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Out In Baghdad

by Chief Petty Officer
Stuart O'Brien

Australian Defence Forces

I was sitting at my desk thinking of what to write about my time in Baghdad, Iraq this year. Six months over there seems like a long time, however, it just flew by and itís nothing compared to the time our US colleagues spend there.

Itís funny the friends that you make in a place like this. I remember while doing our pre-deployment training, I met some really nice people. One guy from the Army and a girl from the Air Force. Now my sexuality never came up nor did it for about a month after we arrived in Baghdad. And it was funny when it did, as simple comment of "What does your partner do, is HE in the Navy too?" So causal was the comment I never thought anything of it. Thatís what itís like in the Australian Defence Force these days, sexuality isnít a problem at all. Now that Iíve been back in Australia for three months, I stay in touch with them constantly Ė one thing I love about the Defence Force is the friends you make.

While there we made a number of close friends with our US counterparts. They were dumfounded when we got talking about our families back home and our partners, especially when it came to my partner Ė another guy. Intrigued, I guess is an understatement. The US policy on Gays in the Military is "Donít Ask, Donít Tell" Ė simply, you tell and youíre out Ė dishonorably discharged. Having said that, some of them did disclose their sexual preference to us Aussies as they knew we didnít care and that it wasnít an issue in our Defence Force.

For us the funniest reaction we got was when they found out that in the Australian Defence Force, same-sex couples were now recognized the same as heterosexual couples (married / de facto couples). They just couldnít believe it.

There was no animosity, no-one running way in fear that I might hit on them, it was as though sexuality didnít matter and to me it didnít. To this day I still donít see the big deal, heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual Ė does it really matter. Over there we were there to do a job and thatís exactly what we did and made some life long friends too. Some of the US guys and girls were happy that they had found friends that they could talk feely with Ė open up and be themselves. However, they knew at the end of the day, it was back into the closet when they returned to their units.

I guess I have a very different outlook than others about being gay and in the Defence Force. Iíve served over 16 years in the Navy, being openly gay for just over 10 years. Now by openly gay I mean that I donít hide the fact, if asked I tell (again something our US colleagues cannot do yet!). I talk about my partner as my heterosexual friends do. I think my life is just so much easier with a happy-go-lucky attitude. Iíve had some great positions since being in the navy, serving at sea on three different ships, Admirals Staff, Career Management and in an operational zone on the ground (playing army if you like Ė something a sailor doesnít do everyday!) and in every one, my partner was always accepted. I guess it has a lot to do with attitude and outlook on life within the ADF.

Iím not sure why I started writing this; however, I just felt that I needed too. Life is far too short; live and love I say Ė sexuality should never be an issue anywhere in the world.