I served my country in the Army for 22 years. I have about 13 years of active duty and the rest is National Guard time. For my service, I’ll collect a pension when I’m 60 since I retired as a reservist rather than after 20 years of creditable active duty time. Beyond getting a retirement check, I may someday get the thanks of my country for serving. Since I’m out as a lesbian though, that probably won’t happen even after Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) is fully repealed. The services will do as ordered and follow the laws as they are set. Some soldiers will be supportive. Most will toe the party line. Most in the current era will never step up to offer any accolades or even to give full military burial honors upon my death. That’s the way it is. The law may change but the institution won’t, at least for awhile. Maybe someday as the old are replaced with the new…
My mentor during my coming out process was a lesbian Army National Guard Sergeant First Class who served for 9 months in Iraq. She’d served a 6 month tour in Bosnia a couple of years before that. In both cases, she would call her partner in the wee hours of the morning her time, which was well into the evening our time whenever she could. She wanted to “call home” just like all the other troops but she also wanted to be able to be herself and talk freely. That was something she couldn’t do when she was lined up with the masses to make her call. During her tour in Iraq, she was housed in one of Saddam’s palaces for several months. She shared a large room with 4 other women, most of the only other women positioned at that compound. They represented both the officer ranks above her and enlisted ranks below her. She had to be very careful about all personal conversations given the mix of personnel. It was very hard for her to hide who she really was.
Bronson Lemur is another American soldier who found himself in a similar situation to my mentor and friend. Bronson is gay. He served in the North Dakota National Guard. He was deployed to Iraq for a year not long after a bad break-up with his partner. He had to go through the pain of his break-up 1000′s of miles from home with no support from his comrades in arms because he was a good soldier and he didn’t tell, and little support from his mostly estranged, family back home. He writes about being a deployed gay soldier serving in Iraq in his book, The Last Deployment: How a Gay, Hammer-Swinging Twentysomething Survived a Year in Iraq.
Bronson chose to leave the military after his deployment – in fact he had planned to leave before he was deployed – because he was tired of having to live a lie. It shouldn’t have to be that way for my friend, for Bronson, or for other soldiers like them. A future without don’t ask, don’t tell and without the good old boy network of the services will go a long way toward improving that for all soldiers, sailors and airmen.