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Interview with Ralan Hill [5/3/2006]

Steve Estes:

My name is Steve Estes. Today is May 3rd, 2006, and I'm interviewing ...

Ralan Hill:

My name is Ralan Hill and we're in Rohnert Park, CA.

Steve Estes:

All right, Ralan, let's start offwith a question actually you answered a second ago. When and where were you born?

Ralan Hill:

I was born on the 19th of May in 1978 here in Sonoma County.

Steve Estes:

What did your parents do for a living at that time?

Ralan Hill:

Well, they were both teachers and they still are. My mother actually wasn't a teacher in '78. She didn't start teaching until the late '80s. They teach at the Petaluma City School District here in the county.

Steve Estes:

What do they teach?

Ralan Hill:

My dad teaches high school math these days, and my mother is a elementary school teacher. She teaches I think a 1/2 split at Cherry Valley in Petaluma.

Steve Estes:

This is jumping far ahead, I know, but to focus on the military, how did you get into the military?

Ralan Hill:

I joined right out of college. I went through ROTC when I was in college, that was four years at Tufts. I found the program during orientation; a huge number of organizations had tables up and were just generally postering and canvassing. I think I was looking for the ROTC program. I'd thought about it a little bit in high school- I was in the Philippines at an international school and one of the people - he was a junior when I was a senior, talked about, he knew exactly what he was going to do. He was going to join the army after high school and college, and that seemed like a reasonable thing to do. I was looking for it during that orientation week, and I found it and got involved, and spent all four years there.

Steve Estes:

Let me back up. How did you get to the Philippines?

Ralan Hill:

My parents as we discussed are both teachers, and my father lived abroad as a kid in Saudi Arabia - his father worked with Aramco as an engineer, and he thought that was a very wonderful, sort of formative experience for kids to have. He wanted that for my sister and me. So, he and my mother - that was actually one of the reasons my mother got into teaching, so that they could be a dual teaching couple overseas and be more attractive to interviewers and schools who then get two teachers for four people instead of just one teacher for four people.

Steve Estes:

Right. I see.

Ralan Hill:

Anyway, so they applied to several schools and we ended up in the Philippines for four years during high school and I went to the international school there.

Steve Estes:

Were you as enamored of the international school experience as your dad had been?

Ralan Hill:

Very much so. It's a wonderful experience. I learned a lot, interacted with a lot of really wonderful people. I've got a wonderful collection of friends from all over the world. I know it really helped me better understand people and differences and all that sort of cultural, social interaction when the people you're working with aren't sharing a background with you. They don't have the exact same educational and social experiences as you do. It probably is one of the things - now as I look back - that drove my decision to join the Army. One of the reasons was certainly for the opportunity to travel and be stationed abroad. I served in Korea and Germany, and that was my choice. Most people do a tour abroad and then back in the U. S. I went through some paperwork hoops and really pushed for the opportunity to go to Germany from one overseas tour to another overseas tour.

Steve Estes:

How did your family respond to your doing ROTC?

Ralan Hill:

They seemed to be very supportive. My parents are absolutely wonderful parents, so I think, whatever I do, I get support from them, even when they're not the most excited about it. The army - I know it's a really respectable job and they certainly enjoyed talking I think to their friends about it. I think they were generally supportive too, although perhaps if they had been doing the choosing, they would have chosen something else.

Steve Estes:

And your sister?

Ralan Hill:

She - I think I got more out of the experience than she did, but she also has close, good friends from the Philippines.

Steve Estes:

Okay. How'd you do in ROTC? I mean, what - how did it meet ...

Ralan Hill:

We had a very small ROTC program. Tufts - I don't know the exact story - the rumor is that we burned down our ROTC building in the '70s during the Vietnam War. I'm not sure - at any rate, ROTC is no longer on campus and had been that way since the 1970s, so we run our program through MIT. Harvard - when I was going through the program, Harvard, Wellesley, Tufts, and MIT all went to MIT for the ROTC classes and instruction. The military officers that are working in the program are Associated Professors at MIT. And since I left the program, they've drawn two or three other schools in the area. So we all would come together, but it was still a very small program. The Army program - I think the peak in freshman and sophomore years was ten or fourteen, fifteen people.

Steve Estes:

From all of those universities?

Ralan Hill:

From all those universities, in my grade level and my year, the class of 2000, I think we graduated with six or eight students were commissioned from the Paul Revere Battalion in 2000 along with maybe, there were 3 of us from Tufts, maybe two or three from Harvard, and I don't think we had any from MIT, and maybe one from Wellesley. Something along those lines. So it was a very small program, and depending on years abroad and what's going on, it would fluctuate from year to year to year.

Steve Estes:

When you graduated from Tufts, you - did you have to go through another training, or was that in the summers that you had to do the equivalent of officer training, or ... ?

Ralan Hill:

Yeah, the - between sophomore and junior years, sorry no, between junior and senior years, all ROTC cadets that have been in the program since freshman year go to advanced camp. My year, I was held at Fort Lewis in Washington. I don't know if they've expanded or changed that, but it's fluctuated over the decades, since the ROTC program has been in existence. That was maybe four or six weeks, and you do most of the same things you do in basic training, where all the enlisted soldiers go through immediately after the boot camp sort of experience, but it's a little more tailored to leadership and a little more tailored to what officers are going to be expected to do. And your scores from there, along with your grades from college, and the - there's a thirddoh, and what the military people at the ROTC program grade you as - those three things go on to determining your priority or your rank when assigning you branches later.

Steve Estes:

What branch were you assigned?

Ralan Hill:

Engineering. I was an engineer.

Steve Estes:

And, how'd you feel about that?

Ralan Hill:

Oh, it was good. It wasn't my top choice, I think it was - you have to list six - two combat arms, two non-combat arms, two service support and - I don't know. It was my third choice, but as I got into the program, or into the branch, I rather quickly became enamored with it. It's a wonderful branch because of the opportunities it presents Hthere's a lot of variety in the engineers, there're combat engineers that are like infantry, demolition, running around, exploding mines, laying mines, destroying obstacles, bridging gaps, those sorts of things. You can also work in the bridging companies, bridging platoons - we were actually building bridges, again in combat. As an officer you can work in the Corps of Engineers in the US, you know, working with levies and managing the whole Corps of Engineers system throughout the US in lot of ways, and the levies, and the bridges, and the dams, and all sorts of stufflike that. There's also a topography section, working with maps, designing maps, working with mapping software. And there's a couple of other, smaller-ish areas that engineers can work in that you don't really get that variety, in something like infantry or armor where you're doing infantry things - which are fun and exciting, certainly, but there aren't all the different opportunities. I mean, if you know exactly what you want, it's great, if you want infantry. But if you're looking for lots of different experiences, the engineers work out really well. Also, construction, building buildings and runways. My grandfather in WWII was an engineer - he built runways in the Pacific for the Army Air Corps.

Steve Estes:

Had other people besides your grandfather in your family served?

Ralan Hill:

My - both my grandfathers were in WWII. My grandfather on my father's side was in the Army - he was an [inaudible] officer - he was in charge of several construction companies and that sort of stuff, building runways. My other grandfather, on my mother's side, was in the Marines, and he served in the Pacific his entire career as an enlisted soldier. He was a water purifier, I believe.

Steve Estes:

Did that have any affect on your joining, or no?

Ralan Hill:

No. I have to imagine it had some effect. I don't know how profound an effect it was. I mean, I joined and they were in. I knew that they'd been in the Army and the Marines growing up, so it wasn't something where I sat down and thought about it and said, I'm going to do exactly what my grandfathers did, and I'm going to join because I've got a military history in my background. I think just about everybody it seems has two grandfathers that served in WWII. That's not an unusual circumstance, so, I wouldn't say it was a dominant factor, but I'm sure it had some sort of influence.

