Nine Army linguists, including six trained to speak Arabic, have been dismissed from the military because they are gay.
The soldiers' dismissals come at a time when the military is facing a critical shortage of translators and interpreters for the war on terrorism.
Seven of the soldiers were discharged after telling superiors they are gay, and the two others got in trouble when they were caught together after curfew, said Steve Ralls, spokesman for the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, a group that defends homosexuals in the military.
Six were specializing in Arabic, two were studying Korean and one was studying Mandarin Chinese. All were at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, the military's primary language training center.
The government has aggressively recruited Arabic speakers since the Sept. 11 attacks.
"We face a drastic shortage of linguists, and the direct impact of Arabic speakers is a particular problem," said Donald R. Hamilton, who documented the need for more linguists in a report to Congress as part of the National Commission on Terrorism.
One of the discharged linguists said the military's policy on gays is hurting its cause.
"It's not a gay-rights issue. I'm arguing military proficiency issues - they're throwing out good, quality people," said Alastair Gamble, a former Army specialist.
Harvey Perritt, spokesman for the Army Training and Doctrine Command at Fort Monroe in Tidewater, Va., confirmed the dismissals occurred between October 2001 and September 2002, but declined to comment further on the cases.
He said 516 linguists enrolled in the Arabic course this year at the Monterey institute and 365 graduated.
The military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy allows gays to serve provided they keep quiet about their sexual orientation.
Gamble and former Pfc. Robert Hicks were discovered in Gamble's room during a surprise inspection in April, Gamble said.
After their discharges, Gamble and Hicks applied for other federal jobs where they could use their language skills in the war on terrorism, but neither was hired, Gamble said.
By Margie Mason