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Interview with Brian Hughes [1/25/2005]

Steve Estes:

My name is Steve Estes. I'm in San Francisco, California. Today is January 25, 2005. I'm interviewing...

Brian Hughes:

Brian Hughes, Washington D.C.

Steve Estes:

I'm going to start with a question I asked you a second ago; that is, when and where were you born?

Brian Hughes:

Born in San Francisco, California, on the second of June, 1978.

Steve Estes:

OK, and what did your parents do for a living?

Brian Hughes:

My father runs a company; private hospitals in England. Psychiatric Clinics and Drug Rehab.

Steve Estes:

Is your mom alive?

Brian Hughes:

She is. She does not work, currently.

Steve Estes:

Why did you decide to go to Yale for college?

Brian Hughes:

Yale accepted me.

Steve Estes:

[chuckles] That's a good answer.

Brian Hughes:

And when I visited the campus, that's when I realized that this was really the place I wanted to go. So, it was a good fit for both of us.

Steve Estes:

What did you major in there?

Brian Hughes:

My major was math and philosophy.

Steve Estes:

Can you talk about your first couple of years there: what it was like?

Brian Hughes:

Well, when you get there - it was a great time. I got there in - '96? Would it have been? Yeah, sure; the fall of '96. I guess I first came out the Christmas of '96, back home, in California, and when I came back to the campus I came out to my friends. So I've been openly gay for over three years - three and a half years, before I enlisted in the army.

Steve Estes:

How did your parents react to you coming out?

Brian Hughes:

They took it very well; they are very open-minded folks. I came out through my sister, and it was really very easy. The whole family is really very accepting.

Steve Estes:

Did you actually grow up in San Francisco proper?

Brian Hughes:

No, I grew up in London. At the age of two, when I was two, 1980, we moved to London, and so I grew up there and lived there for sixteen years before coming back to college in the states.

Steve Estes:

How do you think growing up in London affected you?

Brian Hughes:

It's a fantastic place to grow up. Traveling all around Europe is like driving to Florida from D.C. You drive eight hours and you're in Italy. It was wonderful.

Steve Estes:

Let me see - why did you decide to join the army after being at Yale for three and a half years or so?

Brian Hughes:

Right, I dropped out towards the end of my senior year to enlist. There were a combination of factors. I wasn't ready to graduate in some sense. I felt that I needed some sort of practical, real-world experience before I actually went out into the real world. I felt that I needed the mental and physical discipline that I would get in the army, as well as, you know - I knew it would be very immediately rewarding; I knew I would be doing something worthwhile. The call of duty was also strong in that sense. I felt that military service was one of the duties of citizenship, and something I had to do. As to why I chose to do it before graduating rather than after graduating, because for all the earlier reasons I listed, I wanted to do my time as an enlisted man rather than as an officer, and if I had a degree I felt the temptation would be too strong to go to OCS and get a commission.

Steve Estes:

Why enlisted?

Brian Hughes:

I felt the work would be more interesting and better and more physical. I sort of needed a break from more intellectual pursuits, and wanted to get down and get my hands dirty.

Steve Estes:

Gotcha. How did your family and friends react to you joining the military?

Brian Hughes:

They were very upset. My family in particular was very upset, probably because we don't really have much of a history of military service in our family; you have to go back to World War II to find folks who served. Partly, also, because I'm gay and they felt that the army was not really a friendly place for gay people. The murder of Barry Winchell was just a year or two before, and still very much a part of the public consciousness. My friends were also surprised, but less so because I was right there on the scene to be able to explain what I was doing, whereas my parents found out long-distance.

Steve Estes:

[chuckles] When they raised those kind of concerns, did it make you think twice about it, or were you already pretty much sure?

Brian Hughes:

I'd really gone over all of that already in my mind. I knew what I was getting into.

Steve Estes:

So since you went in and enlisted, I assume you had to go through basic training. Is that right?

Brian Hughes:

That's correct: basic training and then advanced individual training in infantry, which was my skill. Occupational specialty I guess.

Steve Estes:

Can you talk a little bit about boot camp: what it was like for you?

Brian Hughes:

The time went by slowly...

