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1st Lt Robin Chaurasiya

Patriotism Betrayed

By Denny Meyer

When I have the opportunity to speak with someone as patriotic, clearheaded, and intelligent as LT Chaurasiya, I feel as if I have been brought into the light from a place of dark ignorance.  It is somewhat of a mystery why it is that so many lesbian and gay service members are linguistic prodigies, but 1st Lt Chaurasiya stands out even among her peers.  She speaks 6 languages: Hindi, Urdu, Turkish, German, Luganda (Uganda), and Swahili, as well as English.  She was, in fact, being modest in listing those, as she can communicate in several more languages but didn’t want to claim that she’s fluent or conversational in them.  Frankly, if I were a military leader who had someone like that, I wouldn’t care if she had one arm, two heads, and three legs.  But, that is exactly how she’s been treated, quite specifically as if who she is was a character flaw.  They are specifically troubled about her sexual orientation; but also, she notes that women, and particularly minority women, are discriminated against and discharged in the military at an alarmingly high percentage compared to their small numerical presence in our armed forces.

The story follows of how the Air Force has entangled itself in bureaucratic obfuscation by deciding to discharge her, not discharge her, and again to discharge her because she might be, might not be, and in fact apparently is a lesbian.  I’m just a befuddled old former sergeant, but it seems to me that it ought not take a genius somewhere in the chain of command to realize that the most efficient and intelligent use of an asset like LT Chaurasiya would be to transfer her to Pentagon duty to provide insight to the Comprehensive Working Group studying ‘how’ to implement the integration of lesbian and gay service members.  She is a product of their education from college ROTC forward to the present.  She’s served in the Air Force for seven years, now.  She’s a triple minority, Air Force educated, highly intelligent, motivated officer.  She sounds useful to me, Sir.

Robin Chaurasiya is the child of immigrant parents from India. The family, and Robin’s becoming an Air Force officer, is a classic story of the success of American freedom and opportunity.  Coming from an impoverished lower caste in India, her father studied by candlelight and suffered to save every Rupee he could for his education.  Proving his ability and potential, the young man and his wife came to America, as legal immigrants, where he became an engineer for Boing Corp. He has repaid our nation over and over not only by paying taxes, but by contributing to our nation’s technological advancement, and by raising his daughter to be so patriotic that she has devoted her life from high school onward to serving America as an officer in the United States Air Force.  How proud could a father be! How proud could our nation be?

Robin grew up in Seattle’s suburbs living the American Dream that her parents had worked so very hard to achieve.  The family was affluent enough to visit India more than once; and on those visits Robin, at a young age, began to realize the contrast between her life in America, and what might have been had her parents remained in India and raised her there.  Seeing that, like many first generation American children of immigrants and refugees (myself included) she became motivated to “give back” to America for the opportunity of freedom received.  With her father’s work in aerospace, and the Air Force’s inspiring rhetoric and advertising, serving in the Air Force became Robin’s teenage life goal.  She did so well in high school that she graduated a year early and  earned an Air Force ROTC scholarship.

Particularly in the atmosphere of life in the Pacific North West, she had never known prejudice, not as a woman of Indian decent, nor as a lesbian.  She knew nothing about the military’s institutionalized prejudice of exclusion.  It was only upon beginning military training that she was required to sign paperwork avowing that she would not engage in any homosexual activity.  And like so many of us who had reached this point before her, her patriotic determination to serve, to be a part of something greater than herself, to pay back America for her family’s freedom, caused her to sign the paper without a word of protest nor a moment of hesitation.  Her youthful enthusiasm and determination caused her to think, “who I am has nothing to do with this; I can do this, I want to do this; I’ll give up that small part of my own freedom to embark on this great adventure of service.”  Ahh youth!

Well, she’d wanted to be a fighter pilot, after all!  It’s every girl’s dream, isn’t it?  She was too small, as it turned out; so her specialty is communication.  Imagine those Air Force advertisements: ‘a little girl on the Great Plains stares intently without fear at a brewing tornado; in the next scene she’s a young adult in uniform immersed in the hubbub of a high tech Air Force meteorological command center, in space.’ The voice over intones: “WE’VE BEEN WAITING FOR YOU!”  Think about the American promise that kind of hyperbole intentionally implies to a bright minority female high school student. It says, “We want smart women to find their full potential in the Air Force.”  It says, “There’s no discrimination here; in fact, we’ve been waiting for you!”

