TEDxIslay- Keith Nolan- Deaf in the Military [Subtitled]

Uploaded by TEDxTalks on 08.06.2011

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Hello, everyone. My name is Keith Nolan.
I’m a Cadet Private.
My talk today is on the topic of the military.
How many of you out there thought you’d ever like to join the military?
I see a number of you nodding. I'm the same way.
Growing up, I’d always wanted to join the military.
I love military history and I’ve read a great deal on the subject.
Also, various family members such as my grandfather and great uncles fought in World War II.
And like them, I wanted the same thing, to serve my country.
So, can I?
No, I can’t.
Simply because I’m deaf.
Regardless, I still had that longing to join the military.
For example, after I graduated from high school, three months before 9/11 occurred,
I went to a naval recruiting center with high hopes of joining the Navy.
I went in and a strapping naval man stood up and addressed me.
It was impossible for me to read his lips, so I said, “I'm sorry, I’m deaf.”
He tore off a little piece of paper and wrote down three words:
“Bad ear, disqual.”
He didn't even fully spell out disqualified, just “bad ear, disqual.”
I tried various locations, a number of different times, but over and over again I got the same response.
“Sorry, you’re deaf. We can’t accept you.”
So, I shifted gears and decided to become a teacher.
I got a masters degree in deaf education.
I taught for almost two years.
Then three things occurred last spring.
The first of which, was while I was teaching a high school history class.
I’d lectured on the Mexican-American War.
The bell had rung, and I sat at my desk.
One of my deaf students approached me and said he’d like to join the military.
I said, “Ahh sorry, you can’t, you're deaf.”
Then I caught myself.
All along I had been told no, I can’t.
And now I was perpetuating that same message to the next generation, to my own student.
That realization had a large impact that really resonated with me.
Now the second thing that happened -- my friend had just moved to Israel.
Did you know that in Israel they accept deaf people into the military?
Could this be true? How can deaf people be in the military, right?
Come on!
So, I went to Israel last summer to see for myself.
I interviewed 10 deaf Israeli soldiers.
I have video interviews and I’ve compiled findings.
I’ll share those with you later.
Third, CSUN here, my alma mater,
Had recently started up an Army ROTC program.
ROTC stands for Reserve Officer Training Corps.
Students working on their college majors can concurrently participate in the ROTC program.
Upon graduation ROTC students have a military career ready and waiting for them.
So, if one joined the Army, one could commission as a Second Lieutenant.
That's generally the ROTC program here at CSUN.
I already had a profession as a teacher.
But I went ahead anyway and sent off an e-mail to the program.
I explained that I was a teacher of the deaf.
I was wondering if I could take a few classes with them so...
I could perhaps share their lessons with my students.
I got an e-mail response back.
Surprisingly, it was the first time that I wasn't told no you can’t, you’re deaf.
It said, well, that's interesting.
I think maybe we can work something out and you can take a few classes with us.
This was unprecedented.
Although I was teaching, I decided I had to grab the opportunity right away and get my foot in the door.
So, that’s how it happened
Now with all my life experiences, having talked with all those people, and given everything I’ve read,
I decided to write a research paper called “Deaf in the Military.”
It's 98 pages of research.
I’ll share with you my findings now.
Here in America, we’ve actually had deaf soldiers serving in the past.
During the Texas War of Independence...
There was a key character, named Deaf Smith.
He made a large contribution to Texas winning its independence.
In the American Civil War, Gallaudet University has archived a list of deaf Americans...
Who fought for both the North and the South, showing that they even fought against each other.
During WWII, there are a few, rare examples as well.
Some deaf people made it into the military at that time and served their country.
The point is... America has had deaf soldiers serve in the past.
In my paper, I also discuss the deaf Israeli soldiers.
I learned that they serve in non-combat roles.
They are not on the front lines engaging in fire, but rather are behind the lines serving in supportive roles.
There are a plethora of various non-combat jobs accessible to the deaf:
Intelligence, computer technology,
Map drawing, supply, military dog training,
The list goes on.
So how do deaf Israeli soldiers communicate with the other soldiers?
They told me it's the same approach deaf people use with the hearing public on a daily basis.
You can use your voice, lip-read, gesture.
Sometimes another soldier knows sign language and that can be utilized.
Pen and paper, texts, computers, e-mails.
Texts, computers, e-mails.
It's the same. There’s no magic wand.
Interpreters are used primarily for boot camp and miscellaneous training.
For the average work it’s not necessary to have an interpreter by your side.
The Israeli Army is comprised of small groups.
Each of these units with deaf soldiers have developed their own way of communicating with each other.
There’s no need for interpreters.
The top picture is of one deaf soldier I met.
The bottom photo is of him with Prime Minister Begin in Israel.
Another part of my paper touches on disabled soldiers in the U.S. military.
Obviously, military work can be dangerous and involve injury.
One example here is Captain Luckett.