Steve Estes:

Hehe, very slowly I'd imagine.

Brian Hughes:

I think the most difficult thing about boot camp is you weren't allowed to have any printed material: you couldn't read anything. I was not used to being separated from the printed word for a long period of time. They did allow us to have a bible, so I did read that again, which took awhile [chuckles]. But yeah, I was sort of starving for the very intellectual stimulation I was running away from.

Steve Estes:

Well, you had so-and-so begat so-and-so who begat so-and-so: what more could you want?

Brian Hughes:

Oh no, you know the bible is a fantastic piece of work. It's a grand piece of literature. But when it's the only thing you read for - what is it - fifteen weeks? It becomes - I don't know: you need a little variety.

Steve Estes:

So the physical stuff wasn't tough for you? Is that one of the things I'm getting?

Brian Hughes:

Well, the physical stuff was sort of the focus of boot camp, because I hadn't really done any physical exercise in a serious way for probably six years before I enlisted. So getting into shape was really what it was all about. And I was very good at that. I came in barely able to meet the minimum standards for getting into boot camp, which are very low, and when I left, I left in good enough shape to get into airborne school, which has a higher standard than most of the army.

Steve Estes:

And why did you decide to go to airborne ranger school?

Brian Hughes:

Well I enlisted specifically for the ranger program. My feeling was I wanted to be an infantryman and that if I was going to do that, then I wanted to do that properly and do it well, and I wanted to be part of the best unit I could in the sort of enlistment time I had chosen. And the way to do that was by joining one of the ranger battalions. So that was my goal from the get-go. Before I signed any papers, I knew that's what I wanted. I was able, through luck and hard work, to be able to achieve that.

Steve Estes:

I don't know how much you can talk about the training in ranger school, but what were some of the hardest things you had to do?

Brian Hughes:

Well ranger school was a separate thing. Again, we're still on my initial training path. I had basic training, airborne school, which is a three-week program, and then the ranger indoctrination program, which is the selection program for enlisted rangers, and that's a three-week course at Fort Benning, which is essentially a three-week hell to weed out people who don't really want to be there. You get dropped from the course for failing certain performance standards, but most of the attrition is from people dropping out of their own accord. So in that class, we started with a class of probably four hundred people, maybe just a little less, in the summer of '01. We graduated a class of I think close to eighty people.

Steve Estes:

Four hundred to eighty?!

Brian Hughes:

Yeah...

Steve Estes:

Wow!

Brian Hughes:

So it was quite an attrition rate...

Steve Estes:

Yeah!

Brian Hughes:

But it's only three weeks, so you sort of put up with it and get through it.

Steve Estes:

Well for someone who is listening to this or reading this later on, and doesn't have any idea what ranger school is, just put an image in their mind.

Brian Hughes:

[laughs] I think it's really something you have to experience for yourself, [laughter] I'll keep that in the back of my mind as we go along. So after that three week selection, you then will, if you are selected to be a ranger, go to a ranger battalion. And I was selected to go to first battalion, which is on Hunter Air Field, right near Savannah, Georgia. I spent six or eight months there as a private, sort of learning the ropes, before I was sent to ranger school proper. Ranger school proper is a three-month course, starting on Fort Benning and then you travel to Dahlonega [Georgia] to do three weeks in the mountains, and then to Florida to do three weeks in the Florida swamps. Ranger school is tough; it's a three-month extended slog during which you have less food and less sleep than you would like, and you are expected to perform to a very high standard under close to combat positions. Yeah, it's a slog, but at the end of it, you get your ranger tab, and you are eligible for promotion in the ranger battalions.

Steve Estes:

Now, I'm trying to do the math in my head - if you started in late June/July, something like that, does that mean - and this is 2001 you said?

Brian Hughes:

That's right. I graduated RID: the Rangers Indoctrination Program, in June of 2001. I then spent a bunch of time in battalion, learning the ropes, doing the private thing, with my fire team Then - let's see - I graduated ranger school in September of '02, so I would have started in July...

Steve Estes:

Of'02?

Brian Hughes:

August, September - Yeah - maybe end of June.

