(CNN) -- Darren Manzella saw two tours of duty in Iraq, first as a combat medic and later as a liaison officer. He earned three promotions in his six years as a U.S. Army sergeant.
Despite his professional success, Manzella says he began to question his personal life.
"After returning from my first deployment in Iraq, after seeing death and violence, losing friends and comrades, it really made me look over my life," he said. "I looked at some issues I had always had trouble with. I had debated, 'Am I gay?' " Photo
As he struggled with his sexual identity, Manzella began a relationship with a man. Soon after, while in Texas between tours, Manzella said he began receiving anonymous, harassing e-mails and telephone calls.
"They told me, 'You are stupid, the Army is going to kick you out, but before they do, they are going to take your rank away and all your money away.' "
Manzella describes this time as one of fear and deep insecurity.
"I didn't know if the military police would be coming through the door to take me away because someone had reported me," he said. "This was some of the paranoia I was living with every day."
Manzella says that the e-mails and calls went on for months and that after many sleepless nights, he decided to ask his supervisor for help.
"He listened and was somewhat sympathetic," Manzella said. "He told me not to worry, to try and get some rest, to go home early and see him in the morning."
By the next morning, Manzella's supervisor had reported him as having broken the law under "don't ask, don't tell," the 1993 policy that prohibits anyone who "demonstrate(s) a propensity or intent to engage in homosexual acts" from serving in the U.S. military.
Manzella said he was read his rights and told that he would be investigated, but that he could continue working. As the investigation proceeded, word spread that Manzella was gay.
"Ironically, it pulled the unit together. A lot of them started to invite me out,"
"My co-worker was getting married; she told me that my boyfriend an I were invited to the wedding. It made me feel like I was more a part of the family."