Deaf Man At War With Army Policy

Keith Nolan deaf ArmySince learning about his grandfather and great-uncle's experiences fighting in World War II, Keith Nolan has wanted to follow in their footsteps. Unfortunately, Nolan was born deaf to deaf parents, and the U.S. Army requires all soldiers to pass a hearing test.

Now Nolan is touring college campuses, visiting deaf soldiers in Israel, and enlisting a congressman to his cause to change U.S. Army policy.

After he finished high school, Nolan visited a Navy recruitment center. When Nolan told the man he couldn't read his lips, the man handed Nolan a piece of paper: "Bad Ear Disqual."

So Nolan became a teacher, completing a Masters in Deaf Education. Last year, while teaching, he also audited classes at an Army Reserve Officers' Training Corps' program.

Nolan would show up to 5 a.m. exercises, even though his interpreter wasn't so easy to see before sunrise. He got perfect results in his military sciences class, and so impressed his superiors that they allowed him to wear the uniform, reports The Associated Press.

"He definitely was one of our top performers," said Capt. Sid Mendoza, a training supervisor in the program.

Mendoza learned to sign "motivation," since Nolan's interpreter used the word so much, in explaining to Nolan what his classmates were saying about him.

When May rolled around, however, those classmates graduated to become second lieutenants in the armed forces. Nolan handed in his uniform.

"I want to do my duty, serve my country, and experience that camaraderie," Nolan told AP, "and I can't, owed to the fact that I'm deaf."

While deafness may seem like a sensible disqualification from armed duty, Nolan points out that there are a number support positions that deaf individuals are completely capable of fulfilling, like computer technology, military dog training, and intelligence (where Nolan dreams of working).

To those who believe it would make communication too challenging, Nolan explained in a TED talk that deaf individuals have a number of means of relaying information, like voice, lip-reading, gesture, sign language, text and email.



"There's no magic wand necessary," he said. "It's the same thing we do every day."

There's also a double standard buried in the Army's policy; soldiers who suffer hearing loss while enlisted are allowed to continue their service.

One in four soldiers serving in Iraq or Afghanistan in 2008 had damaged hearing, USA Today reported the Army as saying.

Deaf individuals also are allowed to serve in non-combat positions in the Israeli armed forces. Nolan interviewed 10 of them last year when he visited them on the job.

Deaf soldiers are not totally unknown in American history, either. Nolan wrote a research paper on the history of deafness in the military, and found that deaf individuals fought in the Texas War of Independence, and on both sides in the Civil War, as well as in World War II.

Nolan had resigned himself to a civilian life as a teacher years ago. But it was his students who prompted him to turn his lifetime dream into a political campaign. After Nolan gave a lecture on the Mexican-American War, one of his deaf students approached him and said that he wanted to join the military.

"Sorry," Nolan told him. "You can't. You're deaf."

"It struck me that all along I'd been told no, you can't," Nolan said, "and now I was perpetuating that message to the next generation, my own student."

This moment spurred on Nolan's fight. The "Commission Cadet Nolan Now" Facebook page urges people to contact Rep. Henry A. Waxman, D-Calif, and pressure him to sponsor a bill allowing deaf people to enlist. The page currently has over 3,000 fans.

"A true American soldier," wrote one commenter.


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I J Abraham

Their are non-combat roles that deaf persons can occupy effectively. The Army should allow for that outcome. Other world armies do allow the deaf to serve. I stress "non-combat" roles.

There are technological ways to convert sound into visuals sensors. Deaf service-persons can wear a sound sensing device that can distinguish sounds and flash different colored lights. Research should be done on how to effectively integrate the deaf into our military.

Rep. Henry A. Waxman, (D-Calif) you may want to address this subject with your colleagues. Thank you.

What do you think?

March 28 2013 at 7:01 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
albert

Mr. Peter Myers, sir, can you read? What the article is saying is that this deaf man with a masters degree wishes to get a job serving his country without necessarily risking "life in the hands of someone who couldn't hear gunshots, and who could barely speak audibly. Urgent commands shouldn't have to be repeated, or written on paper. War isn't about being equal, or fair." Do not be a fool. There are many non combat military jobs. many hearing people are even unable to get an associate's degree. Why waste such a great talent? The army used to deny gay people using your very argument. Sooner or later instead of accepting foreigners into the army we should consider persons with disabilities since the military service is seen as a short cut to US Citizenship!

January 20 2012 at 5:22 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Peter Myers

I'm sorry, but I wouldn't put my life in the hands of someone who couldn't hear gunshots, and who could barely speak audibly. Urgent commands shouldn't have to be repeated, or written on paper. War isn't about being equal, or fair.

