introduction: GMS regularly runs articles by or
about gay service members and veterans telling
their stories of ‘serving while gay.’ This one
is different. Adam Fenner is a highly
Guard Staff Sergeant with five deployments to
Iraq and Afghanistan, first as a Marine
infantryman, and most recently as a medic.
He’s straight, and
supports our right to serve. He’s served with LGBTQ troops, and has written a book,
"On Two Fronts," with a gay
friend, about one of his deployments. GMS
invited him to write an article, below, on his
perspective. His perspective is an eye-opener
because he has served ‘in the real military
world’ through the transition from DADT to open
service; and his ‘on the ground in-country’
perspectives are not always exactly politically
correct. For example, he speaks of hetero
'jealousy' over the possibility that two gay
troops need only close their quarter's door to
get it on. "That is Not why we joined," I
told him. "We patriotically volunteered to serve
and sacrifice like everyone else; to say that
suggests otherwise." He agreed. He
notes that while policy comes from the top down;
it is NCO's leadership that "sets the tone."
I'd agree with that, but I'd add that we have
never needed anyone's permission to be who we
are and serve our country; it is the NCO's
'responsibility' to carry out the new policy on
equality and ensure that it happens. -SFC
Denny Meyer, editor, Gay Military Signal.
It has been two years since the
repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT). I remember
that day because it wasn’t particularly spectacular in
any way, and even after we read the memorandum from the
Department of Defense outlining the repeal of the
seventeen-year old policy, nothing seemed to change.
Where were the hoots and the hollers? My unit had
a widely known circle of LGBT Soldiers within the ranks
of our Battalion, but they didn’t flinch and neither did
the command. Was this the result to a systemic problem
of intolerance within our unit . . . or the opposite?
Even the politically correct
justification for the implementation of DADT had one
fatal flaw. The mistaken belief that silence was
the best way to protect our homosexual brothers- and
sisters-in-arms. The military has a way of
reflecting the predominant beliefs of the nation as a
whole, within its ranks. The upper echelons
implement policies based on a combination of their
personal beliefs, slathered with political goals, and
the ever present goal of mission accomplishment.
The lower ranks just try to make it through the day,
understanding that they have to fight a two-sided war,
one against the enemy threat, the other with their
superiors who make decisions daily, affecting every
facet of their lives.
The upper echelon has the
challenge of remaining politically correct and socially
relevant to continue their careers. This is a
challenge that the lower ranks, thankfully, don’t have
to address. Their thoughts are focused only on
survival, and as a result they are more capable of more
fluidly adapting to social changes, especially those
related to civil rights.
I grew up in a small suburb in
Wisconsin. It was all white. And if there
was a homosexual population, we didn’t know about it.
“Gay” was just something we said when we wanted to
dehumanize one another, but there was no understanding
of what the word meant. In Colorado, where I went
to high school, there were two black students; the rest
were white. It wasn’t until my first day at MCRD
(Marine Corps Recruit Depot) San Diego with the Marine
Corps that I first truly applied any education I had
toward any type of tolerance. It started there,
with a Marine drill Instructor screaming at everyone,
informing us that regardless of the color of our skin or
the god they worship, we were all equally worthless.
Before I realized what was
happening, I was eighteen-years old curled up in a
fighting hole trying to keep warm with a Puerto Rican
and a black Marine. Suddenly, I was in a
mixed-race environment, and among the minority.
The beauty of the infantry is
its ability to truly teach tolerance. At the
lowest level, when it is simply a matter of survival to
count on everyone around you, regardless of religion or
skin color, the only logical option is to ignore the
differences. We shared our racial and cultural
identities with one another and celebrated them with the
most vulgar politically incorrect comments.
I carried this education with
me to the Army and into Afghanistan, where I wrote my
first book On Two Fronts. My co-author and
friend, Lance Taubold was a gay Las Vegas entertainer.
He wrote about his experiences as the friend left
behind. I wrote mine as the soldier deployed. Many
of my brothers-in-arms knew that I was writing a book,
but in the pre-DADT repeal days few knew that I was
writing it with a gay civilian. Now, five years
after the start of the book, and six months after it was
published, everyone knows, and it has been
affectionately referred to by all my military brothers
as my “Gay Romance.” I can’t deny it is in many
ways a relationship story, although not a romance.
It does show a straight service member’s friendship with
an openly gay civilian during the trying times that a
deployment offers. Those openly diverse
relationships are important for the larger acceptance of
homosexuals within any community.
