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Duty - Honor - Country


Former Cadet Katherine A. Miller

I thumbed through the myriad of college information packets I received in the mail. I was 16 years of age, preparing to enter my junior year of high school, and completely directionless when it came to my post-secondary education plans. That is, until I stumbled upon a pamphlet with a strong woman standing before - and very apparently commanding - a sea of men and women dressed in grey uniforms. I was not simply intrigued; it was much more than that. I felt that in glancing at that picture I had learned something deeply personal about myself. In retrospect, I can say confidently that my directionless, teenage self was awe-struck and inspired. I opened the packet and studied the featured content.

"Duty - Honor - Country. These three hallowed words reverently dictate what you ought to be, what you can be, what you will be."- Douglas MacArthur, 1962

The words echoed in my head long after I was done reading them. I suddenly appreciated the concepts of personal, holistic development that would benefit a cause far greater than myself. And in that exact moment, I wanted nothing more than to attend West Point, commission as a second lieutenant, and lead soldiers in the world's finest military. Nothing was going to derail my efforts in accomplishing this.


My junior and senior year of high school I developed myself academically, physically, and militarily to prepare for the rigors of cadet life. I lifted with a strength coach three times a week and joined the cross-country team for endurance training. I applied military concepts to every class assignment I received. I sought mentorship from community leaders so I could start forming my own leadership style. And a few months later, I would choose to suppress the sexuality I had finally come to terms with. It simply did not fit in with my life plans, and I viewed it as another conquerable obstacle in preparation for military service.

The academy recognized my efforts and rendered me an appointment in January 2008. I reported for Cadet Basic Training (CBT) three weeks after I graduated with honors from Findlay High School.

The first major training event my company was scheduled to complete was repelling from a 75 foot cliff with nothing but a rope and caribbeaner. I was preoccupied with my own fear of heights as I positioned myself on the edge when I noticed a cadet in the lane parallel to mine struggling. She grasped the rope, quite literally, for dear life. I could see her forearms trembling and her lower lip quivering from a few feet away. In seeing my fellow platoon-mate in such a state, I instinctively concerned myself with her well-being in place of my own. "You're going to be alright. We're going to do this together," I encouraged her with confidence that surprised even myself. She locked on my eyes for a second then nodded in understanding. Two minutes later we reached the bottom of the cliff, side by side.

General Petreaus once said “The military isn’t about people; it is people.” After having such a genuine, human-to-human interaction with the cadet during the repel, I knew I was in the right profession, the profession of leading people.

But not all of CBT was about bonding through adrenaline-pumping moments. It resembled much more personal, social moments punctuated by these rather intense training experiences. I resided in the same barracks, ate meals with, and attended briefings with my company mates. We were cadets, but we were also more than that; we were friends. And it was in these situations I found my integrity most compromised. I deliberately avoided speaking about my personal life. But inevitably, the topic arose. Suspicious of my overt aversion to discussing this, I began to lie about my past relationships to my friends. Sometimes this included referring to my most recent girlfriend as "Kris" instead of "Kristin" and substituting the appropriate gender pronouns. Other times I found it necessary to create a more elaborate heterosexual dating history to cover up my sexual orientation. This false identity compromised the basic human-to-human interaction that drew me to the military in the first place. I could feel the bonds deteriorating between my comrades and me as I submerged myself in a whirlwind of equivocation and deceit. I found myself unable to form genuine relationships, and as a result, unable to become the soldier and the leader I so aspired to be.

After two years at West Point, a contract must be signed that commits cadet to seven more years in uniform. The ambivalence was overbearing, but I was forced to make a choice: commit or resign. So on Friday, 13AUG2010 I was honorably discharged from the military. There was no sigh of relief. There was no enlightened feeling from the restoration of my integrity. I had just resigned from the academy I had dreamed of attending since I was 16. But as torn I was, I knew I was doing the right thing.

I will be attending Yale University in the fall to continue my intellectual development, my political activism, and my self -exploration. I anticipate my experience there being rewarding in its own respect. But every day I will look forward to the prospect of DADT repeal because that will be the day I return to the military to serve proudly in the U.S. Army Officer Corps, just as I had aspired when I opened that pamphlet in the mail four years ago.


  2010 Gay Military Signal