I decided to join the Air Force in November 1995 when I went to the recruiting station with my friend Dave, who was also thinking about joining the Air Force. Our good friend Melanie had already signed up and was scheduled to leave in March. I was the last one to speak to the recruiter but the first one to leave for training.
I enlisted March 6, 1996, but I wasn’t new to the Air Force. My dad and stepdad had retired from the Air Force after serving 20-year enlistments, and I had spent my childhood in Japan and the Philippines.
The thought of “don’t ask, don’t tell” (DADT) never crossed my mind when I joined. I hadn’t come out to myself so didn’t consider myself gay. And I had never heard of DADT, or if I had I never paid attention.
It wasn’t until I arrived at Langley Air Force Base that I started realizing I was gay, and the Internet helped me understand there were other gay military people. While at Langley I didn’t have any gay friends, never went to any gay bars, or dated anyone. I was uncomfortable being gay and afraid of being caught. I was invited to a gay bar in Virginia Beach by one of the people I had chatted with online, and I decided to go. I drove there but never got out of the car. Instead I went home.
Then I moved to Elmendorf Air Force Base in Alaska, where I became more social and started meeting more gay people. I also met my first boyfriend.
As I started hanging out with non-work friends, I started getting questions at work. How was your weekend? Did you go on a date? I gave generic answers and never mentioned whom I was hanging out with. I started distancing myself from my coworkers so I wouldn’t have to answer questions. I kept my work life separate from my social life.
One of my gay Air Force friends had coworkers who knew he was gay and could not care less. When I would stop at his office they would ask me about my dating life and how things were going.
I never had any problems at work, although one of the guys in my squadron was gay and told me some people made comments about my being gay – a “faggot” – when I wasn’t around. I wasn’t bothered. I knew they were angry and venting when I went to the flight line to evaluate them on loading missiles and bombs on aircraft.
After I served six years, the Air Force let me out of my enlisted commitment so I could go into a two-year Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps (AFROTC) program and come back as an officer. On August 20, 2001, I separated and started AFROTC the next day.
Three weeks later was September 11. I remember seeing the news, waking my roommate, who was active-duty Air Force, and telling him he needed to see what was happening. I think everyone in uniform that day realized everything was about to change.
My boyfriend was also in the AFROTC detachment at the University of Alaska in Anchorage. He was already a cadet when I joined, and his good friend, also a cadet, knew we were dating.
In my first year I moved up in leadership, received my pilot slot, was ranked first in my class, and was preparing to attend field training during the summer. One day I was waiting in the lobby at my AFROTC detachment for my semester review from my cadre member. I overheard the commander tell my advisor to call the Judge Advocate General (JAG) office, and that he wanted to talk again with a female friend of mine. I told my boyfriend that I suspected our friend might have told them we were gay.
A few months later I was at field training at Tyndall Air Force Base and called my boyfriend during base liberty. He told me he just met with the JAG and that we were being investigated. I tried to focus on passing field training, which I completed.
The day after I returned from field training I was called into the office. The JAG officer was waiting and had a lot of questions. I offered no comment, and I left not knowing what would happen.
The questioning took place while I was helping the other cadets as part of my assignment. My boyfriend and I were part of the cadet wing staff responsible for coming up with the plan for the fall semester. Before the classes started I got a call from my commander, who asked me to see him. I stopped at his office and he sat me down. He slid a piece of paper across the desk, and he told me he was dis-enrolling me from AFROTC due to homosexual conduct.
My Air Force career ended just like that. Not because I was horrible at my job or I did something wrong but because I am gay.
I remember walking out of my commander’s office. He walked with me while giving me instructions to turn in my uniforms. I remember taking my military ID card from my wallet and handing it to him. The NCO who handled all of our paperwork appeared and I could see the look of shock on her face as I handed over my ID card.
My boyfriend was discharged as well. All of my friends were shocked that I had been discharged but they were never told the reason why. One of my AFROTC friends told me some of rumors she had heard: Cheating, drugs, bad grades, security-clearance issues. But to my surprise no one ever mentioned DADT. When I finally started telling people the reason I was discharged they were shocked.
I called my parents and told them what happened. My stepdad told me he was disappointed with the Air Force but proud of me for everything I had accomplished. They were very supportive.
I was lucky to have an understanding family, great friends, and a boyfriend who knew what I was going through. I can’t imagine having to go through this alone, as some people do. The support made it easier for me to refocus and figure out what to do with my life now that my Air Force dreams were over.
I think about the Air Force every day and it still bothers me that I lost a great opportunity because of a law that said I am not good enough for the military because I am gay.
That is the reason I went to work for Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN). Not only did they provide helpful advice when I was being discharged but they have helped thousands of others who have gone through the same thing. They were instrumental in getting rid of this law so no one else has to go through the same pain I did.
I plan on going back into the Air Force and have talked to the Air Force Reserve recruiters. I am hopeful that I will again serve my country.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: David Hall enlisted in the Air Force in 1996 and was discharged under DADT in 2002. He is development director and information-technology manager at Servicemembers Legal Defense Network.
ABOUT THE ESSAY: This essay is an excerpt from "The End of Don't Ask, Don't Tell: The Impact in Studies and Personal Essays by Service Members and Veterans," co-edited by J. Ford Huffman and Tammy S. Schultz, Marine Corps University Press, March 2012, 254 pages.
To request a copy, write DADT Book, Marine Corps War College, 2076 South St., Quantico, Va. 22314
The views expressed in the book are those of the authors and do not reflect the official policy or position of the U.S. Government, Department of Defense, U.S. Marine Corps, U.S. Navy, Marine Corps University, Marine Corps War College, Marine Corps University Press or the Marine Corps University Foundation.
03-14-12 By David Hall, SLDN Development Director and IT Manager |