I hated the military.
My most gut-wrenching, low moments happened while wearing the uniform. Donning the camos invited years of chaos, catastrophe, self-doubt and heartache. I’m bespectacled, but my lenses are clear, not rose colored. The difficult times have, and will always remain, arduous affairs that I battled under the most challenging of conditions. I can’t tell you how many times I was in the midst of some dangerous/mundane/incomprehensible task when I’d ask myself, “Why the hell did I sign up for this again?”
Those lows were nearly unbearable. But the highs of my brief career as a soldier … I’m still attempting to recapture those moments as a civilian. I’ve had very few moments in my civilian life that match the pride I felt in wearing the uniform. I remember accomplishing things that would have been impossible for me before I joined the service; I remember the comradery between my battle-buddies, a familial bond so tight that we would have – and did – die for each other; I remember returning from my second deployment, standing shoulder to shoulder with members of my unit, our sand-covered boots the only thing visible to our friends and families as we stood behind the bus that transported us from the airfield to victory park. The roar of our loved ones, bellowed as the bus inched forward to reveal our full bodies, is something I know I will never forget.
Joining the military has been the best decision I have ever made.
My individual experiences are only part of the equation. I loved the history of the military; the traditions, the acts of bravery in the face of danger, and, most importantly to me, I loved the military’s power to dictate the direction America went, socially and technologically. As the military went, so did America, and more than likely that direction was a positive one.
In 1948, President Harry Truman signed Executive Order 9981 which prohibited discrimination against military personnel leading to the desegregation of the military; preceding the African-American Civil Rights Movement by 6 years. I’m positive the two events are not mutually exclusive and that the desegregation of the military directly led to the civil resistance efforts that dominated the 50’s and 60’s.
On September 20, 2011 the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Act initiative was repealed, thus allowing gay, lesbian, and bisexual individuals to serve openly in the United States Armed Forces. Of course there are conflicting opinions on this ruling. Personally, if you have my back during battle, I couldn’t care less what your sexual orientation is. And the fact of the matter is, by not allowing gay, lesbian, and bisexual individuals to serve openly you are discriminating against them and discrimination has no place in the military – or anywhere else.
One may argue, but this situation seems like a mirror image of President Harry Truman’s decision to desegregate the military. It can’t be a coincidence that after this ruling – four years later, on June 26, 2015 – the United States Supreme Court ruled in Obergefell v. Hodges that state-level bans on same-sex marriage were unconstitutional. These are times that I love the military and our government. Two Presidents shirked dissenting opinions and acted on what they thought was the right thing to do. They made the country better for it.
And here we are. In the age of Trump.
A few weeks ago, President Trump, only two years removed from the Obergefell v. Hodges Supreme Court decision, made one of his infamous tweets stating that after consulting with his generals and military experts, prospective transgender recruits will not be able to serve in the military. I’m sure there are many people who rejoiced with this news because transgender people scare them, and people hate what they don’t understand. I, on the other hand, lament on obvious discrimination and the lost opportunity for our President and military to continue showing pride in all its members.
Granted, a tweet, even a President’s tweet does not make or enforce a policy. But it suggests the coming of further action, and, sadly, Trump does not realize (or, more likely, does not care) how much weight his words hold. I can’t remember which President said this, but when asked what his greatest power as Commander-in-Chief was he said, “Influence.” Instead of using his influence for inclusion and acceptance, Trump would rather use his tremendous platform to encourage discrimination and hate. This is nothing new for him, as he blazed his unlikely trail towards the highest office in the land, he left in his wake a scorched earth of racism, sexism, and bigotry. Go ahead and scan the field; you’ll see African-Americans and Hispanics angry at the overt racism that the President displays which has empowered his base. You’ll also see the pain in eyes of Muslims as they realize they live in a country that hates them and wants them gone. There are millions of women who are forced to watch the man who once said he can grab women “by the pussy” on television every single day. This is who we made one of the most powerful people in the world.
Unless Congress acts to legislatively protect transgender people’s right to serve, hate will win in this matter. I really want to believe that Trump will come to his senses and take this initiative off of the table. But there is no way that will happen. The leader of this country initially refused to decry white nationalists who gathered together to spew hate and actually caused the murder of a young woman. Is anybody getting this? He refused to call these scum by name but argued for months with grieving Muslim gold-star parents who watched their son give his life, his life, for this country. His LIFE. Trump called out this family by name but not the Neo-Nazis. Because that’s his fucking base.
I want my military back. The military that was used as litmus test for a higher social good that affected the entire country. I want the military that slowly but surely refused to discriminate because of race, color, sex, sexual orientation or creed. I want the military that gave me so much heartache but nonetheless blessed me with so much; the military that I was proud to serve. To get that back, we need a leader who has moral courage to lead the country in the right direction.
God help us.