Steve Estes:

What was your first assignment when you graduated from Tufts?

Ralan Hill:

The first place is Officer Basic Corps for the Engineers, which is Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. So it's a 6 month course I think from August to December 2000 for me. I actually spent 2 or 3 months in advanced camp again as a 2nd Lieutenant, as cadre doing - managing all of the people who were doing the exact same thing as I had done the year before. Just administrating, and then from there, after a couple months, I went to Fort Leonard Wood for the Engineer Corps. Spent 6 months there, and then was assigned to Korea, with the 44th Engineer Battalion, western corridor.

Steve Estes:

I think that some people aren't big fans of being stationed in Korea. How did you feel about it?

Ralan Hill:

This was before 2000 - before September 11,2001, and Korea was definitely one of the least desirable places to be sent in the grand scheme of things. Just in casual conversation it was - because the problem was it was a - anybody below the rank of Major, I think you generally tended to go alone. It was an unaccompanied tour so you'd be without your family for a year. And it's a year tour, and the conditions there are a little less desirable than they are in say, Seattle, or somewhere around D.C. So it had a sort of stigma to it, but it wasn't a bad post. I was single, so I wasn't leaving any family behind other than my parents, who I was - off in college for four years anyway. I ranked it maybe fifth out often choices, but I think anybody who put Korea anywhere on their list of 10 would end up invariably getting it. I probably would have preferred to go to Germany, but I ended up going there anyway, so it worked out okay. But Korea worked well for me. I had the opportunity to travel to China, Japan and throughout Korea, on the time off I got mid-tour leave. So I wasn't unhappy with it at all- the learning curve there is very high. I learned a lot very quickly because everybody doesn't have family, everybody's missing their family, and the soldiers live on post, and the officers live on post, and everybody's right there all the time. You can reach out and grab people in ways that you don't when you're in the US. At five o'clock in the US people go home. They may live off post, they may live 45 minutes to an hour away. In Korea, everybody was right there. You'd let people go, and you need them for something half an hour later, you just walk up to the barracks and knock, knock, knock, and nine times out of ten, you're going to be able to find them. So, it's not necessarily a good thing, but because everybody's right there, and because there's very little else to do in terms of entertainment or social opportunities, in the normal sense that you'd have in the US, you spend a lot of time doing Army things. And the more time you spend doing Army things, the more you learn about Army things. So as a 2nd Lieutenant there's a huge learning curve just about the military in general that one year in the US it takes a little longer to get all that information and have all those experiences. In Korea, with the North Koreans just across the border, especially prior to September 11 til, you had more than anywhere else in the Army, a very clear mission and a very distinct purpose, and that provided the impetus for applying yourself a little more and for making sure that you understood the drills, and for making sure that all your things were in order. They rarely were because the turnover of people there only a year - in the US, you've got people who have been there three or four years, or longer, so there's an institutional memory that resides with those people that doesn't go away. In Korea, there's very little institutional memory. People - senior ranking individuals - have experiences elsewhere and they bring that to the units. But the institutional memory just isn't there because - I mean, even the Battalion commanders and [-- ] majors and senior ranking people are only there for two years. And the junior people are there for a year, and so whereas in the US, or when I was in Germany, the battalion commander was also there only for two years, but the soldiers they're commanding have been around for three, four, five, six, eight years maybe in the same unit, have done things, know where to find the books, know where the equipment is stored, know that a particular piece of something was put in the back of a particular shed five years ago and yeah, I know where that is. In Korea, that's not the case at all. If someone puts something back there and you won't find it again for another two, three, four, a decade later, you know. And they're like, oh! That - there's - what somebody who's got the motivation or the energy for whatever reason stumbles upon it. So there's a lot of - no institutional memory and consequently a lot of learning, because you've got to sort of do it on your own and get your hands dirty very quickly in order to just sort of stay afloat.

Steve Estes:

Now, you mentioned September 11 th a couple of times, and I know that that changed, obviously, the mission of the military. One of my questions is - where were you, and can you just talk about your reactions to that?

Ralan Hill:

I was in Korea from January 1, 2001 through the end of December 2001, so I was stationed in Korea when the planes flew into the World Trade Center towers. I was actually just coming back from mid-tour leave. I'd been in China. I flew in that morning, of course because of the time zones, nine, ten in the morning on the East Coast was nine, ten in the evening in Korea, and I had just gone to bed and somebody came knocking down all the doors in the hallway, you've gotta come see this. I debated about whether I wanted to get out of bed, and I got into bed somewhat early and I said, okay, whatever. So I rolled out of bed and wandered down the hall to one of my Lieutenant buddy's rooms, and we were watching TV and I watched the second airplane fly into the second tower and I remember thinking to myself and saying out loud, as a lot of the other Lieutenants are, that this really changes everything. This is not the same army anymore--things are gonna be different. You know, really putting it on parallel with - as the worst day in American history since probably Pearl Harbor, and maybe ever. I think that's pretty much the exact statement I made. Leaves were cancelled relatively quickly for the soldiers there, which we all thought was sort of a joke because we've got these very restrictive leave policies to begin with. Only so many people can be on leave at one time, only so many people can be on a pass at one time, with the theory that you can - you always have to be able to go to war immediately, in case the North Koreans come across the border right now. So now we've had these attacks, and there's a sort of heightened security and we're not even at war yet, and the leave system breaks down, and now we've got to have 100% of the people here all the time, everything's been cancelled - sort of defeated the purpose of having the restrictive leave policies to begin with. But it took the division a little while, maybe a day or two - certainly it wasn't the next day, September 12th, nothing changed in terms of our rhythm. Things were driven very much at the base level. The Battalion commander decided what he wanted to do, the Brigade commander Brigade headquarters for that post decided what was going to happen for that post, and the division's set of orders, and you've got to have so many people on the post, and you've got to have heightened security, you've got to check - all these things didn't come down I think until the 13th of September. So we had one day when we were just waiting for the second shoe to drop because we knew there were gonna be - people are going to have to go out here, and do this and check that, and all the rigmarole that comes with that. I remember listening to the news and hearing that units are on the heightened state of alert and force protection levels have increased to this and I said to myself, well we haven't actually changed anything yet. Maybe somebody in the Pentagon has said, you will do this, but the reality was that it took a little while before we got to this heightened state of security and the heightened state of security - we, of course, post protection levels, there's A, B, C, and D I think and A+ and B+ and whatnot and as I recall, we didn't actually go to the highest level. We went to the second highest level mostly because we weren't actually at war, there were no Koreans across the border, although that was the worry, but in this moment of weakness we would have - well, what a perfect time for the North Koreans to attack.

Steve Estes:

How realistic did you feel like that worry was? I mean, could you step outside of yourself and say, well that's probably not going to happen?

Ralan Hill:

Yeah, well, no, I wasn't so worried about that. The heightened security measures, well, a lot of security measures I think are perception versus reality so I'm not sure how heightened our security was, we had more people on the front gates at times. But the ability to stop any particular terrorist action - the bombing of the front gates, an infiltration of the post by a set of determined individuals, ten people with weapons and the plan is - before and after, there's not so much of a difference, I think, in the ability to stop some of those things, just because you've got people with guns at the front gate, Army people as opposed to contracted Korean or American civilians checking IDs. I mean it's not like - if somebody's gonna load a truck full of explosives and drive it to the front gate regardless of how many people are standing there.

Steve Estes:

So, you left Korea within a month - the next month, right, you said, December?

Ralan Hill:

No, through December. So I was there for another three, four, months.

Steve Estes:

Right, October, November, and then December.