It is understood that the
minority of any population wants the same rights as the
majority, to have access to those rights that the
majority take for granted. That is common sense,
and is one of the reason’s that the cries for equality
of the minority often go unheard, because their requests
are already known. The way for any minority to be
accepted is when leader’s within the majority openly
accept the minority. The tone the leadership sets
will bleed down into the rest of the majority. I
do not mean political leaders, although, those are
important as well, but their opinions are always under
suspicion. It is those celebrity, military and
corporate leaders of society openly accepting the
minority into their lives and embracing them as equals
that makes the difference, for example: Frank Sinatra
publicly embracing Sammy Davis Jr. as a friend and
co-worker at a time when racial conflict was at its peak
within the United States, the appointment of the first
female Army officer, Lt. Col. Florence Blanchfield, by
President Eisenhower in 1947, or that crusty drill
instructor telling us we are all equally worthless. Leaders set the tone.
Then DADT was repealed, and
again I was in Afghanistan. Although, I’m not
naive enough to believe that persecution does not take
place, from my position within the staff offices, but I
didn’t see a change. The command which had
previously kept themselves purposely in the dark, by not
pursuing their suspicions, while cultivating an
environment of tolerance was now able to be openly
tolerant. The policy was simple: keep your
personal life personal. As a result, no one was
running to our First Sergeant because there was no
reason. We were all again equal.
anything, any animosity that existed was as a result of
jealousy. Base policy prevented opposite
gender service members from entering one another’s
living areas. Straight couples had to get creative to
satisfy their carnal urges, while the LGBT service
members only needed to close their doors. That,
combined with the declaration that DOMA was
unconstitutional, allowing homosexual couples to be
married and receive full benefits, was the final word
for equality--at least as far as we saw it, as well as
highlighting the distinct difference between state and
federal law, allowing same-sex married couples to
receive federal benefits in states that don’t support
Within the ranks, from my
perception, little changed. The homosexual
population was now allowed to be open about their
sexuality, but it was hardly announced in company
formations. There will, of course, always be those
outliers, the individuals who single-handedly destroy
the climate of a unit through their intolerance.
It remains, as it did in the beginning, the
responsibility of leadership to remind all service
members of their equality.
Leaders will always have the
expressed responsibility to set the climate of equal
opportunity within their units, working diligently to
promote equality through their own actions and the
enforcement of equality. It is the lower level of
leadership that is most important, those NCOs and
Company grade who have always set the tone. Those
leaders who are always under the watchful eye of their
subordinates, not the pictures hanging on our walls of
leaders who we rarely encounter, and never interact
with. They have always been the most progressive,
looking at the mission, the rules governing how they
must accomplish it and the resources provided to them.
Our jobs are hard enough and the consequences too great
to expend our energy upon hatred and intolerance.
It is akin to cutting off our own arm.
The battle we have today is
similar to the one fought in the 60’s and 70’s against
racism and also the decades following the women’s rights
movement. The policies are in place to support an
equal opportunity environment at the highest level.
Now it falls upon the leaders at the middle and lower
levels to support and enforce those policies by setting
the example for acceptable behavior and punishing those
who fail to meet that standard. Through our hard
work and diligence, we can work to develop an
environment of tolerance within the military.
But there is still a lot of
work ahead of us, and it isn’t the big decisions that
will change a culture. It is ever the little one,
made at the lower level of leadership.
About the author:
Adam Fenner has served in both the US Marine Corps and
the Nevada National Guard. He has deployed twice to
Iraq and three times to Afghanistan. He now resides in
Las Vegas and serves with the Nevada National Guard.
Adam is the author of “Post Deployment Wisdom for the
Returning Service Member,” “Post Deployment Wisdom for
those Expecting a Returning Service Member”, and
“On Two Fronts;”
all available on
He is a student pursuing his Bachelors degree in
Accounting at UNLV, is currently working on a dark
fantasy series, and a romance.
He has earned the
following medals, ribbons and badges: Bronze Star Medal, Army Commendation Medal (Awarded 3
times), Army Achievement Medal, Combat Action Ribbon,
Presidential Unit Citation, Meritorious Unit Citation
(Awarded 2 times), Navy Unit Commendation, Army Good Conduct Medal, Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal,
Army Reserve Component Achievement Medal,
National Defense Service Medal,
Afghan Campaign Medal (with 4 Campaign Stars),
Iraq Campaign Medal (with 1 Campaign Star),
Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal,
Global War on Terrorism Service Medal,
Armed Forces Reserve Medal (Mobilization Device),
NCO Professional Development Ribbon (Awarded 2 times),
Army Service Ribbon,
Overseas Service Ribbon (Awarded 3 times),
Navy Sea Service Deployment Medal (Awarded 2 times), Nato Afghanistan Service Medal (ISAF
Device), Nevada Governor’s Outstanding Unit Award,
Nevada Guard Meritorious Service Ribbon, Nevada War on
Terrorism Medal, Combat Medic Badge, Pathfinder Badge.