Please let me serve my country, again

If “Don’t ask, don’t tell” ended today, I would be first in line to reenlist.  Thousands of other veterans would join me.  All we want – all we need – is the opportunity to serve our country with integrity, not having to lie every day about who we are.  I say “need,” because as many active duty service members and veterans know, we didn’t pick the job from the many booths at career day when we were kids – we were born to serve.

I come from a family with a rich legacy of military service.  My father is a West Point graduate who flew helicopters in Vietnam, taught chemistry at the Air Force Academy and ultimately retired as a senior officer from the Air Force. One of my uncles retired as a Master Gunnery Sergeant from the Marine Corps, with service in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. Another uncle served in the Army in Korea.  The military is all I’ve known my whole life. As a child, I knew I would one day serve. And that’s exactly what I did, with honor.

For thirteen years I served in the United States Air Force where I attained the rank of major. It all began when I joined the Air Force ROTC in 1988. I earned my jump wings in 1991 and graduated from ROTC in the top ten percent of all graduates nationwide in 1992. In 1993, I went on active duty, just as “Don’t ask, don’t tell” was becoming law.

Early in my career, I was stationed in Oklahoma, where I was named officer of the year for my unit of nearly 1,000 people. I was also one of six officers selected from the entire Air Force to attend Professional Military Education at Quantico, Va.

During the course of my career, I was deployed to the Middle East four times. During my last deployment to Iraq, after the team I led came under daily mortar attacks, I was named one of the top officers in my career field for the entire Air Force. I didn’t know it at the time, but it was also during that last deployment to Iraq that my career began to unravel.

 In the stress of a war zone, the Air Force authorized us to use our work e-mail accounts for “personal or morale purposes” because all private e-mail accounts were blocked for security reasons. Shortly after I left Iraq, during a routine search of unit computer files, someone found that my “morale” was supported by the person I loved – a man. E-mails written to someone I was dating were forwarded to my commander.

I was relieved of my duties leading nearly 200 men and women, my security clearance was suspended, and part of my pay was terminated. I was now fighting a new battle – one for my career, my livelihood, everything I had ever known or wanted.

Much like they had done in Iraq, many of my former troops and one of my commanders came to my rescue. They wrote character reference letters that expressed their respect for me as an officer, their hope to have me back on the job, and their shock at how the Air Force was treating me. About a year after I was relieved of my duties, as the Air Force was actively pursuing my discharge, my Wing Commander even recommended I be promoted to Lieutenant Colonel. But in the end, it wasn’t enough.

After 16 months of the emotionally draining discharge process, I was given a police escort off the base as if I were a common criminal or a threat to national security. The career I had dreamed of as a child and had pursued my entire adult life was over. To add insult to injury, the severance pay I received was half of what it would have been had I been discharged for any other reason.

Yet, despite the treatment I received, my greatest desire is to return to active duty as an officer and leader in the United States Air Force, protecting the freedoms of the nation I love. Freedoms I was not allowed to enjoy. It’s all I ever wanted, and that hasn’t, nor will it ever, change. There are thousands of stories just like mine.  The failed and discriminatory law that is “Don’t ask, don’t tell” must be repealed this year.

Almy is a 13-year veteran of the U.S. Air Force who was discharged under DADT policy.