Ralan Hill:

Three and a half months.

Steve Estes:

So, then you had requested - I think we were talking before - to go to Germany as opposed to a stateside post. Was the fact that you assumed that there would be some form of military reprisal- did that go into your calculations of where you wanted to go, or did it ... no?

Ralan Hill:

No, not at all. The paperwork I imagine - even from the first day I arrived in Korea - I knew my next goal was to get to Germany, and I had done the paperwork for that from the middle of the year, probably July or August - I don't remember the exact date. So I may have even already know I was going to Germany, and if not I would find out in October or November or something. I have to imagine that the - my expectation for military action - I knew the 2nd Infantry Division, which is the one I was with in Korea, I knew they weren't going anywhere. They were in Korea had a very clear mission, irrespective of whatever else was going on. Going to Germany I fully expected to rotate through most of lower Bosnia - that was a very common mission for Germany-based units, 18t Armored Division, 18t Infantry Division, so I expected that and with regards to going to Afghanistan, obviously we hadn't invaded Iraq yet, but Afghanistan wasn't I'm sure I expected something. And I probably expected the 82nd or the 101 8t, one of the late divisions based in the US to go, certainly, first, and there was no reason to go to or avoid. I didn't have any great desire to be assigned to Kentucky or Georgia or Texas anyway. Ifl'd been assigned in the States, I would have wanted to go to Fort Lewis or someplace in the DC area, Bellvoire, Fort Meade, those sorts of places.

Steve Estes:

I'm going to skim over quickly your Germany experience, but I guess I want you to tell me a little bit about it. I know you'd wanted to go there for a long time - what was your experience like there, briefly, and did it meet your expectations?

Ralan Hill:

Yeah, Germany was a wonderful place. I got to travel all over Europe on the 4-day vacations and the 3-day vacations that we got. I arrived and found myself even as a junior Lieutenant know a lot about things just from my Korea experience - ended up we were going to Kosovo within two or three months of my arriving in the unit; I was quite excited about that. We got back - we went to Kosovo knowing that September 11 th had happened and people were headed to Afghanistan. The pressure to invade Iraq kept - the political pressure kept building while we were in Kosovo and there was a little worry we'd be extended there beyond the normal 6 months. As it happened, the rotation following us was extended an extra 3 months, and they spent 9 months there instead of the 6 months we spent.

Steve Estes:

Because they were worried that something would happen in Kosovo, or ... ?

Ralan Hill:

No, no, just because they didn't have the next rotation from November 2002 through normally April, May of2003, overlapped directly with the invasion oflraq. They didn't have a - so, the units that had been told they were going to Kosovo, were ramping up in Kosovo, were diverted to Iraq, and so there were no replacements to take over the units in Kosovo. So they got extended for another 3 months while that sort of sorted itself out and ended up going home in August or September, and at that point they got replacements.

Steve Estes:

How did you get to Iraq?

Ralan Hill:

We - 18t Infantry Division deployed through Kuwait in February of2004. We flew on civilian contracted airliners, a Boeing 757 or 777 or whatever it was, to Kuwait out of Germany. A lot of the units flew out of the rather small private airport, or public airport, in Nuremburg, and some of the units were sent out of Ramstein, Germany, where they've got a large air force base there. The whole division was 10,000 or 12,000 people but our Battalion split with most of - the vast majority of people flying out ofNuremburg and a few people flying out of Ramstein. We landed in Kuwait, we were there for about a month, maybe, I think - I flew out on the 11 th of February, and I was on the last plane out of Germany, I was the adjutant so I was responsible for counting people, making sure they got on the plane, but I - NCO-IC was on the first plane, that was the plan, down there, so he sort of set up shop down in Kuwait and received people while I short of ushered them out the door. I was also the last out of Iraq, as we were sending people back to Germany.

Steve Estes:

What were your first impressions of the Middle East and then [inaudible] Kuwait and Iraq, once you got to Iraq?

Ralan Hill:

Kuwait was a little bit closer to three weeks, because we marched up into Iraq the first week in March. It was hot, it was only March and February but it was warm - but not so warm, it was the gear that made things warmer than anything else, and it got very cold at night. In Kuwait, probably the thing I remember most was the fact that the lines for the dining facility were half an hour, 45 minutes long. This was the first rotation - the OAF-l folks, the people who were - who actually invaded Iraq, and March 4th sort of in combat from Kuwait had gone first and we were coming down as OIF-2, Operation Iraqi Freedom. We were the second rotation, so this was the first time they were trying to both bring people out of Iraq and send people into Iraq at the same time, so there were these vast camps set up in the Kuwaiti desert by the Iraqi border. There were people flowing out of Iraq and people flowing into Iraq and the Army - it seems - although it was never exclusively mentioned - even though were both there at the same time, they seemed to keep us quite separate. That may just be my perception, being at a much lower level. But because there were people who were coming and going, which, so you've got twice as many people as you normally would have had, perhaps, the camps were packed to the absolutely breaking point. There were people stuffed into these big burlap tents, side by side. You'd have a little room under your cot to put your barracks bag and your rucksack would sit at the end of the cot. The, actually I think the tents were made for sixty, but we were had a little more than that perhaps, and then the chow hours were originally like an hour or two and then they extended them to three or four to try and avoid these spikes in attendance. That was pretty much all you did. You picked up equipment, we, at one point we went down to the ports - Port Kuwait to offload our equipment, well not offload it, but pick it up and drive it up to our camp. That was the big thing, was getting all our Con-Xs and getting our vehicles off the ships and into our space. We got issued RFI [inaudible] and all this fancy new gear that we hadn't had in Germany that we had been promised. We had our armor plates and new Molly Gear for holding ammunition and first aid canisters and grenade pouches and all that good stuff. A new - all the new stuff, the new technology stuff, the Kuwait was sort of the clearinghouse for that, rather than trying to distribute to twenty different locations in Germany, wait for all the divisions to show up in one place in Kuwait and hand it out there. I can't imagine dealing with those logistical issues. Anyway, so besides getting our equipment, and waiting for stuff to arrive on the ships, you could do training, but you can't do training for 20 hours a day without killing people. We were sort of acclimating still. So you ate. And you didn't eat for very long because there weren't enough chairs to fit everybody in, so that kind of slowed things up and they could only get so many people through - the lines were, literally seemed like half a mile long. We have wonderful pictures, but I can't find one. People stretched out across the desert waiting for food. And that was the event of the day normally, three times a day if you could manage. Think they ended up giving us MREs for lunch so that there wouldn't be this huge wait in the middle of - and extending the breakfast and dinner hours. I don't remember. All I remember is that there was a big issue. And we didn't have showers at first. The division commander promised he wouldn't take a shower until everybody had showers set up by their tents. Some of the tents had showers and some of them didn't, so you had to sort of walk all the way across the camp to these different paths if you wanted a shower - for some people. They were building paths still - houses, big concrete slabs they put the tents on; not all of them were set up when we got there. They were in the process of hooking up the shower and toilet facilities when we arrived, so we used Port-O-Potties for the restrooms. The water for the showers took a little while depending on which tent you were in. Originally the first tent I was in had showers, and then they moved us into a different tent that didn't have showers and eventually - before we left, in a week or so, ten days, they eventually had showers in all of them - all of the tents.

Steve Estes:

So you said that you marched into Iraq. Do you actually literally mean you marched . ? In,or. ...

