In September of 2011, the US military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Policy banning gays from openly serving in the armed forces was officially repealed. Today we learn that the US Army has just promoted its first ever openly gay general. Brigadier General Tammy Smith was presented with her general’s star at her promotion ceremony a few days ago and in one fell swoop made US history. An event like this would’ve been unheard of just a couple of years ago but as our country moves forward — slowly but surely — toward equal rights for all citizens, events like this will become more commonplace … to the point of mundaneness. Click below to see a photo of Brig. Gen. Smith at her US Army promotion ceremony and read more about her amazing achievement.
During a promotion ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery, a proud wife placed a star insignia on her spouse’s uniformed shoulder — the official mark of an Army brigadier general. With that simple gesture, Brig. Gen. Tammy Smith became the country’s first openly gay general. The promotion of Smith, the highest-ranking gay or lesbian to acknowledge his or her sexual orientation while serving, comes less than a year after the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” the policy that banned gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military. Since the reversal last September, the relationship between the government and the armed forces has shifted to include more outreach to LGBT service members. Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta posted a YouTube video thanking gay service members and praising the ban’s repeal. In June, the Pentagon hosted a Gay Pride Month event. And in July, members of the military wore their uniforms during a San Diego gay pride parade, the first time the Defense Department had allowed such a practice. On Friday, more than 70 people clustered inside an auditorium at Arlington’s Women in Military Service for America Memorial. Smith, then a colonel, strode in with her commanding officer at the stroke of 4 p.m. The audience sang the national anthem and a young boy led the Pledge of Allegiance. The announcer presented Smith’s father. Then came an introduction: “Col. Smith’s partner, Miss Tracey Hepner.” The audience burst into applause. “This part is a little fuzzy for me, because I have to confess, I got choked up,” said Sue Fulton, an Army veteran and friend of the couple who attended the event. “People have been working toward this moment for decades.” Hepner and Smith got married last year in Washington, D.C. They dated for nine before that. Before don’t ask, don’t tell was repealed, they could not present themselves as a couple at military functions … The ceremony was like any other for an officer achieving a new rank, Fulton told the Los Angeles Times on Saturday. Supervisors focused on Smith’s 26-year career, which has included assignments in Afghanistan and Costa Rica. Lt. Gen. Jack C. Stulz echoed that, describing Smith as a “quiet professional” who could handle tough jobs competently and quickly … During promotion ceremonies, or pinnings, the honoree chooses who will attach new insignias to the Army uniform’s epaulets. Smith’s father pinned one shoulder. Hepner pinned the other. Then, her father and Hepner unfurled Smith’s new general flag — red with one white star — that will fly wherever she is working. In a speech after the pinning, Smith spoke of “standing on the shoulders of giants” during her life, including her parents and her high school mentors. She didn’t have to mention her wife. The audience knew they were there together.
I am so moved by this story. It’s really a remarkable achievement solely for the fact that there is still so much divide in this country over equal rights. General Smith has devoted her life to the service of her country and because of her loyal and very hard work, she has been elevated in the US Army. That’s the only story worth telling. BUT, the fact that she is woman married to a woman, the story takes on new meaning … whether she wants it to or not. Events like this are the exception now but soon, events like this will be just as normal as they have been whenever other generals get promoted. I can’t even tell you how much this story has affected me. An openly gay US General in the Armed Forces. What an amazing step forward for our country.