There are only three people who really know what happened in Pfc. Thomas Chestnut’s room in August 2012.
The three men who were in the Fort Sam Houston barracks room at the time were Chestnut, his roommate and another soldier who apparently wandered into the room in the barracks after taking Ambien, a sleep medicine that can cause dizziness or confusion.
A sexual encounter — and it’s unclear if it was sex or foreplay — took place between Chestnut and the soldier who had taken Ambien.
From there, however, their stories differ. Chestnut said the encounter was consensual. The other two said it was not.
The allegations of sexual assault didn’t arise until months after the incident, when Chestnut had come to Fort Hood as a soldier in the 1st Cavalry Division.
Chestnut was found guilty of the crime in June, but there is now a surprising twist in the case — led by the military judge who oversaw the court-martial.
That judge, Col. Gregory Gross, said he will send a recommendation to 1st Cavalry Division commander Maj. Gen. Michael Bills to overturn the conviction. Chestnut was sentenced to three years in prison and a dishonorable discharge.
It’s a bizarre case, even by Army standards. We hear, all too frequently, cases of male-on-female sexual assault cases, but male-on-male sexual cases reaching the court-martial level are a rare event.
Such cases are — unjustly — even more intolerable for a traditional military court-martial panel than a traditional, male-on-female sexual assault case.
Even if Chestnut is telling the truth about what happened, there are likely some in the military who would convict him just the same.
Same-sex romantic relationships are still very new to the Army. While Army leaders have been ordered to welcome gay men and lesbian women into the Army, soldiers aren’t exactly pulling out the welcome mat at the platoon or company level.
The idea of two men having sex in a unit barracks — especially a combat unit — just doesn’t fly with many soldiers. Even heterosexual sex isn’t encouraged in the barracks, but it is tolerated.
No doubt, at least some of the eight jurors who convicted Chestnut don’t want male-on-male sexual relationships in their Army, especially the barracks. What role did that play in their decision to convict?
As the Army becomes more gay-friendly, the days of same-sex relationships in the barracks are coming. In fact, they are already here.
It’ll be interesting to see if Bills overturns the conviction.
Jacob Brooks, a former Army tanker, is the city editor for the Killeen Daily Herald. Contact him at email@example.com or (254) 501-7468.