Ralan Hill:

No, it was a convoy, a road march. We were assigned in trucks and convoys and times and this and that and the other thing, and it was about a day and a half drive, as I recall. I think we spent two nights on the road, and it was a massive effort because the whole division was going north. They were timed, you know, every twenty minutes or so another one leaves, and each one that left had twenty vehicles, maybe, or somewhere around twenty vehicles. We spent a lot of time assigning orders, and assigning people, and we spent - I can't remember how many meetings we sat through - Person A, by name and by rank, Person A is going to sit in this seat and this seat and this seat, and this humvee holds two people, and this much equipment and is pulling this trailer and then Vehicle 2 is holding these 4 people by name, and this is the person who's driving, and this is the person who's in charge and this is the person who's gonna be holding the gun in the back and then on and on and on times - I think we probably had 200 vehicles for the part of the area we were in charge of 150 vehicles or people, I don't know. Then, the people who weren't driving, some of them were flying, so we drove and we flew. The vast majority of the people drove. But the driving was only to get the vehicles. We didn't assign people to the convoy just to convoy, we assigned them because we needed to have a driver, a Te, and a gunner in as many vehicles as we could. And then we also radios had to be, because we didn't have radios in all the vehicles - you wanted to space your vehicles so that vehicles without radios are between vehicles with radios and then they drive, every twenty minutes, and you get stuck behind convoys that were going slow. They had vehicles break down and had to get picked up by somebody else, or they'd stay there and get picked up by the division's rear echelons, or whatever it was. It was nice when you would get to these checkpoints and you'd stay there for twenty minutes, half an hour, maybe overnight, three or four hours, and it was always wonderful. For whatever reason, our convoy managed to do rather well in terms of timing and keeping together, and it was always exciting to be able to jump one of these slowpokes, because you'd have this huge accordion effect. You've got a division trying to move - I have no idea how many vehicles - 3,000 vehicles, north, and you can't just normally pass people, because you're strung out - your own convoy is strung out three miles or four miles maybe. And so then you back up and you are crawling along or you stop and that's the worst thing in the world is stopping. We spent, I can't imagine how many time stressing that idea, that the longer you stop, the more of a target you become.

Steve Estes:

Were you actually worried that there would be attacks or were there attacks?

Ralan Hill:

Oh yes, absolutely we worried. In the division there were attacks, my convoy - in fact my battalion, I don't think had any incidents. But there were definitely cases of people receiving small arms fire, IEDs going off I don't think any of the division lost any soldiers on the way up, but that was a definite threat. That was a definite worry, especially on the way up because we knew we'd never done this before. We knew we were sort of fresh. We had a couple soldiers who had gone in with the first invasion, returned to the US, then transferred to our unit, and were going back. So we had some experience there, and we had some people from the First Gulf War with experience, but few and far between, so we were very fresh and very worried that we were gonna screw things up on the way up. Nobody wanted to die, nobody wanted to have to do anything other than - our battalion got up very safely and without any issues - major issues. I mean, we had vehicles break down, but we were able to recover them.

Steve Estes:

Did you go directly to Tikrit or did you go to Baghdad?

Ralan Hill:

We stayed - one of our convoys made a wrong tum, or actually failed to get off the exit - so we went North from Kuwait to the west of Baghdad, spent the night in Taji, I think and Taji was sort of the release point. The division managed everybody, nittyygritty, from Kuwait to Taji and then from there the unit we were replacing came to pick us up and take us to our final destination and they would come down to pick up each convoy at Taji and escort us north. We spent the night at Taji and we spent the night at one other location further south and Taji's just north of Baghdad. One of our convoys failed to make the exit off the highway and went right down into downtown Baghdad and they were a little concerned having heard horror stories and were now sitting in the middle of traffic and trying to make a U-turn with a 3-mile long convoy. Not very pretty. Lukcily, [laughs] the people leading our convoy was a little more competent and managed to make that right-hand tum and do the loop-de-Ioop and get up to Taji okay.

Steve Estes:

When you got to the place where you were stationed the rest of the time you were there, what was your primary responsibility?

Ralan Hill:

I was the adjutant. I had been the adjutant since the previous October. We deployed in Februar, the following year, 2004, and I remained the adjutant till after we got back. That involved many things, but first and foremost, especially during deployment was administratively deploying the battalion and the people individual. This is drawing up manifests and signing people to airplanes and making sure that everybody's got a seat on an airplane and making sure everybody's on the manifest so that when they go back a year, a decade, two decades later, they have proof that they actually deployed to Iraq and sort of paperwork showing they were down there, make sure everybody's got orders assigning them to the unit, and to Iraq for the deployment. While we were in Iraq, my duties were mostly the same, in terms of evaluations for all the non-commissioned officers and officers, just processing - not actually writing them, but processing them. Processing promotions for everybody, doing awards for everybody, and all the sort of paperwork stuff that comes along with the personnel office. In Iraq, we also had the additional responsibility of collecting mail for the 500 people in our post, which meant driving up north to Camp FOB Speicher which was a [core] asset and picking up mail from the ATO there and driving it back down and distributing it to the companies. I was in charge - we sort of - all the different logistics and personnel and folks in the battalion - the S I, that's me, I was the adjutant, the S4 which is our supply guy, the BMO the battalion maintenance officer and the support platoon leader. Really the support platoon leader, myself and the battalion maintenance officer were the three that rotated through OICs ofthe convoys. We were in charge of these convoys and every two or three, or other - every other day, we would go north to pick up spare parts for the vehicles, and fuel, and petroleum, and whatever else, and mail, and drop off paperwork. There was a division rear [inaudible] that was on Camp Speicher as well, so we'd drop off paperwork. So we'd take turns being in charge of the convoys and each convoy I would send a soldier to do the mail and BMO would send a maintenance soldier from PLO or something to pick up the parts and [inaudible] would send over - she needed to pick up whatever she needed to pick up. So we'd all sort of patchwork together these convoys with vehicles from the various administrative within the battalion and then we'd take turns leading them, actually being on the convoy and driving them north. So I would go north - it's only about half an hour - every once a week, once every two weeks, depending on the schedule. People go on R&R and are gone, and then you've got to go more frequently.

Steve Estes:

When you went to Camp Speicher ...

Ralan Hill:

Well, FOB Speicher, Forward Operating Base.

Steve Estes:

Was that the time when you felt most at risk, I guess?

Ralan Hill:

Well, sure. That was the - we had - when I was there we dealt with incoming orders and rockets on post itself. We dealt with convoys and those were the two risky times and the orders and such would come in whenever they came in. There was no way of predicting or anticipating that, although there were a couple times when they would several successive days in a row over the course of a week or two. But the convoys were really the big things, and we had - there were IEDs that went offwhile we were there on the route, although never when I was actually in charge of driving or when our battalion was in charge of driving. That was what you prepared for the most. That was a two or three day process to organize up the convoy, make sure you've got - because you do the same thing we did when we were coming up from Kuwait - identify all the vehicles that are going to be there, put people by name in each vehicle. You make sure you've got qualified gunners to man 50 caliber machine guns to manage the SAW or the 240 Bravos. You've got to have enough of these sort of high caliber weapons for security, because the M-16s, while nice, don't have as much firepower. So you're trying to keep track of how many of these high-caliber guns you've got, and then of those high-caliber weapons, you've got to make sure you've got qualified people to fire them. You can't just put a random person in charge of a weapon they've never touched before or have no idea how to us, so matching up that, and then matching who's driving - not everyone knows how to drive a flatbed, not everyone knows how to drive a humvee. So matching up drivers and weapons and weapon systems and NCOs to TC the vehicles, then putting them all in order because again you don't have radio for every vehicle and unlike some of the line platoons, where they've got the same twenty soldiers and the same four vehicles and they only send out the same four vehicles and the same twenty soldiers and it's always the same person sitting in the same place, manning the same weapon doing the same thing, it becomes much easier. With us, it's always mix and match. BMO was sending this person, I'm sending this person, so-and-so's sending this person, somebody's got a toothache and they're going to go up to see the dentist, so can we find one for him. So, okay, we can find one for him, but we need a bigger vehicle, does he know to drive a flatbed, does he know how to drive a humvee? What skills does this person who's got the toothache have that can help me piece together my convoy. So you have to put these puzzle pieces together between seats and manning guns and all that. So we're always going out with people who have never gone on a convoy before, or people that are just new to Iraq or replacements [inaudible] for the last month and a half, or month or two.

