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I WAS A SOLDIER

By Joseph C. Martin

former Sgt US Army

In my military career, over six and a half years, I was at two different duty stations, visited six countries, completed five rotations at the Armyís training centers and served in Iraq twice. I served with countless soldiers, trained them, some of whom I regarded closer than my brother. I held them in the highest of respects. I loved them and was proud to have served with them. I taught them how to survive and how to fight. I instilled confidence and military bearing. I pushed them when were ready to give up. And I provided the motivation and leadership they needed to succeed. I gave them a shoulder to cry on and a boot in the ass when it was needed.

I was a successful Sergeant. I was well respected and loved. I strove for being the best and expected the same from my soldiers. I loved being a soldier. There is no pride like the pride I had when I put on that uniform and saluted the flag. I received many awards, went to many schools and graduated at the top of all my classes. I strove for achievement. I was honor graduate at the Noncommissioned Officerís Academy at Fort Hood, Texas.

There is no brotherhood quiet like the brotherhood among soldiers. You learn each other. You love each other and support each other through everything. There are more people in the Army that have influenced my life than more than in my own family. These guys became precious and important to me.

As soldiers, you learn a trust between each other; you learn to read one another. Your life depends on this kind of understanding. I will never forget the first time we were attacked. There were bangs and sparks unlike any I have ever heard. It is so much different when you are under fire, beneath it all; there is a primal instinct to survive. This is when you learn how important it is to rely upon your fellow soldiers. This is where the soldier bond counts, when your life is in the hands of everyone else. On that night, I held a wounded soldier in my arms. He was blinded in one eye, sent home with a purple heart. That is when I realized why I was really serving, because of this brother, because of all my brothers. Between us all, there is honor, pride, and there is love like no other I have ever experienced.

The day that I told my best friend I was gay changed my entire life. Andrew and I were close. He and I shared everything; we were inseparable, on and off duty. We were in a guard tower at our base in Iraq having idle conversation like we would on any day. He mentioned that he had a gay friend in the Army that he had run into in Kuwait. We chit-chatted for a while and I asked how we felt about gays in the military. His reply was cool, he didnít care hell, they can carry guns too. I confided in him. Even he will tell you I was not coming on to him, I just wanted him to know.

I told him I was gay. He looked at me weird and we both started laughing. I asked him if he knew what was so funny, "You donít believe me." I said. His look changed as he asked, "Are you serious, Martin?"

Over the next couple of weeks, Andrew asked me a brigade of questions about who I liked within our outfit and if I was sure I was gay and about my past and how I had come to realize I was gay. I didnít hold back, I was completely honest. It felt good to have someone I could confide in, someone I could trust like that. He and I joked about it, and life in the Army went on as usual.

I had noticed there was a difference in the way two of my buddies were around me. We didnít hang out like we had; I was left out of games and trips to the chow hall and PX. I was by no means a loner, but the guys that Andrew and I hung out with were different around me. For some reason, I didnít put 2 and 2 together.

One day while sitting in our tent, a good buddy of mine came up and asked me what was going on with Russell (Andrew). I didnít know what he meant so he explained that Russell had been in talking to the Commander all day. I was in charge of the information flow between our deployed unit, and home, so I knew everything that was going on, but I didnít know what the deal with Andrew was. I ran into Andrew a few hours later and asked if everything was all right and asked why he was talking to the Commander. He told me something was going on with his family but I would have known if anything like that was going on. It still hadnít hit me that he had possibly spilled the beans on me.

I was outside the chow hall when the Executive Officer came up and said "Sergeant Martin, can you come with me?" I went with him and we made small talk on the way to his tent and when we got there, Staff Sergeant Gomez, my direct superior, asked me for my weapon, gave me a questioning look and left. I instantly knew what was going on, but I was not prepared for the words nor was I prepared for the tailspin I would be in over the next few months.

