Brig. Gen. Tammy Smith

Brig. Gen. Tammy Smith, the first out brigadier general in the U.S. Army, addressed the Out & Equal Workplace Summit this afternoon (Wednesday, Oct. 7). For 25 years, Smith said, she served under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and learned to compartmentalize her life.

“I kept solid walls,” she said. “I honed the ability to remain silent.”

Less than a year after Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was repealed in 2011, Smith married her wife in front of the Jefferson Memorial. But she continued to keep her private life separate from her service. So when she was promoted, she had to come out to her superior for the first time.

Tradition is that a spouse pins the new insignia on the officer’s uniform.

Smith thought a good time to come out to her commander would be at his retirement party, held about a month before her promotion ceremony. What she forgot was that everyone else in his command would be attending as well. So that night she got to introduce her wife, Tracey, over and over.

At her own promotion ceremony, Smith realized she had spent so many years keeping her two roles separate that she had forgotten to thank her wife from her remarks.

Smith opened her remarks to Out & Equal with a story about the first time she jumped from an airplane and her risers getting twisted because she wasn’t pulled in a tight position. She finished with some related advice.

“If your main parachute doesn’t open, you have the rest of your life to activate your reserve,” she said.