Steve Estes:

Did you [inaudible]?

Ralan Hill:

[] that was the challenge, was putting together all these pieces, and briefing the soldiers before they go out because it's handy when you work with the same soldiers every day you know what their skills are, what their capabilities are, here I'm getting handed off people who have maybe never even met before, what do you know, what can you do, where can I put you, what responsibilities am I gonna assign you so that if something happens I can count on you to do whatever it is you need to do? And everybody's sort of got this idea of what you do when you're attacked or something, but you've got to go through a certain number of rehearsals, so you become familiar enough with what you're gonna do when a vehicle breaks down ... [End of Side One]

Ralan Hill:

That is just a part and parcel of what I did day in and day out in Iraq was arranging these convoys, in addition to all this sort of paperwork that I would have done back in Germany.

Steve Estes:

So, I guess you're probably trying to minimize your relations with - er, your interactions with Iraqi civilians, but did you have any interactions?

Ralan Hill:

We had Iraqi civilians that would come on post as contractors to build concrete slabs, to run - we had a little market that sold pirated DVDs and perfume and flip-flops and whatnot. And the supply guy, the S4, would have contractors come on to sell us color printer or toner cartridge or lumber, or whatever it was, but I personally didn't interact - have the opportunity to interact with civilians hardly at all. We were very much confined to post, except when we were driving north, and when we're driving north, we're outfitted in all our armor, and our weapons and on the road and trying not to stop if at all possible. So unlike some of the other infantry - or some of our platoon leaders in the battalion who were out every day talking to sheiks and civilians and who owns this, and who owns that, and sort of doing all that. I was never assigned an interpreter to go and talk to civilians.

Steve Estes:

Was it - were you happy about that, or sad, or no ... ?

Ralan Hill:

It would have been nice to have a little more interaction, I think, but there is an associated risk with that. I had a job, and I did my job. It wasn't something I really had a whole lot of say in. I was the adjutant and that's what I did. I wasn't a platoon leader; I wasn't a company commander. I wasn't a battalion commander, so ...

Steve Estes:

But you did get - I assume that you got some promotions since you ended as a captain and, obviously, you went in as a 2nd Lieutenant, right? Or, started out as a 2nd Lieutenant. So were those promotions just related to doing the adjutant work well or ... ?

Ralan Hill:

I got promoted to captain the same month I got moved over to the adjutant job. The staff positions are generally Captain's billets and promotions to - from 2nd Lieutenant to 1 st Lieutenant and 1 st Lieutenant to Captain are pretty much automatic. I was - 99% of the people make Captain from 1 st Lieutenant on the same time schedule. Not everybody does, but almost everybody. I mean, you really have to have almost killed somebody in a drunk driving accident to not get promoted to Captain on time scheduled with your peers. So there wasn't anything abnormal or unusual about the promotion. The promotions I received - to Majors, then there's a little more discernment, but I think still like 93% of the people make Major in the normal time frame.

Steve Estes:

Where does it stop being a normal advancement? Just for curiosity's sake.

Ralan Hill:

It seems Lieutenant Colonel- if you want to retire in the army, so long as you're reasonably competent, you should be able to make Lieutenant Colonel. Not every Lieutenant Colonel will command a battalion, though, about half of them. And not everybody will get promoted to Lieutenant Colonel on the same time frame; then it seems to drop significantly, and there are two - there's a dichotomy in the promotion to Lieutenant Colonel, or there was - I think they've changed the system now, but there's resident CGSC and regular CGSC and that seems to be a big career distinguisher, whether you're able to be a resident at the Commander General Staff College, or whether you were just going there, but - unless you were truly incompetent, you would make Lieutenant Colonel. Everybody would probably make Major on the regular time scale; not everybody would make Lieutenant Colonel on the time scale, and a lot of people won't make full bird Colonel and beyond that, Generals are - 0.6% of the army or something.

Steve Estes:

Switching gears a little bit, did you actually see casualties while you were there?

Ralan Hill:

We had several instances where - basically, the answer to your question is no. I saw people in body bags - not people, but I saw body bags with people in them. We had one gentleman that was killed, not from our unit, but along the road where we were, and they brought him to our aid station at first and I was part of the convoy moving him north, or was involved somehow in that, anyway, so I saw the body bag. We had pictures of people from the platoons that would come in and I was the public affairs officer, also, so I invariably got to see a lot of the photographs of dead Iraqis or foreign fighters or whoever it was that had died. Yeah.

Steve Estes:

I hope this isn't too sophomoric a question, but did that have an effect on you, or. .. ?

Ralan Hill:

There were - I mean, the photos were not pretty, they're fairly gruesome photosspeople missing arms and legs and sort of all chewed up on one side, or burned, or whatever it is. Honestly, the most difficult photo to watch, or to see - we saw - there were several American civilians that were beheaded while we were down there. Watching those videos was more traumatic than seeing pictures of dead civilians. That was the most traumatic I had - I saw it once, and I had the opportunity to see it again, and I chose not to, because it wasn't really worth the trauma.

Steve Estes:

Right. Okay. What was the morale like amongst the troops you served with?

Ralan Hill:

Well, good, generally, I would think. We had ajob to do and we had a good group of people we were with, and I very much liked the people I worked with by and large. I think that affects morale more than anything else - who you're working with and, I mean - there was certainly grumbling, everybody was complaining, oh, it's hot, the food stinks, the food was pretty good, I've got to go on convoys too often, I don't like the sand, I don't like guard duty, I don't like - oh, but it's just part of the thing. I don't think that's necessarily bad morale when people are complaining or upset about things. They still do them, and do them well, generally. There's a lot of silliness that goes on in the army from above - just in terms of - and I'm sure, as an officer, I'm part of the problem, but you jump through hoops that seem absurd when you're jumping through them. But you bond. And morale was good - I mean, we certainly had, as I said, wonderful food. We had access to the internet. We seemed more connected and more in touch with the outside world than I have to imagine previous wars would have been. I'm a little - we got a lot of mail, we delivered a lot of mail, but soldiers also had email and we had phones that were usually open, people would call home on.

Steve Estes:

Did you get to talk to your parents while you were away?

Ralan Hill:

Yeah. I talked to them - I don't know how often, maybe -I'd try - definitely, definitely didn't call home as often as a lot of people. A lot of people were on the phone every day, you know, every other day. I tried to call once a month at the least. I think I probably only called once every week or two. But it depended a lot on what I was doing, and the time schedule, and the time difference made it a little bit weird sometimes, so ...

Steve Estes:

Were your parents worried about you?

Ralan Hill:

Very much so. My mother in particular worried a lot. Prayed a lot. Had me on all sorts of prayer chains and whatnot - get home safely.

Steve Estes:

I guess it worked.

Ralan Hill:

Yeah, clearly, so that's good.

Steve Estes:

Let's back up a bit and talk about sexuality. Did you know that you were gay when you went into the military?

Ralan Hill:

I came out at age 20, between my junior and sophomore years in college. So I had been in the ROTC program for about 2 years before I came out, but this was still before I joined the army, per se.

Steve Estes:

Don't Ask Don't Tell is in effect.

Ralan Hill:

Yes, already in effect. And I knew it was in effect, and that affected me, as a policy.

