I knew I was done hiding behind the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy after returning from a four month deployment flying missions to Iraq as a loadmaster with the 37th Airlift Squadron. It was my second tour — one I’d picked because of the long hours and irregular schedule, a lifestyle that I thought would make it easier to keep my personal life private. But lying about who you are, especially to people you are serving with, is never easy.
In 2008, my commander who I served with in Iraq said to me, it was an honor to serve with you and if you need anything, just let me know. He then sent me home. That was my last day in the U.S. military after 7 years of honorable service. I had violated federal law by telling someone I was gay.
During the time it took for my discharge to get processed, I decided I would share my situation. My friends and co-workers on base responded in one of two ways. The first was, “Tony, we all figured that from day one, we just didn’t care that you were gay.” The second was, “Tony, why didn’t you ever tell me? It pisses me off that you couldn’t trust me with that information.” I had to explain that I had to remain silent because I didn’t want to lose my career; it wasn’t about trusting them.
You can bet I wanted to fight my discharge. But my attorneys from Servicemembers Legal Defense Network advised that it is virtually impossible to win a legal challenge to the “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” law. So I was forced to throw in the towel and accepted the fact I had to begin a job search.
I did not want out of the military—I would go back in tomorrow–but I had to move on. It just so happened that my exact skill set, gained through Air Force training, was in high demand with defense contractors. Within three weeks of my discharge, global contractor KBR hired me to go back to Iraq as a radio repair technician. (KBR, by the way, knew prior to hiring me I was gay and received an honorable discharge). Within one month of being in Iraq, a former Chief Master Sergeant (CMSGT/E9), now retired, sent me to Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan to manage its technical operations. While there I worked with three prior service members I had worked with while on active duty, but now I was working as an openly gay contractor. An Army Sergeant who I was also working with said, “I can’t believe they are still discharging military members for being gay. Don’t they know we need everyone we can get in this fight?”
We do need everyone we can get. At the same time I was being discharged, my younger brother, who served a 15-month tour in Iraq during 2004-05 with the Army infantry, was stop-lossed to be sent back for another tour of duty. He had a new wife and a young son; he had fulfilled his initial commitment and wanted to leave the Army to continue his career as a civilian. But our country’s needs were too great — he was told he had to keep fighting. We need everyone we can get in the fight, whether they want to be there or not.
It seems like Admiral Mullen and Secretary Gates do know this. Mullen said allowing gays to serve openly is about integrity and honesty—since they’re putting their lives on the line for this country. We must follow these core values that contribute positively to mission effectiveness. Our leaders have made the order and we must follow!
The fear of a disruption of good order and discipline is nothing more than a myth. I know this because–within one month of my return from Afghanistan, a retired Master Sergeant asked me to come work for him at Andrews Air Base. I ended up working with two prior military supervisors and one prior Airman that I once supervised; all now contractors. I maintain an openly gay presence. I even drove around on Andrews in a car advocating for DADT repeal. (There was no mistake that I was an open gay man working on a military installation.) I invite you to ask anyone of the employees at the Joint Base Andrews PMEL about their experience working with the token gay guy. But if you do talk to them, don’t give them my new number. They keep harassing me to come work for them again.
To this very day, I continue to get job offers without seeking them. This tells me our military is stretched thin and the Department of Defense is trying to make up for the short fall in military strength by a constantly re-enforcing our military with civilian contract support; most of whom have served before–including the gay ones. For now, this gay veteran is putting to use the Post 9/11 GI Bill and pursuing a Master of Fine Arts at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco. I am actually hoping to buy time with this educational program and re-enter the military where my training and skills can be put to better use.
(My Story was first published in Washington Post, February 7, 2010)
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