"Sergeant Martin, there have been some accusations by Sergeant RussellÖ" his voice trailed. I sat there, looking at the table; I couldnít look this guy in the eye. He went on to explain that Andrew had told the Commander that I had admitted to him that I was gay and that he was conducting an investigation. A pile of paperwork sat between he and I, he passed me an affidavit signed by Andrew, asked me to read it and sat in silence as I read the document that tore me out of the closet and exposed me to everyone I held dear.

Andrew had laid out everything. He told the Commander everything from who I had found attractive to who I was seeing back home, he left nothing to question. I was humiliated. I put the paper down, and stared off into nothingness trying to sort all this out in my head. Lieutenant Allen took the paper and explained to me what rights I had. He explained that I could fight this, I didnít have to admit anything to him, but that there was going to be an investigation. He put into plain words, "You can deny this and there will be an investigation and you will be on detail until it is closed, or you can sign this and Statement of Admission and you will be discharged without punishment." This was not a light decision. The XO went on to explain that I was relieved of my leadership position and my weapon had been taken for safety. He went on to tell me that as we speak, the Commander was in formation with everyone and telling them the situation because he didnít want there to be any incidents.

The Commander was telling everyone that I was gay. I sat there in shame. Everyone knew me, I was a trainer in the company, and I was well known and looked to and depended upon in the planning of missions and training. Now everyone I worked with was going to know I was gay. I had a million questions for the XO, but couldnít single one out to ask. He had told me that I didnít have to speak with him, that I could go and speak with JAG, I did just that.

JAG had explained that the Army could not punish me for being gay, but for breaking the Donít Ask Donít Tell policy. After speaking with them, I decided that the best thing was to admit it and go on with what I had left. The main reason I decided this is because my reputation was ruined, the promotion I was getting wouldíve been canned, and my military career would hit a stand still to say the least. Not only that, but what would have come up in the investigation, they could have taken my computer, read my mail and the investigation could have gone for months, something I was not looking forward to.

I was back in the states 10 days later. I had new faces to explain myself to. I was given three weeks to turn in all my gear and go through the process of being discharged from service. Everywhere I went, I had to present paperwork that had to be signed by the various departments. These papers had the words "Homosexual Admission" written on them. The humiliation was painful. My final discharge paper, the one piece that soldiers hold dear, has these same words written under "Honorable Discharge" near the bottom.

I left Fort Hood with a cloud of regret, pain and anger that have followed me since. My Grandfather was a decorated Captain; I have his discharge and various pictures of his service hanging on my wall. I canít bear to hang mine up next to his; there is so much dishonor and painful pride when it comes to my time as a soldier. I have cried, I have yelled at the moon and cursed Andrew, myself and God for what has happened.

In telling Andrew, I ended everything I had worked for. The Army was so much of who I was. I was a soldier, a brother and a leader. I had no education; the Army was all I knew. For a long time, I blamed Andrew, and I guess a big part of me still does. After all, had he not said anything, I would still be a soldier, serving with pride.

It has been eight months. All the soldiers I was with in Iraq are now back. Of all the soldiers, and the friends I held closer than brothers, only one will talk to me. I have asked him what the guys have to say about me. "Honestly, Martin, you are the butt of all the jokes, you are a laughing stalk, manÖ. sorry." I had expected that.

Telling Andrew has proved to be the best and worst decision I have ever made in my life. I have not yet learned to be proud of being gay. Out of all this, telling my family, especially my mother, has been the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. Through this, I hope to find my place as a civilian, a gay man. I want so badly to share my story. I want everyone to know. Yeah, I am gay, but I can carry a gun too. I can and have led men, I can be a soldier, I was a soldier, a good one.

I am still willing to fight for this country, even though it would seem that this country wonít fight for me.

To the soldiers with whom I once served, I have paid my dues. I bled with you, sweat with you and loved you. Be careful, my friends. No matter what you think of me, I will always hold you in the highest degree of brotherhood.

I was a soldier and I miss the Army. I miss the brotherhood. I feel dishonored because I am who I am.