Due to an explosion, he lost his leg.
He’s recovered and currently has a prosthetic leg.
Now he’s back in combat, fighting in Afghanistan right now.
It’s remarkable.
And guess what, he’s not the only one.
There are 40 other soldiers like him.
Amputees who are serving in combat zones.
Also, we have a blind soldier here.
While in Iraq, an explosion from a suicide car bomber destroyed his eyesight.
He’s recovered and hasn’t left the Army.
He's still in the Army, still on active duty.
He’s currently running a hospital for wounded soldiers.
I also found out online about another soldier who is deaf in one ear.
He’s developed civil programs in Iraq,
One of which actually started a school for the deaf in Iraq.
All of this is incredible, but I am going to ask all of you-
If the U.S. military can retain their disabled soldiers...
Then why can’t they accept disabled citizens as well?
Moreover, out of all the U.S. military jobs,
80% are non-combat positions.
There are many jobs that we in the Deaf community can do.
If I were to be in the military, I’d like to do intelligence work.
We can also do mechanics, finance, medicine, and on and on.
So to summarize, I’ve presented three premises to support my argument.
The first being, Israeli defense openly accepts deaf soldiers.
If you have the qualities and skills required, they’ll grab you.
Second, the U.S. Military has disabled soldiers.
Third, 80% of occupations in the military are non-combat.
So I ask you this...
Can we deaf Americans serve our country?
Of course!
Absolutely, without a doubt!
Now I’ll explain a bit about my experience in the Army ROTC, which began last fall.
I have been involved with that thus far and it’s still going on now.
I need to explain that for my batallion...
This is the first time ever they've had a deaf cadet.
They had never experienced that before.
So, of course, they were taken back wondering... a deaf cadet?
How I would do this or that? How would we communicate and such.
Which is a natural reaction; many of them had never interacted with a deaf person before.
Also, it was new for me.
It was the real thing -- I was in the Army.
I had to learn a whole new world.
Military jargon, its own culture and everything.
So, we started out slow and proceeded from there.
We got to know each other and learned how to work together.
For example...
On the first day of class I had no uniform.
I showed up in regular clothes while the other cadets were all in uniform.
I found out that every morning at 5:30 there was physical training, PT.
On Fridays there’d be labs, which is field training.
And occasionally, we would have weekend training at a military base.
So, I showed up that morning at 5:30 with all the cadets in uniform and me in regular clothes.
They told me, “Hey, you know, you don't need to work out. You can just simply take classes.”
I told them, I wanted to anyway.
They acknowledged that and I continued to show up every morning to train.
When Friday came, I asked to go to field training.
They told me no, and to just stick with class.
I insisted that I wanted to try.
They let me attend the lab, but only as an observer.
I couldn't participate, I could only watch.
Fine with me.
I showed up on Friday.
They were teaching cadets marching drill commands.
Standing at attention, how to properly salute, and all the basics.
I had to ask again if I could join.
I got the go ahead.
I went to get in formation.
I figured I better stand in the second line.
That way I could watch what the cadets were doing in the row ahead of me.
But the officer who "opened the door" for me to join the ROTC program...
He spotted me in the back and said,
“Hey, uh-uh, I want you in the front."
“You wanna be a soldier? You learn the commands like everyone else.”
“You’re not going to follow other people. Learn it yourself!”
I thought, wow.
He’s viewing me like any person.
That made an impression
As the weeks went by, I still didn’t have a uniform.
I asked if it would be possible to get one, but they said no.
So I continued on that way.
Until one day, I was informed that I’d be getting a uniform.
I said, “Really, why? What changed?”
I was told, “We see your motivation, you show up every morning dedicated, and always gave a 110% effort.”
They wanted to give me the uniform.
So when we went to the warehouse...
I assumed I’d get just a uniform and a pair of boots, nothing more.
But they filled two duffel bags, each full with gear:
A helmet, ammo vest, shovel, sleeping bag- the whole nine yards.
I was astonished.
I have to tell you, each morning I get up and put on my uniform,
I feel privileged.
It’s truly an honor to wear the uniform.
So... moving along...
When it came time to train at the army base, at first I was told I couldn’t go.
There was liability concern, that the interpreter could get injured during the training.
We had to figure out all those issues and confusion.
But we worked it out and in the end they let me go.
That was how events unfolded; I was slowly doing more and more.
Back at the army base...
During one of the training days there was a huge Chinook helicopter.
With its tandem rotors, landed right down to us and forcefully spun the air.
All of us cadets were supposed to be getting on board.
Everyone was geared up and ready.
However, the cadres had decided I wasn’t going to ride the Chinook.
They were afraid if the pilot shouted out orders...
How would I be able to follow the instructions?
I’d potentially cause a disruption.
So I stood aside while the others were filing toward the helicopter.
I could see the cadres huddled up discussing, mulling it over.
At the last minute, one of them said, “Come on! Get on the helicopter!”