Steve Estes:

How so? I mean, for obvious reasons ...

Ralan Hill:

Yeah, other than the obvious reasons. Well, I think that was it, as the obvious reason. Don't ask, don't tell. It was regulation I was obligated to follow as a gay man in the military.

Steve Estes:

Right. So there was no question that you would continue ROTC and go on and serve, despite the fact that you were coming out to friends, or what have you?

Ralan Hill:

Yeah. I really didn't - yeah, the idea of not still going to the army really didn't occur to me. The reasons I had joined were still very valid reasons and - opportunity to serve my country, opportunity to travel, the Army was still paying for a bit of college. And then there were other reasons that I identified later that were still valid irrespective of sexuality, just the type of people I got to work with. It was really exciting, and fulfilling to work with kids right out of high school, people that have left Kansas and Wyoming and the backwaters of Minnesota because they didn't want to live at home and flip burgers at McDonald's. People that are trying to get ahead in their own lives, see something better, join college for whatever reason was, it was just a fun group of people to work with. Usually, I mean you get some [inaudible] in the army, but by and large you get people that are motivated, sort of have goals in life, and are excited about seeing something new. It's really neat to watch them develop from brand new privates right out of basic training, watch them for three years and watch them leave as sergeants in charge of five, six, seven, ten people. So that still existed as I found out later. So sexuality didn't - the reasons why I joined were still valid, and certainly overrode any sense of unwantedness that the Army's official position implied.

Steve Estes:

And so there is the official position, and then there's also, you know, dealing with other people. Was there homophobia in the military that you had to deal with, or was there prejudice or discrimination?

Ralan Hill:

The transition from Tufts to the Army was a very abrupt and distinct one. Tufts was - had a very open and welcoming atmosphere. The socially acceptable things, politically correct things to do and say were far more curtailing in terms of the language, and phrases, and slurs you could use and the Army didn't have that - hardly any - it was straight when it came to that. But at the same time, individuals within the Army, a vast majority - the vast majority really didn't seem to care one way or the other. I'd run into people every now and then that would say something that would betray a - an animosity that was very direct and very prejudiced. But those people I think can be found anywhere and everywhere. It's not unique to the Army, and by and large most of the soldiers that I worked with were - I mean, they're right out of high school. These are people that were born in the late '80s who have grown up with the internet, who have grown up with gay friends, who have grown up with gay siblings or parents, may be gay themselves, and they really didn't care. I mean, my - the NCO I was in charge of, and my soldiers were certainly very open to the idea, certainly thought the policy was absolutely ridiculous.

Steve Estes:

How did that come up? I mean, it's not like you're going to them in a meeting and saying, and what do you guys think about DADT? How does that come up in the military?

Ralan Hill:

Yeah, um, it came up more frequently than you would perhaps expect. When we were in Iraq in particular, Gavin Newsome, the mayor in San Francisco, had just begun marrying same-sex couples. That was over Valentine's Day of 2004, that was the same February and Valentine's Day that we showed up in Kuwait, and it was within a few days of our arriving in Kuwait that he was doing this, and so it was in the papers, that was. That May, Massachusetts - marriage equality stuff came into effect and same sex couples began marrying in Massachusetts, so that was in the news. And we get the Stars and Stripes, and the Stars and Stripes covered that. So the conversations about those things came up just because they were on the, even if not the front page, the back page, the inside pages somewhere. You eat and you read the paper - there are only so many things to do. You actually have a lot of off time, because in Germany where you get off and you're gonna go wherever, watch a movie or whatever. Here, you're stuck on post, so you run through all the forms of entertainment: reading the paper ...

Steve Estes:

Hold on a sec ... [pause] So, we were talking about it's in the papers and people are talking about marriage, so if people are talking about marriage, they're obviously talking about sexuality.

Ralan Hill:

Yeah, and the policy would come up, and we'd argue about that. Or discuss it - I would even say argue, discuss it, and some people were more open to the idea than others, but certainly there were people who thought the policy was absolutely ridiculous. 1'd have a difficult time when we first got down there, because in Germany at least I could get off and there were other gay German civilians I could talk to, or I could call home or a friend or something and discuss issues that would come up over the course of the day, or the week, or the month as related to sexuality and being gay. We got down to Iraq and that whole outlet disappeared. There really wasn't an opportunity anymore to talk to people about gay things, at least from a personal perspective. And that was difficult. That was really quite difficult for me. The phones were all on a wall, ten, fifteen feet long and there's six of them or something, and there aren't any partitions. You're stuck in a spot where you couldn't even really say the word gay just for fear that somebody would hear you. And it's not that I was particularly worried that somebody would hear me, I guess - I mean most people would care less, but the threat was still out there. The internet was very similar, people walking behind you all the time, and there wasn't really a lot of privacy in those areas, so I was sort of relegated to writing things that I thought or issues that I had. Writing, of course, is a two week to a month turnaround. You write something, you send it, ten, fifteen days later it arrives in the US, repeat the process for coming back here depending on how quickly people respond. So I thought, very seriously in, oh, the end of March I guess, and early April about what I was going to do, because it was really a difficult situation for me emotionally, trying to manage this sort of private life. At that point, I was out to only one other person in the battalion, one of my friends, and we didn't talk about it at all, but at least he knew. Nobody else knew, and I debated - my four year commitment, I had a four year commitment coming out of ROTC, and I gave a lot of thought to when my four year time commitment came up that May, the middle, end of May, to sort of like raising my flag. Hey I'm gay, and send me home, I'm ready to get out. I gave some serious thought to that and decided that I really couldn't do that. I was too invested in the battalion, I guess. There were too many people I felt responsible to and for, just in terms of my responsibilities with the mail and the job I was doing and people were counting on me to do certain things, and I'd come to depend on them for certain things. It's just the camaraderie I think that comes from being downrange and I knew really that I couldn't abandon them, and that really was how it would have felt ifI'd have done that. But it was still a difficult decision, and I ended up instead deciding that I would just be more myself, I guess. More open about my opinions, less reserved in my decision-making processes.

Steve Estes:

Give me an example ...

Ralan Hill:

And by that I mean, there are things in life that I do - I think everybody does - that give off little clues about how you think and what you - who you are. It's from things as simple as how you wear your clothes to how to do your hair to what conversations you engage in, what decisions you make, what topics you decide to discuss, and what your opinions on those topics are. I had consciously, very consciously in the Army gone out of my way to avoid topics. I mean, you can see conversations sometimes coming, where we're talking about this, and I can watch in my head and go, okay, I know what's gonna happen next, and then we're gonna talk about this, and then they're going to ask, so do you have a girlfriend, or something like that. And normally I'd go out of my way to extract myself from those conversations before we got that far, to change the subject before we've got so far down that road that it would feel awkward - appear awkward, and those sorts of things. I really resolved to kind of give that up, I guess. I really enjoyed Broadway musicals, and I had brought the CDs with me, but I was mostly in my [inaudible] in my Con-X where we lived, I had a single in the room that's 10 by 15 or something, pretty small. But I'd put - brought them to the office and put them on my computer and started listening to them at work. And when Massachusetts and gay marriage equality came up - I have a very specific opinion about that, and so as the topic came up, I would engage people in conversation on that topic, and very clearly and succinctly, or long-winded if you will, make my case, as I would about politics in general, or global warming, or the price of tea in China, whatever it was that I would normally talk about. I started not shying away from those subjects and by, I won't say deliberately, but by deliberately not going out of my way to avoid things like I had done before, I was implicitly and explicitly coming up on people's gaydar, just because of the way I was taking on certain topics, and those sorts of things. I wasn't worried so much about - it's not that I cared what people thought before, but I didn't want to give them an opportunity to think things that were gay related, and I sort of swore that off and people picked up on it, not surprisingly. People, like my subordinates picked up on that. People who I interacted with picked up on that. I would think now that if I went back and asked most of the soldiers in the battalion, hey, was Captain Hill gay, I don't know what percentage would say yes, but I'm sure it would be more than just 1 or 2 percent.

