Deaf Cadets Aspire to Military Service

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Four teens in camouflage fatigues march briskly around a brick plaza at the Maryland School for the Deaf, silently marking their cadence in American Sign Language: “Left!” ‘’Left!”

These members of the school’s Cadet Corps aspire to military service, but their path is blocked. Deaf people are barred from joining the armed services, as corps creator Keith Nolan well knows. He’s been told, “No,” since 2001, when he tried to enlist in the Navy at age 18.

 Nolan is determined to change that.“I want to show there are no barriers,” he said through an interpreter.His determination has led to passage of a House bill bearing his name — the Keith Nolan Air Force Deaf Demonstration Act of 2015, which called for a demonstration program.The Defense Department declared in a report last month it would be “imprudent” to create a program assessing deaf people’s fitness for military service. It cited the cost of equipment modifications, security risks from wireless assistive devices and the burden for nondisabled service members if their deaf counterparts can’t perform the full range of military tasks.But Nolan, his cadets and his congressional supporters are undeterred.“They’re not taking us seriously,” said Cadet Jennida Willoughby, 16, through a sign-language interpreter. “We’re going to keep fighting back.”During after-school and occasional weekend meetings, Cadet Corps members compete as teams in contests of physical strength and brainpower, and take turns leading problem-solving missions around town, said David Alexander, a school audiologist and Army veteran who helps run the program. They’ve gone overnight camping, taken a field trip to the U.S. Military Academy and made a presentation to other students and faculty about the West Point visit.

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