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Profiles in Patriotism

Michelle Moore

Doing What I was
Trained To Do

I was 19 years old and I knew I was a lesbian when I joined the Air Force. I (thought) I was completely prepared to go back into the closet and possibly be alone for the next six years, but I joined because I wanted to be a linguist. Upon arrival at DLI, the very first person I befriended was in training to be a Spanish linguist. She was also a Lesbian. I met more gay and lesbian people while I was in service than any other environment to include high school and college.

I abandoned the idea that I would have to be alone or keep who I was a secret before language class ever even started. I came out to my class of 10 people a couple of days into class and got mixed reactions. Some were surprised and asked questions out of curiosity. Some told me that they already knew. None of my peers EVER treated me negatively because I was gay. At the very most, a few individuals felt conflicted because of their religious views, but for the most part we joked about it or it was a non issue. I did not tell my teachers, but I’m fairly certain some of them were well aware. I graduated from my Persian-Farsi beginner’s course in September of 2004. I was the only student in my class to graduate with honors. Throughout my career my scores on the DLPT, a test that ascertains ones current proficiency in his/her target language, never fell below passing. In fact, I all but one time got the maximum scores possible.

I arrived at Fort Gordon in February of 2005. I was reunited with a large number of the service members with whom I had attended DLI. I also met a lot of new people with different training backgrounds. Analysts, Morse Code operators and other linguists who were trained in other languages. I made no effort to go back into “the closet.” Everyone knew me. We went to picnics together. We played flag football on the base flag football league. Some of us played rugby for the city team. We had gone through a year and a half of training together. Some of them asked me to babysit their kids or dogs, or watch their homes while they went on vacations. More importantly at this point, we worked together as a team. We respected each other and respected each other’s differences. When a new operator came in, there was never an effort to hide who I was. I told them right away if they took issue with me they needed to say something to me or do something about it. No one ever “turned me in.”

After about three and a half years of service with absolutely no disciplinary action, I was caught up in a "scandal" at Fort Gordon. A lot of my friends from DLI were trained in other languages and were sent off to different places. Some of us were in Hawaii and Alaska and Maryland and Iraq or just down the hallway in different offices. We devised a way to keep in touch and make the nights go by faster at work. One of us made a chat room much like something one would see from Yahoo or AIM. There were somewhere between 9 and 14 gays and lesbians participating in this chat.

Months went by and we grew more and more comfortable. If there was not a lot of work to be done, we were very active just talking about anything. One day a “random” inspection was conducted by the Navy Inspector General. This inspection led to the consequent discovery of our chat channel along with dozens of others. While it was not necessarily meant to be a "gay chat," that's what it turned into and that's what people called it. I contacted SLDN immediately and was put in contact with Sharra Greer.

Several of us were pulled from our operator positions. At this point, I remember my shop being undermanned and thinking that because of this, whatever the command chose to do would be fast. I was put on casual status for about a month and a half while the command kept me in the dark about what my punishment would be. I was certain that I'd be kicked out because of the nature of our conversations. (We were all very good friends and had known each other for years, and therefore we were very comfortable talking about anything and everything) Aside from being pulled from my position and having access to my workspace taken away, I was forced to read highlighted portions of the conversation aloud to the Commander, the squadron superintendent, the first sergeant, my supervisor, and several other officers and higher enlisted whose roles I'm still not sure of. The things I read and the
 things that were in that transcript did a lot more than imply that I am a Lesbian. There were even notes and scribbles that showed whoever went through the transcript had deduced that I was gay.

Other people who were caught misusing the system (talking about murder plots, cheating on spouses, having illegitimate children that they did not intend to take care of and joking about rape being the worst of it) were handed their punishments swiftly. They had to write letters on professionalism. Few were given Article 15’s. All of the services handled their service members in their own way. The Marine Corps pretty much brushed off the incident. Two of my friends who were in the Navy were chaptered out for DADT. An army female was first handed UCMJ punishment, but was later kicked out under DADT  because her command received an anonymous letter complaining that she was now being openly gay.

I was pulled aside by a senior enlisted individual who was weeks away from retiring and was told that all of the evidence they had against me from the chat had been sent up to legal to see what they could “make stick”. It’s important to note that this man is straight. He and one other individual of the same rank had read the entire transcript and knew everything that was said in context that day.

He went on to tell me that the command didn't have the stomach to go through with chaptering me out because before this point, I had informed my supervisor that I wanted to volunteer to deploy to Iraq and had always received exceptional scores on Enlisted Personnel Reports. My operational supervisors, a British Royal Air Force Flight Sergeant and a Navy Petty Officer who also knew that I was gay, made it a point to constantly call asking when I’d return and made every effort to applaud my work ethic and character.

After a month of sitting and waiting, I actually wrote a letter stating that I was gay and that the treatment I was getting for it was ridiculous. I was sure they were going to kick me out anyway and I just wanted to get it over with so I could move forward with my career. Before I could build up the courage to turn it in, the same senior enlisted person told me that the command would not be kicking me out and unless I was absolutely sure that I wanted to be kicked out for DADT that I should keep the letter to myself.

I was called into the commander’s office a few days later and received an Article 15 for dereliction of duty in that I misused of a government system. The command never mentioned my sexuality or any part of the context from the chat. The commander even said that the Article 15 had absolutely nothing to do with the context of the chat. The punishment attached to my Article 15 included forfeiture of pay ($600) for 2 months, a UIF (unfavorable information file) and inability to test for E-5 for 2 years. I was personally asked if I wished to continue service because they had the option of placing my name on a roster that would move my ETS to a date that was much closer. After considering my lack of job security at that point, I said “no,” but the deadline to get my name on the roster was missed.

I was 23 years old when this incident occurred. It was such a stressful time. I saw two good friends of mine lose their careers. One of them had already re-enlisted and was not ready to let go because he loved the Navy. I remember seeing him cry after marching with SLDN at the Atlanta pride parade and being very proud of his dedication. I felt ashamed of being in the Air Force for the first time, for going to work on time, for showing up in uniform and for working hard for a machine that could spit me out at anytime. I felt stupid.

More than anything, I realized that I was not invincible and that it really didn’t matter how hard I worked or what my DLPT scores were. I was gay and my Air Force career could have ended at any time for reasons out of my control. Someone could have turned me in for something that was not my choice. I could have said something in or out of uniform that could have been heard by the wrong person. The incident made me more responsible, I took care to plan further ahead. I still didn’t care to hide who I was, but I was more careful and I made sure that I had something to fall back on. I don’t know if one would call it lucky or not that I “was allowed” to complete my enlistment, but I am grateful for the language training and the experience.

I returned to work the day after I was informed the deadline for the roster had been missed. I became a deputy lead operator within 2 weeks of returning and a trainer very soon after that. I made lead operator about 2 months after returning. I made no effort to deploy. I watched my peers make E-5 while I did not participate in testing. Throughout the remainder of my career, I made it a point to be the best I could be in relation to the mission. I felt that I had something to prove. I believe those of us that were not kicked out all had something to prove. We were everywhere. At every level of rank, every job capacity and every office we were there and everyone knew it.

After everything, I knew that I would not be re-enlisting . I ETS’d on 29 MAY 2009 as an E-4 and got a job as a Dari/Farsi linguist in Afghanistan.

  2010 Gay Military Signal