Steve Estes:

I guess where I was going with all that was...

Brian Hughes:

I guess I spent a year in battalion before I went to school, huh?

Steve Estes:

So you were in battalion when September 11 happened?

Brian Hughes:

That's correct.

Steve Estes:

Can you talk about - take me to that morning when you heard about the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Brian Hughes:

Yeah, we were in an airplane hanger on our way to a training mission with a foreign nation: we were going to do a joint mission. We stopped over in an air hanger, and our first sergeant gathered us together, and said, "Alright guys, terrorists have crashed two planes into the World Trade Center. The buildings have collapsed. We think they were Islamic terrorists." We didn't believe him of course. We thought, "Oh, OK: this is part of the training scenario. Instead of going where we were going, now we're going to go somewhere in the Middle East and train with Israeli forces or something." [laughter] But then we rigged some radios together, and we got the BBC World Service, and we figured out that in fact, yeah, [laughs] the World Trade Center had been hit. So we were stuck there, where we were, for a week or so, until [A-RAD?] said they were available to bring us back home. So then, we just carried on training, as usual, because we knew that within a short amount of time, we would be deploying somewhere, for something. Sure enough, before the end of the year, a contingent of rangers was in Afghanistan.

Steve Estes:

Right. Tell me about when you first learned you were going to Afghanistan: what went through your head?

Brian Hughes:

Well my first tour to Afghanistan - although rangers started going in '01 at the beginning of the war - my first tour was just after I graduated ranger school in '02. I went September through December - January of '02. By that time, it was my turn [laughs] to fly to Afghanistan. So I felt very ready to go, because I had just gotten through ranger school, and I knew exactly what I was and wasn't capable of. I felt very well prepared, and I was going with a great team, with a great platoon, with a great group of soldiers; I wouldn't say exactly looking forward to what I was going to do, but I was ready for it.

Steve Estes:

What were your first impressions of Afghanistan and its people?

Brian Hughes:

Lets see [thinks for a bit]. There's a certain desertness to the area of Afghanistan where I was. Water is a scarce resource there, and up in the mountains, they have these very complex irrigations systems that they've built, to drive their farms. Yeah, it was surprisingly barren. I thought it would be a little more fertile. [Bagram?] in particular was very depressing; it's a great big plateau, actually quite beautiful, until you realize why its such a completely empty plateau, and its because most of the land area has not yet been cleared of mines. There are mines just everywhere; land mines all over the place, and you just can't walk out of designated areas. So that made a strong impression on me I think.

Steve Estes:

And these are land mines from the Afghan-Soviet conflict?

Brian Hughes:

That's right. The Soviets left them.

Steve Estes:

And the people: did you get to know any of the people there?

Brian Hughes:

Well there was a strong language barrier obviously. They're very hardy, with a "d", people. They have a very strong sense of themselves and what they accomplished in the Soviet war. Every little village that we drove through there had, in the town center, a burned out, rusted out old Soviet tank that they had dragged in as sort of the monument in every village square. I think that's quite telling.

Steve Estes:

Can you describe - you might only be able to do this in general terms, and that's fine - can you describe search patrols that you had to go on when you were in Afghanistan?

Brian Hughes:

Most of our patrols - well no, we did both mounted and un-mounted patrols. So we would walk through the mountains, and we would also go on HMMV patrols along sort of major routes, and some minor routes [chuckles]...

Steve Estes:

Really minor?

Brian Hughes:

Well, the concept of road out there is an interesting one.

Steve Estes:

[Chuckles] Right.

Brian Hughes:

So, yeah - we were conducting mounted and dismounted patrols in search of men, weapons and equipment. In other words, looking for terrorists and munitions, which we found.

Steve Estes:

Both?

Brian Hughes:

Yeah, all kinds of things.

Steve Estes:

Uh huh. Did you ever take fire? < '7

Brian Hughes:

Yes. We were shot at. Our base camp was mortared and shot at with rockets from time to time. And then, our patrols would also take fire from time to time.

Steve Estes:

Did you get a sense of how organized the enemy was? I mean, was this just sporadic, guerrilla attack, or was there a concerted effort to drive the US out by the time you got there?

