Erin’s Note: As a blogger, I write from my perspective, which is that as a heterosexual, predominantly white, married, older, skeptical, educated female. I can only share about BMT as it is seen through my eyes, and I recognize that others experience BMT differently. With the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT), trainees who are lesbian, gay, or bisexual (LGB) may serve openly. This post has been months in the making, and I’m excited to share with you an interview that I did with a member of my brother flight who is openly gay. My hope is that those of you who identify as LGB find encouragement in this post, as all trainees share the ultimate common goal of becoming Airmen.
**Please note that any off-topic, political (regarding the DADT repeal), or derogatory comments made on this post will be promptly deleted. This is my brother and a fellow Airman – we take care of our own.**
Aim High Erin (AHE):Name (or alias), rank?
Interviewee (AVT): A1C Van Tempist [alias]
AVT:Air Force Reserve
AHE:Please describe yourself [you can be as broad or narrow as you’d like].
AVT:I’m a 25-year-old African American, Christian male, born in Camden, NJ. I’ve traveled around the world for most of my childhood, Panama and Germany, and ended up in Brooklyn, NY for the end of middle school and all of high school, so you could say I was raised in Brooklyn.
AHE:What factors lead to your enlistment in the Air Force?
AVT:I joined the AFR for a couple of reasons; as I previously stated, I have traveled around the world, [which] was made possible by my father being a part of the World’s Greatest Air Force. He was the biggest influence for me to take this path; he always took care of home and made sure that all was right. I also did research and discovered the benefits that the Air Force has to offer. I love education, and if they will help me better myself, I’m all for it. Most important was the fact that I wanted to change my life. I was trying to reach a higher level but just traveling down the same valley. I just needed to elevate myself and serving my county was the way to go. I knew that the path would be difficult but I wanted the opportunity to show myself and all those watching me that if you put your mind to it, you can do whatever you want to in life, no matter what comes your way.
AHE:How did your family and friends react when you told them you were enlisting? Was your sexual preference ever a topic in this discussion? If so, how so?
AVT:Me deciding to join the Air Force was a shock to most of my friends but not to my family. Some of my friends had negative views on it, due to my sexual orientation, making such comments as, “Girl, as soon as you break a nail you’ll be right back out here,” or just sly little comments like “You’re not going in there to do [any] work, you’re just trying to get a man.” LOL and trust me, I since then proved them wrong, but they still were supportive when the bottom line was met. My family knew that I could do it and didn’t think twice about the decision, and yes, they did joke and tease me a lot about it, but that’s family. My mother and father did have some serious talks with me about some things that could happen and just gave me knowledge on how to handle some situations that might arise in my journey. I must admit that parents are knowledgeable about this world we live in and I thank them for taking the time to teach me a thing or two about handling people and their mentality toward a person such as myself.
AHE:How did you first come out to other members in your flight, if you did so formally? Was it understood but unspoken?
AVT:Interesting question, at first no one even thought about my sexuality because I didn’t show my true self, but if you really thank about it, [in] your first two weeks of basic everyone puts on a front. Being in a new environment you tend to be a little [reserved] and floating in the background observing everyone else, but as the weeks go by and you get to know your fellow wingmen you get comfortable, and that’s what happened with me. At first my actions as far as body language started to turn heads and make them think. After a while the questions started to come up, and I still was not ready to come out [of] the closet to my wingmen so I would lie, but there comes a time in basic when you just don’t care anymore and you see that the people you are around are like family, and that’s when you could really let your hair down (in a sense).
One night after lights out we were all chilling out, just having casual convo and then the questions came [up] again about my sexuality, and I just decided to free myself; I let them know about my life, who I and what I am. [It was] one of the best times of my life; they made me feel at home, very accepted.
AHE:How were you treated by your fellow flight members? By your MTI team? Do you felt like you were treated differently than other members of the flight?
AVT:As the weeks went by my wingmen and I became very close, there were some times that I was tried do to my sexuality, some members thought because of the category I’ve been placed in that I fall under the same stereotype, you know, “Oh, he is gay so he just gonna be a pushover,” a little punk, but if anyone knows me as they have learned I don’t fall under that stereotype. In some ways I was treated differently but was only disrespected a few times, but that was quickly rectified. As far as my MTIs, they didn’t see anything but a civilian that they had to turn into one of the Worlds Greatest Airmen.
AHE:Did you ever receive any negative attention [beyond joking/teasing] as a result of your sexuality?
AVT:Not everyone shared the feelings of my flight members or my MTIs and just like any part of life you will have people that you can get along with and then those you just don’t. That definitely was the case in some parts of basic, but one must remember basic is a melting pot of different people and cultures and religion; not everyone will like you for you. I’ve had conflict with other wingman from different squadrons, just little small quarrels but that too was handled.
AHE:Do you feel that your experience at BMT was different than other trainees as a result of your sexuality? If so, how so?
AVT:I would have to say that I do believe that my experience in BMT was different then the other trainees due to my sexuality. I have to pay homage to the men that turned me in to one of the World’s Greatest Airmen, SSgt Williams and SSgt Urban…SSgt Williams has a method to his madness. I believe that the mental training he put me through was much more strenuous to me than any other trainee there. He pushed me to my full potential and wanted to see if I had what it took to become an Airman. It’s funny because both sergeants knew I could do the physical aspect of training, so they both went for the mental portion of it. That wasn’t easy to get through but it’s an accomplishment for anyone to get through BMT [and] for a person that has such a taboo lifestyle it’s a greater achievement.
AHE:What advice, tips, or suggestions do you have for other LGB trainees or prospective trainees?
AVT:The best advice I can give my LGB is the same I give for anyone else. If you’re going to join the World’s Greatest Air Force, join for a reason and make sure that reason is solid because it’s not easy. It will never be easy; you will adapt and overcome, just as long as you stay focused and know why you are there. Don’t ever give up and don’t give in. Your life has meaning and purpose, and it’s not just for grins and giggles that you made it to BMT. You’re there for your own personal reasons but on top of that you’re there to change someone else’s life and I bet you anything in the world that someone is there to change your life.
AHE:Any last words of motivation, inspiration, or encouraging stories from your experience at BMT?
AVT:I say all that to say this: life is crazy and unpredictable but you still have free will to do what you want to do. To all my LGB trainees and airman alike, this is our time to show up and show out. Our personal lives have nothing to do with the mission. We are being trained or have already been trained to do our part of the mission. Let’s go in and play our part to its full potential. Always Aim High…FLY…FIGHT…WIN…SEE YOU ON THE OTHER SIDE TRAINEES!