September 02 2011 at 3:43 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Peter Myers's comment
I J Abraham

Their are non-combat roles that deaf persons can occupy effectively. The Army should allow for that outcome. Other world armies do allow the deaf to serve. I stress "non-combat" roles. What do you think?

March 28 2013 at 6:44 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
billaz85374

My wife and I collectively served over 41 years on active duty in administrative positions from the pentagon down to battalion level. It might have been possible for the deaf to serve in administrative positions in the 70s or 80s but not the case now. Noone on active duty is allowed to have only one responsibility. Medical, adminstrative, finance and other support positions are secondary to an expectation that EVERY soldier is a combat soldie and is expected to train andd possibly serve outside of their primary field in a combat role. Many of these administrative and support positions have been civilianized also. It would be considered unfair to a deaf soldier's fellow soldiers if they were not required to face worldwide deployment andd aassigment outside of their career field as all others are.

September 02 2011 at 3:04 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Kyle Blackmer

Honestly, I know it bugs the deaf community, and deaf supporters. Both of my parents are deaf, and I was raised in both deaf and hearing cultures. I understand your frustration with the topic, honestly. But being in the Army, and being deployed, I can tell you from experience that being unable to hear is not acceptable from a military standpoint. People who stay in with a hearing loss are people who have only a partial hearing loss. It's one of those things that, unless you've served in the Armed Forces, you aren't going to understand. It's the same reason I don't get a pay bonus for knowing sign language.

September 02 2011 at 1:12 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
DTDoyle

You have got to be f**king kidding kidding me! Lets allow blind one legged guys on the line too. It wouldnt be PC to exclude anyone. A deaf guy, Ya sure. Hey buddy watch out for that sniper in the,......never mind.

US Army vet

September 02 2011 at 12:45 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Red Willow

My son played full contact football from age 5. Oh, he is deaf. So those who would say that a deaf person can not function adequately are wrong. My son was first string, all-state and always a top ranked player.

Additionally, those of you who think that the Cochlear implant is a viable solution should do a little more research. It causes permanent damage, it doesn't "restore sound". It is a very low quality solution which causes headaches and many have it removed.

September 02 2011 at 12:08 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to Red Willow's comment
DTDoyle

Lets see, a five year old playing football and armed combat, Ya those are both the same.

September 02 2011 at 12:48 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Kyle Blackmer

Both of my parents are deaf, though I am not. I also am currently deployed overseas with the Army in Afghanistan.
While I understand, and agree with your point that deaf people can function equally as well, the military is a different lifestyle. EVERY MOS has a need for verbal communication, and not being able to hear disqualifies recruits for a good reason. Support MOS's still make phone calls, give briefs, use radios, and require the ability to hear verbal commands. And being deployed means potential combat. If you're on the receiving end of bullets, not being able to hear will get you shot very quickly. I'd be more than happy to talk further on the subject. You can email me at Yrbkkyle@gmail.com

September 02 2011 at 1:00 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Kyle Blackmer's comment
I J Abraham

There are technological ways to convert sound into visuals sensors. Deaf service-persons can wear a sound sensing device that can distinguish sounds and flash different colored lights. Research should be done on how to effectively integrate the deaf into our military.

March 28 2013 at 6:57 AM Report abuse rate up rate down
demolitionjeff

Nobody has to risk their lives to warn him. Over the years our base has issued vibrating radios, beepers, and cell phones to people who are hard of hearing or who are in job locations where they cannot hear the sirens. The system is set up so that when the siren goes off the person's vibrating unit goes off too, they read or listen to the warning message, and nobody has to risk their life to go find them to tell them anything.

September 02 2011 at 10:39 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to demolitionjeff's comment
batsugan

And what happens in the event the electronics fail?

September 02 2011 at 1:25 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Todd Lally

He is unfit for military duty. I just got home from Afghanistan yesterday and you have to hear the sirens going off when the base is under attack. Otherwise, other soldiers have to risk their lives to get this guy in the bunker. Completely unacceptable. Sorry dude.

September 02 2011 at 9:13 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to Todd Lally's comment
cd6172a

Did you read the article? It seems unfair to bar a Deaf person from even serving in the supportive arms of the military: "...computer technology, military dog training, and intelligence".

September 02 2011 at 9:42 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
DTDoyle

Right on Todd to many liberal ********* think that everyone should be able to get anything they want even if they cant do the job. Sign him up and lets give him a medal too because he really really wants one.

September 02 2011 at 12:53 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
cynrobcr

This is a very interesting story. Fortunately today, parents of children who are born deaf can choose for their children to have a cochlear implant as early as 12 months of age. This implant restores access to sound. With appropriate intervention and education, these children learn to listen and talk just like their hearing peers. They no longer need special accomodations to pursue their dreams.

September 02 2011 at 7:59 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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