Few, The Proud,
former Captain, USMC
The young Marine sergeant was yelling at me.
"Ma'am, we got to move now!"
I stared at him and realized that it was time to
act. I turned to look at the three-man news crew
that I was escorting and realized that I had to drag
them into our up-armored HMMWVs (AKA Humvees)
quickly. It was like herding cats, but we
managed to get out of the line of fire after a few
seconds of cajoling and pulling.
It was a dusty, hot July day in Fallujah, Iraq at a
yet unfinished Iraqi police station in July
2005. My job was to serve as the unit
spokeswoman for the Marine Corps 5th Civil Affairs
unit and escort media embeds through Fallujah. I
was a Marine Corps Captain, who left active duty
because of the stress of living under Donít Ask, Donít
Tell, and I was called up out of the Individual Ready
Reserve (IRR) to serve in Iraq.
Somehow I ended up in the middle of downtown
Fallujah at an exposed construction site with a
national cable news network crew. Bullets were
hitting buildings near us and the Marine Civil Affairs
Team in charge of the construction project were our
And apparently, some insurgents decided that it was
time to take some potshots at us. All of us, the
Marine Civil Affairs Team, the news crew and I, got
out of that situation, quickly and safely. This
was in all in the name of showing the American public
the reconstruction efforts in Fallujah.
My unit hit the ground running on March 1, 2005.
We came in the aftermath of Operation Al-Fajr (New
Dawn), which kicked off in November 2004. It was
the second major attempt to gain control of the city
from the insurgents. It left the southern part
of the city in rubble. And the 5th Civil Affairs
Group stepped up to work with the local civic and para-military
leaders and Sheiks with rebuilding one of the major
cities in the Al Anbar Province.
My name is Julianne H. Sohn. I am a former
Marine officer. I am one of over 12,000
servicemembers forced out of the military under the
Don't Ask, Don't Tell Policy. I served in Iraq
from March to September 2005. And it was an
honor to serve in the United State's Armed
Forces. The United States gave my immigrant
family so many opportunities and I was and am
extremely grateful for that. My parents immigrated to
the United States from South Korea in the late 60ís
to continue their education and to find job
opportunities for themselves and their family members.
I graduated from the University of California, Los
Angeles in 1999 with a degree in Anthropology and
Political Science. And like a good
Korean-American daughter, I was SUPPOSED to go to law
school. But, I found myself in a parking
structure talking to a Marine Corps Officer Candidate
named Jason. Jason had just returned from
Officer Candidate School and we were working a bike
patrol shift of the parking structures at UCLA.
In the course of that patrol, Jason stated his case
for the Marine Corps. It was smaller, more
challenging than the Army, which was the service I was
consider. Jason said, "In the Army, you're
a soldier. In the Navy, you're a sailor.
In the Marines, you're a Marine."
That was the catalyst. Jason threw the gauntlet
down and I found myself wanting to be a Marine
officer. But there was one fundamental problem
back in 1998, there was the Don't Ask, Don't Tell
Policy. I had to decide that being a part of
something better and greater than myself could
supersede the person I loved. And for me, at 22
years of age, it did. My love of country
superseded the fact that I was dating a wonderful
woman. In my application to Officer Candidates'
School, I included a recommendation from Fran Solomon,
the council deputy for then Council Member John
Heilman, an openly gay city official for the city of
West Hollywood, lawyer and associate professor for USC.
Fran told me, "Be very careful for what you wish
for, you might just get it."
I mulled that over. I can still hear her voice
to this day, saying that to me. But I have never
regretted my decision and I am grateful for the
support I received from my friends and family.
My parents are both health care professionals.
They immigrated to the United States in the late 60s
and early 70 in search for more educational
opportunities. They instilled in my three
brothers and I, a profound sense of duty and drive to
help mankind. And like any senior in college
back in 1998, I wanted to find a way to help others. I
had no idea that this desire would lead me to the
foothills of Quantico, VA at Marine Corps Officer
Candidates' School neck deep in mud and sweat.
