It's been said that the United States military is a reflection of America.

During my days in the Army Reserves, I had the experience of serving alongside men and women of many different backgrounds and circumstances: young and old; married and single; black, white, brown and other skin colors.

I could see that the military, in many ways, mirrored the nation's population and drew strength from that diversity.

Efforts to build on the military's diversity have been considered important in ensuring a cohesive, effective fighting force and even deemed critical to national security.

Yet a line was drawn years ago where sexuality was concerned.

President Obama now wants to scrap the military's long-standing "don't ask, don't tell" law that bans gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military. It's a policy some believe encourages discretion, but is no more than a form of oppression and discrimination that would be illegal in other workplaces.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates agrees with dropping the "don't ask, don't tell" policy, although he would prefer to move slowly on that front.

High-ranking military officials including Army Chief of Staff Gen. George Casey appear even more reluctant to change the 17-year-old policy.

Casey worries about the possible impact of such change on the readiness and military effectiveness of a force that has been at war for several years. His belief that implementing such change would be too burdensome for troops and commanders echoes the argument military officials have made for years.

On the other side of the sensitive debate are those of us who believe gays and lesbians in the military deserve more respect for volunteering to serve their country.

Before "don't ask, don't tell" came about, I worked alongside a soldier in our combat engineer unit who was a lesbian. Most everyone in the unit knew, and didn't seem to care probably because her sexual orientation had no effect on her Army duties.

She was skilled and dependable, qualities that go a long way in the military. Her presence didn't lower morale or undermine unit cohesion, two concerns offered by supporters of "don't ask, don't tell."

How a person tackles his or her duties on the job matters more than their sexual preference. That's true in the military and beyond.

As more Americans "come out" and make their sexual orientation known, many of us are learning that we have gay and lesbian co-workers, friends and neighbors. They work in our hospitals, our school districts, our governments, and in our plants and stores.

They also are productive members of our military at home and abroad all part of a team with a single purpose in protecting the nation and fighting for freedom.

This is no time to be narrow-minded. With the U.S. armed forces stretched thin due to multiple deployments, being more tolerant only would help fortify the military's ranks.

A nation that depends on a volunteer force has to support the service of every American willing and able to serve.

Abolishing "don't ask, don't tell" shouldn't be such a monumental task. A military known for its ability to improvise can indeed adapt to such change.

Officials should move swiftly in dismissing a policy that has been dishonorable in asking gay and lesbian troops to lie about who they are.

E-mail Editor-publisher Dena Sattler at denas@gctelegram.com.