I rushed over and got in. It was such a thrill.
We learned about each other and supported one another.
Since then I’ve been involved in everything they do, without any separation.
This is my passion.
I love them. I’ll show you some pictures here.
Bruin Battalion, Bravo Company that’s the name of the group I belong to.
The Cadres are the officers and sergeants who oversee the ROTC program.
In the beginning it was awkward.
But once they learned more about me and what I’m capable of doing,
There has been tremendous support and unity.
The Cadets, my fellow peers --
When you train and sweat together you feel the bond of camaraderie right away.
A brother or sisterly cohesiveness makes them like family.
As for training and classes...
We learn theories of warfare.
How to lead soldiers. How to do reconnaissance.
Strategies. How to knock out a bunker.
Land navigation; where you’re finding your way out in the mountains.
As far as accommodations, I’ve been provided with interpreters
Through the National Center on Deafness, NCOD, here at CSUN.
I really have to thank them.
It's not easy to find interpreters willing to get up at 4:30 AM, or sometimes even 3:30 AM.
That's the officer who e-mailed me saying I think you can have a few classes.
Lieutenant Mendoza.
That’s my interpreter, there before class starts.
This is from last fall when we were new to training.
This is Lieutenant Colonel Phelps. This his name sign.
He is the commanding officer of the entire Bruin Battalion.
Every time I see him walk by it’s inspiring.
The way he presents himself... you can see he’s the epitome of a soldier.
Plus, he doesn't view me as a deaf person.
He looks at my skills and capabilities instead.
He’s really pushed for me and I respect him for all of that.
That’s me during one of the exercises. And that's the Chinook helicopter I almost didn’t get on.
Every Cadet has a mentor.
My mentor is Cinatl.
He’s a sharp soldier. He teaches me the finer points and how to execute them.
This top picture is when a group of us went to Las Vegas
To compete in a test to see if we can match the German troops physical training standards.
It involved swimming timed sprints, marksmanship, and numerous fitness events.
I passed them and satisfied the requirements to be awarded this badge right here.
This is one of the Sergeants, Sgt. Richardson.
I love this guy. He doesn't take bologna from any of us cadets.
That's from the morning when we trekked 7 1/2 miles with a 40-lb rucksack in under two hours.
Here are a few of my fellow cadets.
I've been with them long enough that I’ve developed name signs for them.
At right is Trinidad -- I gave him this sign because he is always sarcastic.
He is a veteran, having served in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The female is Frigo, whose nickname is Refrigerator.
We’re always competing intellectually in class.
The cadet on the end is Jarvy. He's a top athlete.
I gave him this sign because of the scar he has here.
Do you know who this is?
This is the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
He is the highest-ranking military officer.
The principal military advisor to President Obama and Secretary of Defense Gates.
He gave a talk at UCLA to a full house.
Afterwards, I lined up to shake his hand.
“It’s a great pleasure to meet you,” I signed... my interpreter voiced for me.
Admiral Mullen addressed the interpreter and said, “It’s nice to meet you.”
The interpreter refrained to clarify.
He seemed confused, and quickly moved on to shake hands with the rest of the soldiers.
I’m not sure whether he knew that I was deaf or not.
Everything’s been moving along, gung-ho full, speed ahead.
Until two weeks ago… was it last week? No, it was two weeks ago .
Well, the ROTC has four levels.
I’m currently doing the first two levels now, which finishes up this May.
The third level would begin in the fall.
But in order to move up you need to pass a medical exam.
Obviously, I’m deaf, so I’d fail a hearing test.
So, we sat down, and I was told that...
if I wanted to continue to the third level,
I couldn’t do any of the PT workouts in the morning.
Or the Friday lab field trainings.
Or the Army base trainings.
I’d have to give back my uniform as well.
I could take the classes, audit them, and that’s all.
That really hit me; it was a huge blow.
Many officers and cadets have empathized with me.
They're shocked and wondered why this has to be the case.
My commanding officer, Colonel Phelps...
Has tried to speak with the higher-ups in the chain of command
Explaining that I’m one of the top cadets. I passed all the events and got high marks on my exams.
But their response is unwavering. Policy is policy.
If you’re deaf, you’re disqualified.
The cadre... has tried to find a way for me.
They found out that there is another deaf cadet.
He's at The Citadel, a military college in South Carolina.
That cadet will be completing his fourth year there and graduating this May,
Yet he's in the same predicament as I am.
Unable to join the Army because he’s deaf.
Yet, all of my fellow cadets and the officers have told me not to give up.
The policy must change.
I've started talking with people in Congress.
I’ve brought this issue to my Congressman, Henry Waxman.
He's the district Congressman here in LA.
I'm getting the ball rolling.
However, I need your help and support to lobby.
All of us, you know.
You know, black soldiers couldn’t join the military, and now they serve.
Women were banned, now they can serve.
The military has and is changing.
Now it’s our turn!
It's our time!
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