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"No one had ever told me that I was good enough not only to be in the military, but to be gay in the military." (Video interview, 1:29:30)

   Tammy Smith
Collection image
Tammy Smith at time of interview
War: Afghan War, 2001-
Branch: Army
Unit: 99th Regional Readiness Command, Army Reserve; Active Guard Reserve
Service Location: Afghanistan; Panama City, Panama
Rank: Brigadier General
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Brigadier General Tammy Smith felt the tension between her personal and professional lives early on in her military career: she realized she was gay during her freshman year of college, while attending the University of Oregon on an ROTC scholarship. During the early years of her service, while she held leadership positions during deployments to Panama and Costa Rica and as one of the first female commanders at the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, Louisiana, she learned to live within the Army’s policies, maintaining a very private life outside of work. Her frustration at having to keep her two lives separate took its toll after multiple decades of service, and she decided to retire, only to reverse this decision upon hearing Admiral Michael Mullen, then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, testify in support of ending the "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" policy. She served in Afghanistan from 2010-2011, and in 2012 was appointed as Brigadier General, a promotion which made her the military’s first openly gay flag officer.

Interview (Video)
»Interview Highlights  (9 clips)
»Complete Interview 
Download: video (124 min.)
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 Video (Interview Excerpts) (9 items)
Realizing her freshman year at University of Oregon that she was gay; reconciling that with being in ROTC; writing a statement of support for ROTC to the university board; was never actually asked by ROTC if she was gay. (02:29) Under the radar gay subculture during deployment to Costa Rica; off-duty and off-base socialization; dynamics of relationships during this time; always choosing the Army first. (06:26) Did not know people who were investigated for being gay; kept personal and professional worlds very separate; learning leadership lessons from the closet. (03:13)
Becoming increasingly frustrated at having to hide her relationship and personal life; personal values in conflict with her professional values; deciding to retire from the Army. (04:27) Testimony by Admiral Mullen, then the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on gays in the military; feeling a glimmer of hope; deciding not to retire and to ask to deploy. (03:53) Most meaningful experience in Afghanistan; attending funeral services; interacting with the Polish delegation at a particular funeral service. (02:39)
Reengagement with soldiers; using her role as colonel to have a positive influence; repeal of DADT while she was deployed. (02:08) Knowing that some people are still afraid of coming out while serving. (00:29) While coming out was hard, serving while openly gay has been comparatively so easy; lightening of burden; feeling so much stronger because she can acknowledge herself as part of a partnership. (02:11)

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  The Library of Congress  >> American Folklife Center
  October 26, 2011
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