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Lieutenant Colonel Adam Hackel
Calmly defining courage

by Denny Meyer

Lieutenant Colonel Adam W . Hackel had to find his courage at a very early age after he lost both parents in succession and he faced the world alone as a young teenager.  As if that were not enough for anyone to have to deal with, he also knew he was gay -furthering his isolation in the military boarding academy where he spent his youth.  If you can remember ever having felt alone without anyone to turn to as a child, his experience can make you burst into tears just imagining what he went through.  And yet, by his own account, he faced forward and marched into making his own way educationally and into a military career.  He thrived in his military school and won a partial college scholarship from the American Legion, went through ROTC, was commissioned as an officer, served in combat in Iraq, and after a seventeen year career has just assumed command of a USAR Public Affairs Operations Center.

His father enlisted in the Marines at the age of 16 during World War II and drove a "Duck" ferrying troops back and forth through enemy fire during the Battle of Iwo Jima.  His uncles all served in the Navy.

Now, with that background, you might think LTC Hackel would be one tough bulldog to deal with and a terror to his troops, with an explosive chip on his shoulder.  But, in reality, you could not meet a kinder gentler soul, with a calm demeanor and a clearer patriotic commitment to serving his country and being a guide to his troops.  It is that character, perhaps, that enabled him to have commanded a Dual Purpose (Smoke/DECON) Chemical Company, among other command and staff assignments during his ongoing career.  While in Iraq, he served in Major cities through the country; his awards include a Bronze Star, a Meritorious Service Medal, a Combat Action Badge, and an Army Commendation Medal with 3 oak leaf clusters.  In his civilian career, he is a school's Director of Instrumental Music.  He holds a masters and doctorate degree in education.  And he is engaged to marry his partner of 12 years with whom they are raising their adopted daughter.

Adam Hackel has fond memories of his early childhood with his kind and deeply caring parents.  He remembers his father taking him camping when, as they were breaking camp, it began to rain torrentially.  His father calmly and gently told him, "Its OK, its no big deal."  (What's a little rain, after all, to a man who survived hails of mortar fire as a teenager in mortal combat).  Although those family times were all too brief, his memory of who his parents were has endured throughout his life to form his character and courage.

In addition to his rigorous studies and participation in ROTC, he worked for the police force while in college.  He began his service in the United States Army Reserve, and served most of his career, under the Don't Ask Don't Tell policy;  and had to endure hearing people say short-sighted  discriminatory things.  But, our American culture had already begun to change.  Unlike the deep camouflage-closet required to survive by those who had "served in silence" in earlier eras, who he was was not exactly a secret.  Yet, in his presence many people stifled the kind of bigoted banter commonly heard in military environments in earlier eras.  They respected him for his character and calm courage, it appears.  Times were changing.  Nevertheless he still had to suffer the humiliation of clandestine communication with his partner while deployed, holding back affection or ovations of love, having to constantly remember to change the gender and pretend he was speaking to a female friend instead of the man he loves.  It was deeply frustrating knowing that he was being denied the freedom he was fighting for.  Yet, as so many of us have done, he persevered out of patriotism and dedication to duty.

And now at last that time of having to hide who you are has ended.  One can now have pride in service as well as pride in your family.  In mid April 2012, as LTC Adam Hackel assumed command of the 361st PAOC with the command and control of eight detachments as well as the command headquarters, his friends, family and partner in life were all present, with their daughter in his arms, and acknowledged with the standard unit gift given during change of command ceremonies.  It was, indeed, no big deal.  Everyone smiled in the direction of the 'spouse and child' when the little baby girl cried, as small children commonly do during dreary adult speeches.  LTC Hackel was calm and collected as always; this was not his first change of command ceremony, after all.  But it was the first in which his partner was present and known to all.  For me at least, as a grizzled old sergeant who served almost half a century ago, it was a very big deal indeed to have the honor of living to see this moment of freedom. 
It was hard for me to keep from crying; remembering all the years of silence and fear.  His superiors didn't simply smile in the direction of his partner and child during the ceremony; they seemed to beam with pride at the military progress that day represented.  When before could there have been two men standing in front of the unit's huge American flag holding their child together, with everyone present happily taking pictures, including the unit's own official camera crew! 

I asked Adam Hackel how he had dealt with discrimination in the time before the repeal of DADT, and how he sees his role as a leader in the post DADT era.  His greatest frustration had been the need to hide who he was, as was officially required by the DADT policy under which he'd served, because "honor and integrity", as taught in the academy, are his highest values.  He was also painfully aware of the reality of "having to play that juvenile game of pretense in a combat zone where everyone walked around with loaded weapons."  But, he carried on, he said, knowing that he was not the only one; and knowing that the policy would end.  And when it ended, as it has, he knew there would be a need for senior officers to step up, as he has done, and be straightforward and open, to be there to protect others who have not yet come out.  He sees it as his duty as an officer and commander to stand up in the face of lingering adversity to serve by example and simply be who he is; thereby saying, "this is what is right,"  no secrets, no shame, just simple pride.  That, he hopes, will help to dispel the falsehoods and ignorance of discrimination both for those who fear anyone who is different, and for those service members who still fear to be themselves.  Simply by ceasing to hide who he is, he becomes a leader whose example says, "This is who I am, this is what I can do."  That, he believes, can give others strength and courage, as well as eradicating distrust among those with lingering doubt.

On their feet throughout the Change of Command ceremony, the members of his unit could see his partner and child in the small audience.  They didn't have to wonder who this man was, who would lead them in any future deployment.  They could see that, like many of them, he had a family from which he would be separated.  When he had been in Iraq, under DADT, his family had to be hidden; they didn't exist in his records, they were unknown to the Department of Defense, and they were ineligible for family benefits of any kind.

Unfortunately, the last item above remains true to this day, even after the repeal of DADT. Due to the Defense of Marriage Act, the Pentagon is prevented from recognizing his family for the purpose of providing family benefits.   Hence, the job of ending inequality in our armed forces is not finished.  For LTC Adam Hackel, "Any form of arbitrary discrimination mars us as a country; it diminishes us as a free state; it causes us to do things that are beneath us as a superpower."  He has hope that Congress will look at this disparity and realize that, as the exemplar of freedom, this nation can do nothing more patriotic than assuring that all citizens have full and equal rights

For LTC Hackel, the end of DADT was a step forward for which he thanks the vision of former Pennsylvania  Congressman Murphy, the fulfillment of hope by the Commander in Chief (who signed the repeal in 2011), and the advocacy organizations and people who believe in supporting all of our troops.  He has hope that soon our government will take on the responsibility of assuring that all of our service members' families will be equally supported, so that soldiers in battle will be alleviated of the concern that those they love are covered.  His goal is to simply enable all of his troops and all of their families to feel fully supported.

  2012 Gay Military Signal