Having served over 18 years in the Army has taught me a lot. Success within the military came easy to me - Within the first 10 years I moved through the ranks from E-2 (private) to an E-7 (Sgt. 1st Class), and I’ve also deployed overseas to the Middle East for multiple 12-month tours. Hard work and dedication even led me to working at The White House Communications Agency, for a period of six years, supporting both the Bush and Obama administrations. Although my time working at the White House was stimulating and allowed me to grow, I applied for and was accepted into the Army Flight school program. Once again, I found myself at the bottom of the totem pole as a WO1. Continuing to strive for success, I was assigned to Davison Army Airfield, just outside Washington DC, to provide flight support to the Secretary of Defense in addition to Emergency Response to the National Capital Region, as a UH60 Blackhawk pilot. My follow-on duty stations included the 101st Airborne Division Air Assault unit, which entailed another deployment, and my current assignment as an Aviation Mission Survivability Officer, Air Mission Commander, and Equal Opportunity Leader within the 25th Infantry Division in Hawaii.
Being a transgender soldier within the Army has been the largest challenge that I have dealt with throughout my entire life. At first, I was just trying to figure out what was going on within myself. When I finally figured it out, I was too scared to be open and honest about it, mainly due to my fear of not being accepted. It was not until the ban was in place that I decided I was ready to be authentically me.
Unfortunately that meant the Army was no longer ready to embrace me as I am. I found myself being forced to suppress and hide because my career was at risk. Most of my evenings were spent digging through every regulation and policy published regarding transgender medical care. I sought help from others, trying to educate myself as much as possible. Eventually I decided to email my primary care provider with a “Hypothetical Question.” Since that day, I have learned that you must be patient and resilient when attempting to obtain transgender related care in the military.
As new transgender service members join our ranks, it’s important that they understand that the medical process in the Army is no simple feat to negotiate; especially when it comes to transgender care. The referrals, the denials, the appeals, the waivers, the memos, the absurd amount of people that have to review and approve, and of course the waiting in the dark. This is all part of a very bureaucratic, convoluted process, that at times it seems is just in place to deter you from being yourself.
Looking forward though, I am hopeful to be accepted and recognized as an equal once again with open arms within all branches of service. Everyone’s timeline is different and everyone’s command is different.
My advice - Volunteer knowing that there will be challenges; but be ready for them. Be strong, be resilient, respect everyone, and help those around you. We are here and we want to be heard.