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The Few, The Proud,
One Less


Julianne Sohn
former Captain, USMC

The young Marine sergeant was yelling at me.

"Ma'am, we got to move now!"

I stared at him and realized that it was time to act.  I turned to look at the three-man news crew that I was escorting and realized that I had to drag them into our up-armored HMMWVs (AKA Humvees) quickly.  It was like herding cats, but we managed to get out of the line of fire after a few seconds of cajoling and pulling.  

Fallujah 2005

It was a dusty, hot July day in Fallujah, Iraq at a yet unfinished Iraqi police station in July 2005.  My job was to serve as the unit spokeswoman for the Marine Corps 5th Civil Affairs unit and escort media embeds through Fallujah.  I was a Marine Corps Captain, who left active duty because of the stress of living under Donít Ask, Donít Tell, and I was called up out of the Individual Ready Reserve (IRR) to serve in Iraq.

Somehow I ended up in the middle of downtown Fallujah at an exposed construction site with a national cable news network crew.  Bullets were hitting buildings near us and the Marine Civil Affairs Team in charge of the construction project were our guides. 

And apparently, some insurgents decided that it was time to take some potshots at us.  All of us, the Marine Civil Affairs Team, the news crew and I, got out of that situation, quickly and safely.  This was in all in the name of showing the American public the reconstruction efforts in Fallujah.

My unit hit the ground running on March 1, 2005.  We came in the aftermath of Operation Al-Fajr (New Dawn), which kicked off in November 2004.  It was the second major attempt to gain control of the city from the insurgents.  It left the southern part of the city in rubble.  And the 5th Civil Affairs Group stepped up to work with the local civic and para-military leaders and Sheiks with rebuilding one of the major cities in the Al Anbar Province. 

My name is Julianne H. Sohn.  I am a former Marine officer.  I am one of over 12,000 servicemembers forced out of the military under the Don't Ask, Don't Tell Policy.  I served in Iraq from March to September 2005.  And it was an honor to serve in the United State's Armed Forces.  The United States gave my immigrant family so many opportunities and I was and am extremely grateful for that. My parents immigrated to the United States from South Korea in the late 60ís to continue their education and to find job opportunities for themselves and their family members.  

I graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles in 1999 with a degree in Anthropology and Political Science.  And like a good Korean-American daughter, I was SUPPOSED to go to law school.  But, I found myself in a parking structure talking to a Marine Corps Officer Candidate named Jason.  Jason had just returned from Officer Candidate School and we were working a bike patrol shift of the parking structures at UCLA.  In the course of that patrol, Jason stated his case for the Marine Corps.  It was smaller, more challenging than the Army, which was the service I was consider.  Jason said, "In the Army, you're a soldier.  In the Navy, you're a sailor.  In the Marines, you're a Marine."

That was the catalyst.  Jason threw the gauntlet down and I found myself wanting to be a Marine officer.  But there was one fundamental problem back in 1998, there was the Don't Ask, Don't Tell Policy.  I had to decide that being a part of something better and greater than myself could supersede the person I loved.  And for me, at 22 years of age, it did.  My love of country superseded the fact that I was dating a wonderful woman.  In my application to Officer Candidates' School, I included a recommendation from Fran Solomon, the council deputy for then Council Member John Heilman, an openly gay city official for the city of West Hollywood, lawyer and associate professor for USC.  Fran told me, "Be very careful for what you wish for, you might just get it."

I mulled that over.  I can still hear her voice to this day, saying that to me.  But I have never regretted my decision and I am grateful for the support I received from my friends and family.  My parents are both health care professionals.  They immigrated to the United States in the late 60s and early 70 in search for more educational opportunities.  They instilled in my three brothers and I, a profound sense of duty and drive to help mankind.  And like any senior in college back in 1998, I wanted to find a way to help others. I had no idea that this desire would lead me to the foothills of Quantico, VA at Marine Corps Officer Candidates' School neck deep in mud and sweat.

