A Gay Soldier's Letter Before Leaving For Afghanistan
I'm writing letters to my loved ones in case I don't return from Afghanistan. I hope my partner never has to open his. If he does, it will ask him to tell who I was, because I couldn't.
I was a teenager when my brother came home with an American flag draped over his coffin, so I understand the fragility of life and the dangers of serving. And the additional burden of Don't Ask, Don't Tell is one I choose to carry. I volunteered for deployment, and I continue to serve. It's my deepest core value, whatever the cost.
The silence is the hardest part. I listen intently as my fellow soldiers talk about facing the reality of leaving their loved ones for a year and all the life events that will be missed. I don't talk about my own experience at all, because it's easier to come across as cold and removed than to risk slipping and mentioning that my loved one is of the same gender. For all I know, there are other gay soldiers in my unit, ones who understand what I'm going through. My gay friends in civilian life are supportive, but they don't often understand the military or soldiering. That camouflage is another burden I carry as I prepare to leave.
It's also difficult knowing that this policy is nothing more than politics. I try not to think too much about DADT and how destructive it is to peoples' lives, to military units, readiness, and to the progression of our country to a better place. But when I do let myself think about these things, I seethe with anger.
I am angry at the politicians who have for several years talked the talk on the policy, heightening the awareness of homosexuality among military personnel, and then done little to nothing to actually change it. We gay soldiers are the ones who suffer but can't openly participate in the debate.
I am angry at certain senators -- John McCain comes to mind -- who have obviously lost touch with any understanding of the current generation of service men and women, who, as we all know, support repeal at overwhelming numbers. They hide behind a vitriolic rhetoric fraught with illogical arguments and innuendo, smothered by their obvious fear.
And so we wait to see what the Senate will do. In the meantime, I have to remind myself to look elsewhere for comfort, to remember the courage of people like Dan Choi and his consistent devotion to changing this policy, at a very personal cost. Or Katie Miller, who made public at West Point who she really is, but would seek return the moment the policy is overturned. I also remind myself of the moral courage of Secretary Gates and Admiral Mullen, thankful that some at the highest level of military leadership get it even as others call our plight a "distraction."
And I'm reminded of the moral courage of my partner, who encourages me everyday to continue to put on that uniform; who believes that some things are worthy of our energies; who quietly plods along and prepares for my deployment as I do the same. I know as a soldier, it is the people we leave behind who bear the real brunt of deployment, who hold it all together, who send the care packages and pray for our returns. He'll have to do it on his own though. There are no support groups for the gay partners left back home.
In the meantime, gay soldiers who are still serving in silence will continue to put on our rucksacks and do what our country asks of us -- and wait.