Great leaders don’t set out to be a leader. They set out to make a difference. It’s never about the role – always about the goal.
When I set out to serve my country eleven years ago, I was seeking new experiences. I was seeking direction. I was seeking to be a part of something bigger than myself. I wanted to be a chaplain and needed money for school. The Navy offered me these opportunities. I wasn’t looking for fame or a big payday. I didn’t know I would be breaking gender barriers. I didn’t know I would be leading a national organization and serving alongside some of the greatest service members I have ever known. I certainly didn’t know I was transgender or even what that meant. I never wanted the spotlight, however this is the path that has been laid before me. With that comes great responsibility to a cause of equality bigger than myself.
This Veterans Day, transgender Service Members continue to serve this great nation despite the uncertainty of our futures. We are special forces, security, infantry, intelligence, logistics, ship drivers, nuclear engineers, company commanders and submariners. We are also fathers and mothers, aunts and uncles, sons and daughters. We love and laugh, mourn and cry, get married and have children (both human and animal). We live life just like many others.
We continue to accomplish the mission and fulfill the oaths we have taken. We stand shoulder to shoulder with our battle buddies ready to defend peace and liberty. Our reasons for serving are varied. No one reason more noble than the other. Not a single Service Member fits neatly into any cookie cutter mold of what service should or should not be about. When I asked transgender Service Members about why they made their commitment, here is what they said:
“I joined because it was a family job and because I wanted to do my part to hopefully make the world a better place.” SSG, USA, 13 years
“To defend the ideals and the promise of this nation.” Maj, USAF 14 years
“To become part of something bigger, in a force that can change the world.” MSgt, USAF, 22 years
“To be a part of a team and something greater than myself.” MAJ, USA, 19 years
“I joined the military simply because I wanted to wake up every morning and be proud of what I was doing.” SSgt, USAF, 5 years
“I joined as a youth, seeking adventure and employment. I stayed as an adult for the merit-based culture and the joy of having found my place in the world.” SFC, Army Special Forces, 15 years
“I always wanted to serve my country ever since I was a little kid, as soon as I turned 18 there was no turning back.” Sgt, USMC, 5 years
“I joined the Army to escape poverty and limited opportunities; to enable a college education and rise above my circumstances.” MAJ, USA, 25 years
“I joined to save people’s lives and preserve the ocean’s fisheries.” CAPT, USCG, 22 years
“I joined after graduating high school to get out of town and see the world.” MSgt, USAF, 25 years
“To face a challenge and prove to myself I could stand on my own.” Major, USMC, 20 years
“I joined because I wanted to go from watching my dad put on the uniform every day to putting on the uniform myself every day.” SSgt, USAF, 5 years
“I joined the US Navy to escape small town life, to learn skills and get experience in a field I was passionate about, and to provide for the family my then-fiancé and I had been planning.” PO1, USN, 13 years
“I joined to follow in my family’s footsteps, Grandfather, Father, and now son.” SPC, USA, 5 years
“I joined the military because I wanted to be ready to fight for and defend our country and its people both in war and in peace if need be.” 1LT, TXARNG, 7 years
We are clear about why we love this country. We are clear about why we volunteered. We are clear about our identities. We are not confused. We are not broken. We have many of the same values as those who serve alongside us. Many have decades of service, are battle tested in Iraq and Afghanistan, and have some of the biggest hearts and strongest minds. Our service to this nation is of no less value than those who have gone before us.
We owe a debt of gratitude to the estimated 134,000 transgender veterans who laid the groundwork to get us to where we are today. I would not be doing this job if it were not for their own sacrifices, not only to serve this nation but also continuing to advocate for others knowing they may not reap the benefits. I stand on the shoulders of veterans such as SCPO (Ret) Kristen Beck, LT Paula Neira, CPT Sue Fulton, CPT Allyson Robinson, LCDR Brynn Tannehill, MAJ (ret) Evan Young, COL (ret) Sheri Swokowski, and COL (ret) Suzanne Wheeler. Their bravery and contributions to the pursuit of open transgender service and their continued advocacy are examples to our younger Service Members pursuing their dreams and navigating life’s journey. SPARTA thanks you and salutes you.
On this Veteran’s Day, I encourage you to remember that transgender Service Members are both serving and fighting to continue to serve. Even with uncertainty, they are undeterred and more determined than ever to show the world that they have earned their place because of their abilities to do the job, not their identity. Allowing them to transition improves readiness; is lethal to our adversaries and better prepared to defend this great nation preserving liberty and justice for all (even those that would deny us that). This Veteran’s Day, I encourage you to #HonorTransTroops. As always, remember it is not just what we do, but why and how we do it that separates us from the adversaries we continue to face in pursuit of justice.