen.”

This article also appears in the Bay Area edition of The New York Times.

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