Steve Estes:

He listened to Broadway musicals, case closed. [laughs]

Ralan Hill:

Yes. Yes, certainly in the Army. I mean, there were other people who liked Broadway musicals, but ...

Steve Estes:

No, I'm kidding.

Ralan Hill:

You know, but it's not the music genre of choice for most people. So yeah, so I sort of came out that way, even if it wasn't explicitly so, it was implicit, probably, for most people.

Steve Estes:

And, I guess since, obviously, you're a pretty savvy observer of social realities, in terms of seeing conversations and being able to avoid it, you kind of have to be, I know. But, did you pick up any vibes like, oh, okay, well some people do have a problem with it but they aren't really allowed to say because of the policy or maybe they're afraid because they're subordinates, or ... ? I mean, you weren't out out, you were just ...

Ralan Hill:

No, I definitely wasn't out out, explicitly, to most people.

Steve Estes:

So I'm wondering if you picked up any negative vibes.

Ralan Hill:

By and large, and I would say this is true almost across the board, I didn't experience any negative reaction to that. There's one staff sergeant I can think of who had an issue about it and that - the idea that he had an issue with my sexuality generally got back to me through my NCO, but in my estimation and from my recollection of what went on, it didn't affect our professional relationship at all. It certainly had to have helped, I think, the fact that I was a Captain, I forget what my estimation was, but based on data rank and all that I was probably in the top five or ten - probably top ten people in the battalion in terms of rank, so there's gonna be a level of deference that's accorded to me because of my rank irrespective of my sexuality that will extend to my sexuality based on my rank. I'm sure that insulated me to a certain degree from sexuality-driven biases. And I also wasn't out to - I mean, a lot of the people - it seems the people that are most open to the idea of people being gay in the military also are the most likely to pick up on the gaydar signals and identify me in their heads as possibly gay. So the more intolerant, or people more intolerant of having gays serve in the military openly, were even as they would be very judgmental and very particular and pronounced in their opinions, would still not be picking up on that in me.

Steve Estes:

So what kinds of things are they saying? I mean, the people who are vehemently opposed to ... ?

Ralan Hill:

They're very much on a hypothetical, philosophical kind of approach for the most part. I'm not gonna serve with them; it would be a disaster for morale. But really - such - more people I think were mildly disapproving; like, okay, I don't think I would do it that way, sort of approaches to things. I'm not sure that's in the best interests of the army. Not vociferously anti-gay but sort of, well, I'm not sure that we really need to go down that road right now. At the same time, I remember one or two people - and I forget who they were - telling me that eventually it will change and we'll deal with it. People in the army are very orderly and orders driven and if the regulation says you will then, you will. There's not really much of a choice there and there were several people I talked to who recognized it and framed the debate in that exact approach and this idea that I'm not going to change the policy, and if! were in charge I wouldn't change the policy, but when the policy changes, then it changes and life goes on. It's not really going to necessarily change anything explicitly, even if! think it's a bad idea, you're not gonna find any soldier in the army that thinks everything is run perfectly. There are a lot of vocal opinions about the stupidity of a lot of regulations and this one is no exception, regardless of which side of the spectrum you fall on.

Steve Estes:

For people - I guess, were there people who were more out than you who served with you in Iraq?

Ralan Hill:

Yes, there were definitely people who were more out than I was.

Steve Estes:

And how were they received - two questions. One, how were they received by people who were not out or were straight and, two, how did you interact with them knowing that there was a - there's always that threat of, if there's an investigation, you know, it could ripple out ... ?

Ralan Hill:

I never had any sense of a sort of impending investigation. It seemed in my experience that most people - I heard, every now and then of someone was being investigated against their will so to speak, but the one - we had one soldier that when I was an executive officer in headquarters company in the 9th Engineer Battalion, who voluntarily came forward and said, I'm gay, and we kicked him out. But my experiences seem to indicate that that's more frequently the way things go, that soldiers step forward and get out, rather than they do something they're not supposed to have done and get caught and get investigated against their will, which isn't to say that doesn't happen because it does. I've heard stories ofthat happening as well, but I don't think it's a majority of the circumstances.

Steve Estes:

So then the other question was, the perception of people who were more out than you ...

Ralan Hill:

And there were definitely people who were more out than me. I think competence drives perception more than anything else. When you're in the army and you need to have this particular little piece of paper, or this particular part, or whatever to accomplish your mission or your goal, you really don't care how you get it or who provides it, only that it's provided. So if you've got two particular people doing the same job and you can choose to go to one or the other, you're gonna choose invariably the one that is most likely to produce what you want, and to a certain extent that's driven by personality and your relationship with them. But gay people are friendly. [laughs] So, you know ...

Steve Estes:

Do keep the stereotypes rolling ...

Ralan Hill:

And I can think of several soldiers that - not in my case, but that other people in the unit preferred to go to over their non-gay counterparts, or presumably non-gay counterparts. We had a couple soldiers - I remember sitting down with a couple of officers from different sections of the battalion talking about who their best soldiers were, who they thought were most likely to excel and in one case, it was the gay soldier that fell into that category. There were also incompetent gay soldiers, don't get me wrong, and we had one or two of those as well that you wouldn't go to for things, irrespective of the fact that they were gay, just because they didn't have a firm grasp on ... yeah. So the answer to the question is confidence drives perception of who you interact with and what you do far more than sexuality does. I knew who to go to, to get certain things done in the unit and that had no bearing on whether they were gay, straight and I believe based on my conversation with other people that that was universally the case.

Steve Estes:

Let me ask you a different question about race and sexuality in the military. Do you think that those two things are parallel, or, I guess, can you talk about the similarities and differences between racial integration in the military and open sexual integration in the military?

Ralan Hill:

The army is very big on racial diversity and racial - opportunity for racial minorities and the irrelevance of race in determining promotions and awards, that sort of stuff. The army keeps meticulous records on race and things and as an adjutant, I've got to keep records, well, oversee the keeping of records of how many by gender and by race and by rank of who receives which awards, so that we can have this broad statistical picture of, are black people getting more awards, or are white people getting more awards, all that sort of stuff. I have no idea who looks at that stuff or where it's processed, but I do know I had to keep all these statistics on race and that every term, tolerance and diversity and the importance of race not playing a factor in things is absolutely paramount. It would drive me absolutely nuts listening to commanders preach the benefits and importance of diversity and watch the army fall so short when it comes to sexual orientation which, in my mind, is the exact same sort of non-relevant characteristic to competence and to success - be given absolutely no consideration at all from commanders up and down the chain of command who would harp again and again on the importance of treating people with dignity and respect and use those exact same words and not apply it to sexual orientation. It boggles my mind to this day how an army which preaches so hard and so long and so forcefully on the importance of racial integration and the importance of opportunity not based on race, and all that stuff and to watch the army then just completely ignore it when it comes to another characteristic that for some reason doesn't fit their idea of what diversity is.

Steve Estes:

Okay. Let's go back to the story of your time in Iraq. So as you're getting close to leaving Iraq, you know in Vietnam, that's talked about "short-timer complex." Is there any sense of that in terms of your time in Iraq or were you divorced enough from the kind of everyday missions that you didn't have that?