Military Ops Center, 2005
I wanted to be a leader of Marines and I became one
from my experiences in Quantico, Va to the island of
Okinawa to the racetracks of the deep South to the
flatlands of Fallujah and Ramadi. My journey in
the Marine Corps was eye-opening. I learned that
I could do far more than I thought possible and at the
same time, I found the stress of living under Donít
Ask, Donít Tell taking a toll.
But as my tour of duty at the 6th Marine Corps
Recruiting District was coming to a close in 2003, I
was faced with a decision. Should I stay or
should I go? I loved the Marine Corps and working with
my Marines. For me, it was a calling. You
did it because something intangible calls you to
service. And I felt it. But at the same
time, I found that living under the Don't Ask, Don't
Tell Policy forced me to sacrifice an open and honest
life with my loved ones. I was asked to
sacrifice more than most of my Marines. When my
public affairs chief told me about her family, I just
told her about the great time I had with my
"friend." When I went to official
functions, I went alone.
On a sweltering, low country, southern day at Parris
Island, SC, I was sitting at my desk finishing some
paperwork when a Marine officer came
| He immediately closed the door to my office and said,
"Hey can I speak with you for a
moment." I was sweating profusely. I
thought, "Oh no, whose in trouble
now...." He looked at me and said, "I
can't legally ask you what I want to ask you, and you
can't legally tell me." I told him to stop,
so we both didn't violate any policy and I told him
that he was "half right" because at the time
I identified as bisexual. He said that I was
his friend and he had heard some rumors and he wanted
to stop them. And so he and a few of my closest
friends, did their best to cover for me. And
they did a great job.
Somehow, I managed to get admitted to the Columbia
University Graduate School of Journalism for the 2003
to 2004 term and I made the decision to live my life
on my own terms without the shadow of Don't Ask, Don't
Tell hanging over my head. I did the very thing
I didn't think I could do, I left the Marines.
But in the fall of 2004, the weekend of the Marine
Corps Marathon, the Marine Corps called and I
answered. At the time, some of my friends tried
to dissuade me from going for political reasons.
But one person asked me, "Why would you go back
to an institution that doesn't want you?"
It was hard to reconcile this. I was a
Marine. My friends were over there and it was my
duty. I served on active duty as a solid public
affairs officer. I had a Masters degree in
journalism. And once again I was willing to
sacrifice my personal life to answer the call to
duty. My partner, at the time, had to find her
own support network, while I went off to a combat
It was evening on a late June day in 2005. Night
had fallen on Fallujah and the military convoy had
picked up the last of the Marines and Sailors manning
the security check points surrounding Fallujah.
As the convoy was nearing the checkpoint near
Fallujah's industrial sector, a suicide car bomb
rolled between two of the large troop carriers.
The aftermath of the attack left 5 Marines and 1
female Sailor dead and over 13 others injured.
The attack killed 3 female servicemembers (one Navy
Seabee and two Marines) and 11 of the wounded were
female. It was called the bloodiest day for U.S.
women servicemembers. And I was about a few
miles away, working at my desk at Camp Fallujah.
Initial news accounts reported that a Marine civil
affairs convoy was hit and several female Marines were
killed. Needless to say, this caused a great
deal of stress for the families of the six
females assigned to the 5th CAG. And it was in
this tumultuous time that highlighted the
sacrifices that gay servicemembers are asked to and
willing make. Imagine what would have happened if I
was on that convoy. My girlfriend at the time, Fran,
would only be notified through my older brother, Rich,
who was my official next of kin.
My unit returned to the United States in late Sept
I wanted to move on with my life and spend time
with my loved ones and I have. But I also will never
forget what it was like to live under Donít Ask, Donít
Tell, which is why I made it my duty to share my
story. Because of this, I am one of 12,000
servicemembers forced out of the military under the
Jules Sohn and her
brothers: Stephen H Sohn -an asst professor at
Stanford in Asian American Literature,
John Sohn - a former Marine and a student at San Jose
State University, and Julianne
2008 Gay Military Signal