I was going through some old military things and came across a video of me in Basic Training. Of course, that was back in 1999 when I was just 19 years old. This was during the era of the policy of "Don't Ask Don't Tell." Also, since it is dated, it was on a VHS tape. I thought to myself, "Wow, I've grown a lot since then." My foster son used to express interest in the military. He said, "Dad, I want to be a Marine." Of course, his father and I tried to persuade him to join the Air Force or the Army, since I'm prior Air Force and my husband is prior Army. After that discussion I think my foster son decided to change his mind about even going into the service, but who knows, he is a teenager and may change his mind later.
Looking at the tape, I see myself as I was -- egotistical, stubborn and so unfit for the military. I did so many things in the military that I got into trouble for. For example, I got caught speeding on base and my driving privileges were revoked for about 60 days on base. I constantly woke up late for work because I was taking my medication for my thyroid disease. I had a mean supervisor at one point and she hounded me every chance she got, until one day when I cursed her out and got an Article 15 for it. I was raped while in the military and because of DADT I couldn't tell anyone, because I feared being kicked out dishonorably. I wasn't a bad person, I just wasn't mature and even though basically my whole family is military I still didn't have the discipline. But with the help of friends and those whom I still call family, I made it through. I was able to be discharged honorably with decorations and awards. I made three really good friends who I call my military brothers and we were all gay and I loved them and still talk to them to this day.
By joining the military, I was able to take advantage of the Montgomery GI Bill (MGIBILL) and, since I was active duty during 9/11, I am about to use the 9/11 MGIBILL. I earned my associate's degree in communications and my bachelor's degree in political science with the MGBILL; now I'm going to earn my master's degree in public health with it as well. I only have seven more classes to go. Also, I filed for disability because of my thyroid condition and I'm considered a 10% disabled 9/11 veteran.
The Air Force taught me a lot and helped me a lot. Even through the rain, the dark and troubling, I stuck in there. The military changed my life for the better; I had more resources than ever when I left the military. Now I'm thinking about going into the National Guard, my husband and I need to have that discussion later. I'm a 1st Lieutenant in the Maryland Defense Force right now and I love it. But we will see how this will pan out as far as me going into the National Guard.
The military isn't for everyone, but for me personally I wanted to serve my country and also follow the footsteps of generations before me. My family history is that, in every war in this country, my family has been there to fight. Yes, I said every war, and I wanted that tradition to live on in me and maybe in the generation after me. I just know that I wouldn't be where I am today if it wasn't for the military. On a personal note, I wanted to say thank you and RIP to my friend Derrick Grigg for making the ultimate sacrifice while overseas; you are and always will be missed. This log is dedicated to you, brother.
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Justin B. Terry-Smith, M.P.H., may be one of the most public African Americans living with HIV: He has his own website, and he's even on YouTube. He is a noted HIV and gay civil rights activist and the creator of "Justin's HIV Journal," a popular blog in which he shares his trials and tribulations of living with HIV. A U.S. Air Force veteran, Justin resides in Laurel, Maryland, with his husband, Dr. Philip Terry-Smith, and their son, Lundyn. Presently, Justin is working toward earning his doctorate in public health. He welcomes your questions.
(Photo credit: Don Harris)
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