How ’bout DADT?

Memoir about being gay in the Army resonates with timeliness, vivid prose

booksThey’ve become familiar sights: Auditoriums filled with uniformed, spine-straight soldiers on their way to deployment, or smiling men and women, arms full of family, on their way home. No matter what auditorium they’re in, no matter which small town or big city, you can bet that the first group is wondering what the second group has seen.

They may never know, though, because much is buried and more is classified. But military secrets aren’t the only secrets kept in times of war. In The Last Deployment, you’ll learn one of them.

Bronson Lemer was “probably the last person anyone expected to join the military,” he writes. But as the oldest of six children, he wanted to get away from North Dakota, and the Army “happened to be at the right place at the right time.”

Lemer was still in high school when he joined the National Guard; five years later, on Jan. 20, 2003, his cell phone rang. Though he was months away from getting out of his Guard obligation and was “tired” of service, Lemer learned that he was being deployed. What he calls his “horrible decision” to join the National Guard was turning into something he never thought he’d have to worry about: Lemer was a gay soldier under the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.

In going to Iraq, he knew he had to learn to rely on his fellow soldiers, and vice versa. He tried to relax as he traveled with them to Colorado and, later that spring, to Kosovo, then to Iraq. Lemer went along with the jokes, the girlfriend talk and the adolescent behavior. He participated in anything that banished the boredom of guard duty, cleaning duty, outhouse duty. He emailed a former love and longed for home.

As a few months’ tour of duty stretched into a year, Lemer began to notice something: Deployment was taking its toll on everybody. The men and women who left the States were not the same people who came home from Iraq. And neither was Lemer.

Over the past decade, you’ve undoubtedly seen lots of TV and read many words about the war in Iraq. But just wait until you get your hands on The Last Deployment. Lemer’s memoir of being a gay man in the military is half-sassy, half sad with a few heart-pounding moments though no blood and guts. His story moves between idyllic memories of his growing-up and warm feelings for his bunkmates and co-soldiers, while readers are also placed in the center of the boredom of waiting, the frustration of not knowing and the dismay of hiding in order to be accepted. Lemer’s is a wonderfully descriptive, wryly humorous, heart-crushing story, and I couldn’t put it down.

With the repeal of DADT effective this month, this is timely and definitely worth a read. If you love a soldier, your country, or both, The Last Deployment is a book you’ll want to tell everybody about.

— Terri Schlichenmeyer

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 9, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

DADT deployment goodbyes:’I worry about how close to the pier I could be without raising suspicion’

With the Pentagon’s family survey now in the field, Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN), a national, legal services and policy organization dedicated to ending “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT), will release a letter each day this week from family members and spouses of former service members impacted by DADT. As the Pentagon reaches out to 150,000 straight couples on how their lives are impacted, these letters will share the perspective of those forced to serve under this law alongside their loved ones. SLDN is urging supporters of repeal to call, write, and schedule in-district meetings with both their senators as the defense budget, which contains the repeal amendment, moves to the floor just weeks from now. www.sldn.org/action.

August 25, 2010

Hon. Jeh C. Johnson

General Counsel, U.S. Department of Defense

Co-Chair, Comprehensive Review Working Group

General Carter F. Ham

Commanding General, U.S. Army Europe

Co-Chair, Comprehensive Review Working Group

Dear General Ham and Mr. Johnson:

I am a retired military sailor, living with a wonderful person who was fired because of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT).

Because of my experience with the military, I understand the life, the duty days, the underway time, the training cycles. Even the simple events of life at sea – how wondrous or disastrous mail call can be, depending on whether or not you get a letter; the whirlwind caused by the simple announcement of liberty call; and the sounds of the Navy – the bells, the whistles, the constant hum and different noises of shipboard living. These are just some of the various events and sometimes intense evolutions that occur around the universe called the United States Ship. I’ve been stationed on five of the best ships in the Navy. I speak the language, I know all the acronyms, and it’s an organization I’ve spent most of my closeted life in.

If my highly decorated and accomplished spouse had been able to stay in the Navy, her professional life would have included all of those same events mentioned previously, and more. She would have undoubtedly been stationed on board a ship of awesome capabilities. That ship would deploy, do training missions, visit foreign and domestic ports, and represent the world’s finest Navy. She would stand watch, hopefully in something better than a port and starboard rotation. If you don’t know what a port and starboard rotation is, just imagine working at your current job, six hours on, then take six hours off, then go back to work for six hours. Repeat 24/7 for the next 180 days.

She might even be sent on an Individual Augmentation (IA) to Iraq or Afghanistan while in her current assignment. During an Individual Augmentation, she would literally be loaned out to cover a critical needs job, however long that may be, in addition to her regularly scheduled deployment cycle.

I, however, would have to adhere to a strict set of rules when dealing with a deployment, whether it be an IA or ship deployment. Here are just some to think about – they reflect what life is like for military families under DADT:

  • Set up an alternative e-mail account that wouldn’t show the gender of my name
  • Establish a very generic, genderless form of communications over e-mail
  • Never write “I love you” – or nothing that could indicate anything at all about the nature of our relationship
  • No access to the Ship’s Ombudsman – a point person for military families for all things very, very important relating to the ship and her crew
  • Create a plan for dropping her off at ship – making sure our goodbye or welcome is in secret
  • Never spending the remaining few hours on the ship like with the rest of families before a deployment
  • Worrying about how close to the pier I could be without raising suspicion
  • Before leaving home, be sure to say final goodbyes – no hugs and certainly no kisses allowed on or near the base
  • Not being able to participate in any family video postcards to the ship
  • Still trying to figure out how to deal with those pesky customs forms required when mailing anything to a “Fleet Post Office” – they require a name, so maybe use her parent’s name or the dog’s name
  • Don’t put anything too personal in care packages – those might arrive via barge, waterlogged and falling apart – therefore, they might be opened
  • As a result of the rough handling from a helicopter mail drop, any other boxes I send could be opened if damaged
  • Don’t get sick, seriously sick, and don’t get hurt while spouse is gone
  • Hope she doesn’t get hurt as no one would tell me – I can’t be listed as her next of kin in her service record without raising eyebrows
  • Remember to have her pack her personal cell phone and the charger for use six to nine months later – can’t use any of the ship’s communications, so the cell is the only way to coordinate a pickup upon return home

Knowing that when the other families are waiting at the pier, I wouldn’t be able to stand among them anxiously awaiting my sailor’s return. This isn’t everything. It’s just a glimpse.

Sincerely,

Chief Petty Officer Lee Quillian, USN (Ret.)

CC: U.S. Sen. Carl M. Levin

Chairman, Senate Armed Services Committee

U.S. Sen. John S. McCain

Ranking Member, Senate Armed Services Committee

U.S. Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman

Member, Senate Armed Services Committee
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—  John Wright