Fallujah Civil Military Ops Center, 2005
I wanted to be a leader of Marines and I became one from my experiences in Quantico, Va to the island of Okinawa to the racetracks of the deep South to the flatlands of Fallujah and Ramadi.  My journey in the Marine Corps was eye-opening.  I learned that I could do far more than I thought possible and at the same time, I found the stress of living under Donít Ask, Donít Tell taking a toll. 

But as my tour of duty at the 6th Marine Corps Recruiting District was coming to a close in 2003, I was faced with a decision.  Should I stay or should I go? I loved the Marine Corps and working with my Marines.  For me, it was a calling.  You did it because something intangible calls you to service.  And I felt it.  But at the same time, I found that living under the Don't Ask, Don't Tell Policy forced me to sacrifice an open and honest life with my loved ones.  I was asked to sacrifice more than most of my Marines.  When my public affairs chief told me about her family, I just told her about the great time I had with my "friend."  When I went to official functions, I went alone. 

 On a sweltering, low country, southern day at Parris Island, SC, I was sitting at my desk finishing some paperwork when a Marine officer came in.

 He immediately closed the door to my office and said, "Hey can I speak with you for a moment."  I was sweating profusely.  I thought, "Oh no, whose in trouble now...."  He looked at me and said, "I can't legally ask you what I want to ask you, and you can't legally tell me."  I told him to stop, so we both didn't violate any policy and I told him that he was "half right" because at the time I identified as bisexual. He said that I was his friend and he had heard some rumors and he wanted to stop them.  And so he and a few of my closest friends, did their best to cover for me.  And they did a great job. 

Somehow, I managed to get admitted to the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism for the 2003 to 2004 term and I made the decision to live my life on my own terms without the shadow of Don't Ask, Don't Tell hanging over my head.  I did the very thing I didn't think I could do, I left the Marines. 

But in the fall of 2004, the weekend of the Marine Corps Marathon, the Marine Corps called and I answered.  At the time, some of my friends tried to dissuade me from going for political reasons.  But one person asked me, "Why would you go back to an institution that doesn't want you?"  It was hard to reconcile this.  I was a Marine.  My friends were over there and it was my duty.  I served on active duty as a solid public affairs officer. I had a Masters degree in journalism.  And once again I was willing to sacrifice my personal life to answer the call to duty.  My partner, at the time, had to find her own support network, while I went off to a combat zone.

It was evening on a late June day in 2005.  Night had fallen on Fallujah and the military convoy had picked up the last of the Marines and Sailors manning the security check points surrounding Fallujah.  As the convoy was nearing the checkpoint near Fallujah's industrial sector, a suicide car bomb rolled between two of the large troop carriers.  The aftermath of the attack left 5 Marines and 1 female Sailor dead and over 13 others injured. 

The attack killed 3 female servicemembers (one Navy Seabee and two Marines) and 11 of the wounded were female.  It was called the bloodiest day for U.S. women servicemembers.  And I was about a few miles away, working at my desk at Camp Fallujah.

Initial news accounts reported that a Marine civil affairs convoy was hit and several female Marines were killed.  Needless to say, this caused a great deal of stress for the families of the six females assigned to the 5th CAG.  And it was in this tumultuous time that highlighted the sacrifices that gay servicemembers are asked to and willing make. Imagine what would have happened if I was on that convoy. My girlfriend at the time, Fran, would only be notified through my older brother, Rich, who was my official next of kin.

My unit returned to the United States in late Sept 2005.

I wanted to move on with my life and spend time with my loved ones and I have. But I also will never forget what it was like to live under Donít Ask, Donít Tell, which is why I made it my duty to share my story. Because of this, I am one of 12,000 servicemembers forced out of the military under the policy.

Jules Sohn and her brothers: Stephen H Sohn  -an asst professor at Stanford in Asian American Literature,
John Sohn - a former Marine and a student at San Jose State University, and
Julianne Sohn

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