Ralan Hill:

No, no, we definitely counted down. The difference between Vietnam and Iraq was, at least during my rotation, not during the first rotation, but during my rotation, they instituted stop-loss, which meant that three months prior to deploying until three months after to deploying, nobody would leave the unit. So we went down as one unit, and we came back as one unit. The first rotation through Iraq deployed under stop-loss and then it was lifted, so people, pes out of Iraq to new units, which is how we ended up getting a couple people in our unit that had just come from Iraq and hadn't even been out ofIraq maybe six or seven months were back again. But that wasn't the case with our unit. So all of our soldiers were counting down to the same date. There wasn't the situation where some people were short and some people weren't. Everybody was on the exact same - within a week or so - the exact same timeline. People could count forward and we all had different R and R dates, when we'd take our two weeks of leave or go on pass, but for the most part we all sort of endured together, because we all arrived at more or less the same time, and we all left at almost exactly the same time, so it wasn't a "shortttimers" feel to that. There certainly was in Korea, when I was in Korea, but not in Iraq. There, it was just a collective sort of sigh of relief, and we'll get through this and there's one more month, there's three more months, there's two more days, I can't believe we're finally going home sort of thing. But it was very collective in nature because we all come and we're all leaving at the same time.

Steve Estes:

So, put me on the plane with you, leaving, or however you left Iraq. What's the environment like?

Ralan Hill:

Oh, more relief than anything else, and when we flew out on military planes out of Speicher, that was a first [inaudible] managed to secure that flying directly from Iraq -- where we were stationed in Iraq -- to Germany, most of the other units had to fly back through Kuwait. So it was handy, being able to fly right from there to Germany. It was a big cargo plane. We sort of marched on, they loaded our gear, we took off, seatbelts ppeople - as soon as we got so high, then you take your seatbelts off and people quickly secured space on the floor to sleep, and we slept. It was quite an ordeal - well, we knew there was still a lot more ahead of us, because you've got to arrive in Germany, and you've got to process all the stations, and you've got to get bussed back back to Schwienfurt, that's like a - I don't know, a two, three, four hour ride, and then you've got to do more - you've got to offload all your gear, and you store this and tum in your weapons and whatnot, and then you've got to go over for the welcome back ceremony, and then you can get released. So getting on the plane itself there was still a lot of administrative hurdles, there were a lot of administrative hurdles still to leap over, and so we knew that. And it wasn't sort of this grand euphoria that you might expect. The closest to that would have been at the ceremony when we're actually finally released and you'd seen your families again we've got everybody running up to get hugs and kisses and all that sort of stuff

Steve Estes:

Was your family actually in Germany?

Ralan Hill:

No. Mostly for spouses and kids. All the single soldiers really never had somebody.

Steve Estes:

You guys'd go get a beer.

Ralan Hill:

Or whatever it was.

Steve Estes:

Right. Okay. So was there any thought that you might sign up to stay in the military or make the army a career?

Ralan Hill:

I struggled with that one for awhile. I really liked the army and I rather wish could have stayed. I'm sure if I weren't gay, I would still be serving. As I look back on the situation, I wish I had PCS back to the US for a year before I left just because it would have given me additional time to transition and to continue to earn money while I was going through the State Department. My other job search stuff I miss the army a lot, I do. It was a very good job; it paid well. The travel opportunity was magnificent and the people I worked with were generally very good people, very fun people, very exciting people to be around. It's a feel-good sort of a job despite the combat nature of it, just in terms of the Constitution and national security, you feel very much part of something bigger, even when you're doing sort of silly paperwork stuff or whatever it is. You can wake up every day knowing that, even if you're not making a specific difference, you're part of something much bigger that has a very profound impact on the US and the world, generally. That's a healthy mental situation, I think. So I miss that a great deal.

Steve Estes:

Some of the people I've talked to, came back from overseas critical of the military and critical of their missions in the military, be it Iraq or Vietnam, or even WWII for that matter, actually. I was wondering if you had any of that skepticism, and if you did, whether it was related to sexuality. And not to lead you, that seems like a leading question.

Ralan Hill:

There's always skepticism about whatever you do in the army, but there seems in my experience and certainly as an officer, it's very easy for me to separate my professional responsibilities from my personal political opinions. Whatever I thought of - as I like to call it, the Second Gulf War, and you sort of get an idea of my opinion of what the invasion was - is utterly divorced from the individual responsibilities that I held as an adjutant in the 9th Engineer Battalion in the army. It's tougher, I think, for officers, the higher up you get because above, I think, battalion or at battalion command, and above, you really have to - regardless of your opinion - you have to sort of buy into the system, because you're expected and even almost required to parrot whatever the political rationale is to keep morale up or to give a sense of purpose to your soldiers. I mean, you can't be in charge of 500 people and be badmouthing the policies in general. It's illegal to badmouth the President and the senior-ranking commanders and that sort ofties in with the policy pronouncements of those people. So I think, I imagine it must be much tougher as a General or as a Colonel- but as a staff captain, I didn't have too much trouble, especially among peers, expressing my frustration with the war in general. And I think that was shared by many of my peers in general, but again it's utterly irrelevant to our individual responsibilities on the ground in Iraq and the people you work with. Our lives were dependent on our ability to do convoys and guard duty and all that sort of stuff Nobody is going to skimp or sort of avoid their duties because they don't agree with some broader principle on the war. I think the Constitution and our oaths of office and our commissions are explicitly clear on what we're required to do and we've taken those oaths willingly, it's only because we believe in the Constitution and that's important, so that's significant. The Constitution is explicitly clear about who's the Commander in Chief and what responsibilities he or she has, and so when he says you'll invade Iraq, then you'll do that and that's what we do. And we do it to the best of our ability, regardless of how you feel. So I don't think sexuality informs any of that otherrto, yeah. I really don't think it does.

Steve Estes:

Okay.

Ralan Hill:

You get a lot of military people, gay, straight, or indifferent that tend to be more conservative law and order kind of people, and I guess that's true to a certain extent. There's a huge variation from one end to the other end of the spectrum between enlisted soldiers and officers and all that sort of stuff

Steve Estes:

Okay. I guess the last question I usually ask is if there's anything that I didn't ask about. I mean, obviously an hour and a half conversation can't cover everything, but are there experiences or opinions that you didn't get a chance to talk about that you feel like we probably ought to get on tape?

Ralan Hill:

Yeah. Yeah, I mean, I can talk for days about my experiences in the army and my experiences as a gay man in the army. I would say that it really seems that it doesn't matter - people really didn't care about my sexuality, those that knew. And the people that knew were an extensive list. Certainly amongst my peers, subordinates throughout the battalion - I had interacted with a lot of soldiers because of my duties as the adjutant and dealing with personnel issues, so I was on a first name - I knew the first names of all 500 soldiers, just about, and a little about all their stories and a lot of them I'm sure knew, and certainly I never took any grief about that. I was approached on numerous occasions for help doing this, that or the other thing from soldiers all across the battalion. I was out to several superior officers, generally, maybe not explicitly, maybe implicitly, because of the responsibilities that they would have if I were to be explicit in any sense. So I don't think I was explicitly out to, but five or six people, but I was probably implicitly out to a whole host of others, and rumor-wise out to who knows how many more.

Steve Estes:

So were the superior officers, when you say you were implicitly out, you mean just talking about the political issues of the day that sexuality intersected with ... ?

Ralan Hill:

They were more, sort of this deniable plausibility thing, that's something that we both sort of talked around the edges of the issue. Me, because I didn't want to put them in a position where they would be forced to do something in had come out to them directly and implicitly, or, explicitly, and they probably for the same reasons - so they didn't want to be in a position where they felt obligated to do something that was against their desired interests or their preferences, but because the regulation is rather clear and when you know this, you must do that, you must tell so many people, or this person, or that person ... [End of Side Two]

 
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  October 26, 2011
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