Brian Hughes:

Hey, I really don't know. I can't speak at that level: I was really at the tactical level at that point. But, it seemed to me - this was the winter of 2002; the Taliban had been gone for a long time, for all intents and purposes. This was really - there was never any kind of organized attack on any of our units, for what that's worth. They were just sort of harassment attacks.

Steve Estes:

Gotcha. When did you go up to be a sergeant?

Brian Hughes:

Oh, let's see - June of 2003? [Steve interrupts, then apologizes] My date of rank might be September/October of 2003.

Steve Estes:

And what was the preface there? Was it just time in and service done, or did you feel you impressed people...

Brian Hughes:

I was promoted before my time in rank; most rangers are, just because most rangers are ready to be sergeants before their time in [gray?] rides around. So I was - my chain of command sent me to the promotion board, and I was duly promoted.

Steve Estes:

It's hard to do this, I know, but can you talk about some of the things that were said on your reviews? It feels like you're tooting your own horn is what I'm saying, and I know that's hard to do...

Brian Hughes:

I can send you the NCO evaluation report that I have...

Steve Estes:

That would be great.

Brian Hughes:

That's pretty much the only thing I have. I'd have to dig it out though. It's not handy right now.

Steve Estes:

Well, if you can find it: great...

Brian Hughes:

But, you know, I got an excellent rating.

Steve Estes:

OK, so was your second tour - did you come home between your tours in Afghanistan?

Brian Hughes:

Yes. In fact, I went to Iraq between my tours in Afghanistan.

Steve Estes:

Oh really?

Brian Hughes:

My next combat deployment was to Iraq at the beginning of the war. We staged -when did we stage - probably February or March - the invasion began end of March, right? Beginning of April?

Steve Estes:

Yeah, this is 2003 we're talking about?

Brian Hughes:

Yeah

Steve Estes:

OK

Brian Hughes:

We might have staged late February, but certainly we were there in March. My first incursion into Iraq was actually the night of April 1st, for the Jessica Lynch rescue.

Steve Estes:

That was your first time in the country?

Brian Hughes:

Yes.

Steve Estes:

Wow...

Brian Hughes:

We staged in Nasiriyah like the day before. [laughter]

Steve Estes:

I hope so.

Brian Hughes:

It was tremendously quick though. Between the staging, planning and executing our mission, all within twenty four hours of my chain of command being alerted.

Steve Estes:

So now, that mission I'm sure is what a lot of people ask you about, and I do want you to talk about it, but before we do that, can we back up and talk about - you're in contact with your family probably before you go to Iraq?

Brian Hughes:

Sure.

Steve Estes:

Give me a sense of what those conversations are. What are you talking about with your sister? Your dad? Your mom?

Brian Hughes:

Um, well [pauses] I don't know: you know, we just talked.

Steve Estes:

[laughs] What's [Starbucks?] today? I guess what I'm asking at is are they expressing concern: is it emotionally difficult...

Brian Hughes:

... [inaudible] talking about that. Or maybe they did. I don't know.

Steve Estes:

Everybody involved did?

Brian Hughes:

No, no. ro

Steve Estes:

Ok. I'm trying to think if there's anything else I want to do before you go on to that. Well, Ok. Give me the blow by blow that you give everybody on the Lynch rescue mission, and then we'll talk. I have a couple of questions about it too, but would you mind giving me the blurb that you give everybody?

Brian Hughes:

Sure. I was a member of the Special Operations Task Force that rescued Private Jessica Lynch. Specifically, I was a member of the team that was detailed to retrieve the other nine Americans from the site.

Steve Estes:

Ok. And the other nine Americans were alive? Dead...

Brian Hughes:

No

Steve Estes:

That's what I thought. Ok, so - and you knew this going in?

Brian Hughes:

Uh, yeah, we thought they were in the morgue though. It turned out they were in shallow graves just outside the compound.

Steve Estes:

Right, and I know from reading a couple articles that you literally had to dig them out of the shallow graves. Can you talk about that?

