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"If I could have served in the service as a trans woman, I probably would have done 20 years." (Video interview, 22:17)

   JaeLee Waldschmidt
Collection image
JaeLee Waldschmidt, Washington, D.C. [3/10/2015]
War: War on Terrorism, 2001-2009
Branch: Navy
Unit: USS Hawaii (SSN 776)
Service Location: Great Lakes, Illinois; Charleston, South Carolina; Ballston Spa, New York; Groton, Connecticut; Pearl Harbor, Hawaii
Rank: Electrician's Mate
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As a kid growing up in the small, landlocked town of Mason City, Iowa, Electrician’s Mate JaeLee Waldschmidt was dazzled by her uncles’ stories about the Navy, and she enlisted in 2003. Stationed aboard the USS Hawaii (SSN-776), a Virginia-class submarine, afforded her a unique view of the world; she describes how it felt “surreal” to live aboard a “hunk of steel” deep beneath the waves. While she enjoyed her work in the Navy, she decided eventually that she could no longer continue to bury her gender identity, and she left the service of her own accord in 2012. In her interview, she discusses her work with local LGBT advocacy groups, and says to those who might be struggling with their gender identity: there’s hope.

Interview (Video)
»Interview Highlights  (7 clips)
»Part 1 | Part 2 
Download: video(1) | 
Download: video(2) (58 min.)
»Photo Album  (6 photos)
 Video (Interview Excerpts) (7 items)
Challenges of serving with an all-male crew; lack of privacy and personal space; trying to grapple with issues of identity while serving aboard ship. (02:42) Reaction of her family and friends to her transition; progress of LGBT community over the last 10 to 15 years; relative ease of transition. (05:13) Impact of discriminatory policies on individual lives; hiding her identity; culture of the military will take a long time to change; seeing transfer of a gay soldier from the submarine; would have stayed in if she could have transitioned while serving; working as a civil servant. (05:27)
Exclusion of trans servicemembers means losing talent; description to unit morale when someone is discharged; policies are doing harm to the service and to the country. (01:29) Thoughts on how trans individuals might be included in the service; integration will take time; there will be growing pains. (02:32) Message she hopes people take from her story; there is hope for those individuals who are struggling and in the service. (02:38)
Rewards of job; sense of accomplishment that came from fixing major pieces of equipment; when the submarine made the first dive. (03:35)  

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  October 26, 2011
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