home about media center archive history letters subscribe

Profiles in Patriotism

Kevin Wegener
Another Leader Lost

By Denny Meyer

Kevin Wegener comes across as a kind of quiet genius.  He studied at Stanford University, and is now a graduate student at Harvard Business School.  He speaks Chinese and Spanish, and who knows what else.  In plainspoken American English, he explained to me exactly what it was that he'd done in the Air Force.  It had something to do with laboratories, lasers, and liaisons to Latin America. Don't ask.

Captain Kevin Wegener served in the Air Force from 2000 to 2006. His father retired from the Air Force as a Major; his mother worked for the Department of Defense.  As he grew up in the Washington DC suburbs in a moderate Lutheran family, he saw the Air Force as a path to education, opportunity, and leadership training.  During his senior year of high school he received an Air Force ROTC scholarship to study at Stanford.  As its recruiting slogans suggest, the Air Force had been waiting for and got a brilliant young man who had always been destined to be among its clever best.

Ah but alas, as soon as he was at university, like so many others, he began to understand that he was gay.  It should not have had any relevance to his plans and his ability to advance and do his duty for his nation; but, to the Air Force it did matter that he was gay.  As so many of us have done who have volunteered since World War II, he opted to serve in silence.  What was important to him was being a scientist.  As with Alvin Turing in the UK (who deciphered the German ENIGMA code in WWII), and other living national treasures, being gay was an irrelevant minor personal issue mostly set aside for their mind's work of comprehending science and finding solutions.  And so Kevin carried on through his university studies, commissioning, and the beginning of his brilliant service in the Air Force.

He loved his work.  He had a good relationship with his superiors who respected him and gave him a lot of responsibility to represent the Air Force in negotiations with foreign forces.  What was missing was the collegial support network that they all took for granted when they chatted about their wives and families.  He could not dare utter one word about his personal life.  And then there was the homophobia that they all also took for granted and assumed he shared with them.  Their anti-gay remarks, so casually made, hurt him, made him anxious, and ultimately made him decline a new posting to teach political science at the Air Force Academy.

Kevin Wegener left the Air Force in good standing, without a word as to the real reason why.  As with all proud patriots, he was willing to sacrifice a great deal to serve his country; but serving in silence proved to be unbearable.  He was the brilliant and outstanding young officer that his superiors thought so highly of; but he was not who they thought he was and the personal conflict of his integrity made it impossible to go on.  The loss was entirely that of the Air Force.  With his mind, skills, and knowledge, Kevin moved right on to be accepted for graduate studies at Harvard as an openly gay man.

While waiting for the semester to begin at Harvard, he traveled to India working with a non profit agency to help develop a leadership curriculum for underprivileged children there, ultimately enabling them to enter university to achieve their potential.  Next, in Africa, he liaised between the board of an American school and the security officers from the American Embassy and the United Nations to determine whether the school could reopen after local terrorist attacks.  In his spare time in Africa, he climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro.  And following that, in his post Air Force 'summer vacation' before entering Harvard, he went to Beijing to help develop a marketing program to link American graduate students with programs to study in China.  Kevin Wegener is only 29 years old.  One can only imagine how he might have served the Air Force if there had been no need to hide who he happened to love.

Kevin Wegener wrote the essay below, as he prepared to leave the Air Force, explaining in his own words why leaving the Air Force was the most difficult decision he'd ever made.

My hands were shaking. I could feel the perspiration beading down my face. I had a last moment of doubt. What would my parents think? My dad was retired from the Air Force and my mom had served the Army for the last thirty years. If anyone from my job knew, then my career would end. But I knew I had to be true to myself. So I took the leap and said, "Mom. Dad. I'm gay."

I am a captain in the Air Force, indoctrinated in the core values: "Integrity First; Service Before Self; Excellence in All We Do." The last two I have embraced, serving my country with all my heart. But the first one, "Integrity First," has torn me, forcing me to choose between being true to myself or true to my country. According to the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy a gay man can't openly serve in the military. So every time I walk down the street with my partner Phil, I am careful to not touch 

him too long in fear that my workmates might catch me. Even when I win awards such as the International Award for Armaments Cooperation, and I am asked to bring those who have most supported me, I have to tell my greatest cheerleader, "Phil, I'm sorry but you can't come."

For the last five years, I have lived two separate lives. In one life, I am the straight military man striving to do my job as best I can without a personal life. In my other life, I have a partner and friends who know me…all of me. Accepting who I am was difficult, but living a lie has been infinitely worse. So I have finally made the most difficult decision of my life: to leave the Air Force and pursue a new way to serve my country. I am finally ready to make this leap and be true to not only my country, my friends, my family, and my partner, but most importantly to be true to myself.

©  2007  Gay Military Signal