The promise of a career in the Air Force was perfect for young Robin Chaurasiya.  And she was just what they were looking for to fulfill a future of American military progress.  If only the Air Force had had the determination she brought to her training to make that a reality.  What she encountered were Neanderthal-minded males who made crude remarks about women and minorities.  Like most determined young people who volunteer to join our armed forces, she dealt with that sort of thing by simply toughing it out; even as the glowing ideal got a bit tarnished by reality.  Surely there must be some Air Force rule about kicking out those who sully the ideal of ‘equality and full potential’ with disrespect, harassment and inflicting sexual trauma?

She has led her communications section with smooth efficiency.  No one there cares that she’s a five foot tall brown-skinned female non-Christian vegetarian who might be lesbian.  They don’t care about any of that because they are all young Americans who were reared and believe in the American ideal of equality, acceptance, affirmation, and diversity.  She knows what she’s doing; that’s all they care about.  But, to her superiors, all of that does matter, and her intelligence and leadership doesn’t; they want her out.

The DADT policy and the overwhelming discrimination are a betrayal of her patriotism.

She had served on active duty in Turkey and elsewhere.  Due to her father having been gravely ill, she had transferred to the Air Force Reserve.  Later she began international studies working towards a master’s degree.  At home and abroad in the European Union at university, she matured and began to live freely and openly as a matter of course.

Then, after completing her postgraduate degree, she was recalled to active duty in 2009.  She was an even more valuable asset at that point, of course.  Shortly thereafter, some private personal correspondence of hers, strongly suggesting that she was a lesbian, was forwarded to her commander.  Her commander told her that he was going to toss it out because he did not believe it; but cautioned her to make sure no one could make such claims about her character.  How profoundly insulting!  Since college ROTC, the Air Force had taught her about integrity and self respect.  She wrote to her commander telling him that she would not allow her ‘character’ assaulted as a ‘flaw.’  That led to an investigation that took nearly half a year.  She was then informed that she would not be discharged because she was making it all up in order to get out of serving.  How profoundly insulting!

It is also profound that the Air Force could be so oblivious to reenacting the old “Catch 22” irony.  The WWII original Catch 22 was that if you said you were eager to go into battle and kill the enemy, you were assumed to be crazy and removed from combat duty.  On the other hand if you said you were too terrified to go into combat, you had to go.  So, now, if you are a lesbian and want to serve, you can’t; but if you are a lesbian and don’t want to serve, you must. Right?

Assuming that she was about to be discharged, she set her sights on the future and married her partner.  When told she would not be discharged, she presented her commander with her marriage certificate – as was her duty to do even had she married a male.  One might perhaps imagine the scene of her commander’s pursed lips.  Then, after two more months, this woman, who had devoted every effort of her young life to serving in the Air Force, was told that she would once again not be discharged because she had gotten married to a woman and presented her marriage certificate in order to get out of serving. WHAT?  All she had ever wanted to do with her life was serve in the Air Force!

At this point, the Air Force’s betrayal of her patriotism was completely overwhelming.  But wait, there’s more.  The story was told in major American newspapers.  She continued to serve in her capacity of leading a communications unit.  Everyone in her unit was ‘instructed’ to treat her with complete respect, as if they had not already been doing that from the day she took command simply because none of those young American service members had ever had any reason to not respect her.  They were told that harassment would not be tolerated, not that any had ever thought of doing so.  On the contrary, many of her subordinates expressed their complete support to her.  Belatedly, all were also instructed not to speak to the media.  Right.  But, because of the media stories, perhaps, she has now again been recommended for discharge.  She has lead her unit without disruption to unit morale or performance.   At this point, she insists on integrity and honesty and is at long last unwilling to serve in any way other than being fully respected for who she is.

She had worked so very hard to qualify to achieve her dream of service in the US Air Force, to serve her country, to be the best American that she could be.  And now the Air Force tells her that it does not value her service.  I inquired of her about whether or not she has become disenchanted.  True to her American character, she simply has become determined to advocate for the right of all Americans to choose to volunteer to serve without discrimination.

  2010 Gay Military Signal