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American Family Values


They always say hindsight is 20/20 and looking in the rearview mirror of my life, I can attest to that fact. It seems as if military service was a fate I could not escape. It is something I see not only as the child of two veterans but also in some of my earliest photographs where I was a chubby faced infant wearing my great-grandfathers BDU blouse from WWII.

My childhood is one not too different from that of many children of the military, I spent my formative years growing up on or around military bases, spent weekends going to the air shows and touring military aircraft, and witnessing first hand the dedicated service of men and women protecting our nation. My father and mother both served in the US Air Force, my mother leaving shortly after my birth and my father making a career of it. We were the All-American family, Dad donning his BDU’s to go to work every day, soccer games on Saturdays, and church on Sundays. I was raised in a Southern Baptist household and t spent my summers as a counselor at a Baptist summer camp.

During my senior year of high school I decided to forgo college and pursue a career in the US Army. I chose to enlist in the US Army for a multitude of reasons, to make a better life for myself, to follow the example of service instilled in me by my parents who were both veterans of the US Air Force, and to secure funding so that I would be able to pursue a higher education.

I shipped out for Basic Training at Ft. Benning, Georgia on July 15th, 1999. Despite the initial fear I felt, I found that time flew by and I quickly adapted to military life. It was during basic training that I realized that my enlistment meant so much more than then my initial reasons for joining. I was given the privilege of defending the greatest nation on earth, protecting the democratic principles of Freedom and Equality that make our nation great. Along with the privilege of serving, I found a family away from home, the men and women I served with were my brothers and sisters in arms, race and gender disappeared, we were not men or women, white or black, we were green and we were one, united in a higher calling. 

Following basic training I reported to Ft. Bragg, North Carolina for Advanced Individual Training for Psychological Operations. I excelled in the training and graduated on the Commandant’s list. I then reported back to Ft. Benning for Airborne school. Despite my fear of heights I successfully completed the course and was finally sent to my duty station at Ft. Bragg, North Carolina where I was assigned to 1st Psychological Operations Battalion (A), a unit that worked with US Southern Command on issues relating to Central and South America. After two months at my duty station, I was sent to the Basic Military Language Course for four months where I learned Spanish. Following my completion of the course, I returned back to my unit and began serving following the year I had spent in training.

I quickly fell into the normal routine and found a group of my colleagues that became very good friends. I continued to excel in my service, going to the soldier of the month board and placing second to a soldier who had been in the Army for several years longer than I had, was promoted to PFC, and finally was sent to Bogotá, Colombia in support of the interdiction, eradication, and Human rights campaigns in the region. I was afforded the opportunity to work with the Colombian police and military to produce calendars for Colombian children to encourage them to avoid the drug trade, hoping that their parents would also see and not fall into the trap of trafficking narcotics. My time in Colombia was a highlight of my service and offered me the opportunity to make a difference working against the plague of drugs in the region. After six months in Colombia, I returned to Ft. Bragg where I was awarded a Joint Service Achievement Medal for my efforts in Colombia.

A week after my twenty-first birthday I finally reached the point where I admitted and accepted that I was gay and decided to utilize the values of integrity and personal courage and quit lying to myself and pretending to be something I was not. I quickly fell into a defensive posture, Monday through Friday I went to the office, deflected questions about what I had done the previous weekend and refused to discuss my personal life. As a result of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy I was forced to compromise my integrity and lie in order to avoid disclosing anything that would warrant an investigation of my sexual orientation. I lived two separate lives and while exhausting, it was a necessary evil to protect myself against the policy.

I was able to maintain this balancing act for nearly a year, when I was seen embracing my boyfriend at a gay bar by one of my good friends girlfriend. Upon seeing her I panicked and quickly bolted out the door and she followed. She told me that she would not tell a soul and that I had nothing to worry about. Several months went by and I continued to live my dual lives, exhausted at having to remember the stories I told to my straight counterparts to explain my absence on the weekends. One night when I returned home, my friend whose girlfriend had seen me came up and wanted to talk. We went into my room and a sense of dread overcame me. He then asked me if I was gay. Knowing that he had violated the policy and assuming that nothing could really come of it, I replied affirmatively. He said it was cool and it wasn’t a big deal and we had a beer. He told me I had nothing to worry about and naively I believed him.

A month later I stopped by my old detachment to see some friends I had not seen recently. While there, a NCO that I had previously worked for with whom I had somewhat of a difficult relationship with made a snide comment that he had “heard all the gossip about me.” Shortly thereafter I returned to the barracks after a night out to discover a pamphlet from the Chaplain’s office on homosexuality shoved in my door. Worse yet, many individuals who I had been close with, for whom I would have willingly laid down my life, avoided me and refused to talk to me. However, despite the negative reactions of some, many people came to me and said that regardless of what my sexual orientation might be they knew I was a good soldier and that is all that mattered. I was also fortunate to find a small enclave of fellow gay soldiers who offered a support system to deal with the pressures of being a gay soldier and had it not been for them those times would have been much more difficult To this day, I strongly believe that the negative reactions I received were more in response to the lies I was forced to tell then to my actual sexual orientation but the positive reinforcement that I received proved to me that it would be possible to serve openly and honestly without fear of damaging unit cohesion, morale, or combat readiness.

At the time that I discovered that the information was out, I was in the process of being medically discharged. One Doctor asked me if I would like to stay in and reclassify to a job that was not as physically demanding or would I just like to get out. Knowing that the information was out there and that I potentially faced a chapter 15, I told the doctor I would prefer to get out.

On May 13, 2003 I was honorably discharged from the US Army and left the service with a Joint Service Achievement Medal, Army Commendation Medal, Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Service Medal, and an Army Service Medal. I resumed life as a civilian, enrolling at the University of North Carolina Charlotte to pursue my BA in Political Science.

Today I can look back and realize my tenure in the military is one of the highlights of my life. It challenged me in ways I could have never imagined, gave me an inner strength and confidence that I never had and it is the experience I take the most pride in. Nothing that I have accomplished since would have been possible if not for the time I spent serving this great nation. To this day despite the hardships posed by military service, I would gladly give up my life as a civilian to once again don the uniform of the United States Army and continue serving my country, defending the constitution against all enemies both foreign and domestic.

©  2009 Gay Military Signal