Brian Hughes:

I'd rather not. There was one reporter that I accidentally told that to [laughter] and I asked her not to use it, and she said "Of course I won't use it", and of course she did. So, we - when we found out that the mission parameters had changed, we adopted our plan and accomplished the mission parameters anyway.

Steve Estes:

Gotcha.

Brian Hughes:

We did what we had to do... I will say this: it was an amazing display of teamwork. Everyone pulled together and did exactly what they were comfortable with, and got the job done in a tremendously short amount of time. We were on schedule. We got out on schedule, despite having to dig up the Americans instead of retrieving them from the morgue.

Steve Estes:

Right. Now, there's been a lot of media critique of that: of the Lynch rescue and how it was portrayed immediately afterwards. Do you have any comment on that or any thoughts about it?

Brian Hughes:

Yeah, well, we were sort of distanced from that, because we were still in Iraq for several months while all these reports were coming out. I understand though that there were reports that we were carrying blank ammunition and that the whole thing was staged. I can't really speak for any of the other units that were involved, but you know, we were shot at, and when you think of the fact that we were running short of cargo space coming over from the States to supply us with water, it seems very unlikely to me that there were any blank rounds in Iraq at all, let alone blank rounds taken on a combat mission behind enemy lines. So I - yeah, I have serious reservations about those reports. [Laughter]

Steve Estes:

Ok [Laughter]

Brian Hughes:

I was carrying live ammunition.

Steve Estes:

Alright. [Laughter] And running from live ammunition it sounds like. So, that's your literal 'baptism of fire', but then can you describe the average day (and maybe there is no such thing as an average day in Iraq) after that - but what was the rest of your service in Iraq - your tour like?

Brian Hughes:

Well as far as baptism of fire, as I said I've been shot at before in Afghanistan, but it was certainly a night to remember. Then, after Nasiriyah, I moved up to Baghdad and conducted patrols out of Baghdad International Airport. Again, these were all mounted patrols, and we were doing a variety of search missions: again, men, weapons and equipment mostly. So, you know, we found, again, plenty of all of those.

Steve Estes:

And was there as much of a language barrier in Iraq as there had been in Afghanistan?

Brian Hughes:

Yeah, I also don't speak Arabic, [laughter]

Steve Estes:

Right, I understand that. I guess I should say "touché" for that...

Brian Hughes:

We did have a translator embedded with us on a number of missions.. .and while there were translators in Afghanistan, they were never specifically attached to my unit; to my squad of eight people. Whereas, in Iraq we did occasionally have a translator attached to us. He was an American.

Steve Estes:

I guess what I was trying to say is: were there enough people, or were there any people around in Baghdad that spoke English that you could actually talk to or understand why they - their side...

Brian Hughes:

I was not in a position to talk to any locals.

Steve Estes:

Gotcha. Ok, well that answers that question...

Brian Hughes:

In Iraq or Afghanistan.

Steve Estes:

Ok. Um, let me see [pauses]. What was the morale like amongst the troops in your unit, when you served in Iraq?

Brian Hughes:

Great. Morale was great.

Steve Estes:

It's always great, is that what you said?

Brian Hughes:

Yeah. We were an elite, special operations unit, with everything that entails: all the camaraderie, all the high morale, and all the high proficiency. So yeah, it was a great group of guys - great group of guys.

Steve Estes:

Can you talk about friendships - I mean, you don't need to talk about individual soldiers by name, or anything like that, unless you wanted to - but can you talk about friendships that were forged?

Brian Hughes:

Yeah, they are gonna last a lifetime. That's the nature of the beast, you know. Shakespeare was not wrong when he talked about a band of brothers, and we're not wrong to keep it in the cliché of the language of today: it's true. The men you fight with under those conditions are your brothers, and nothing can ever change that.

Steve Estes:

Ok. I was reading another - I think, article or interview - that talked about 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell', and your position on that. Can you talk a little bit about how 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' affected you be- or what it was like serving under 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' before you were on tour - on a tour of duty in Afghanistan or Iraq; I mean when you were back in the States?

Brian Hughes:

Uh huh. Well, I was back in the States frequently between tours also. I don't know, I was [pause] serving as a soldier and I was closeted and [pause] I don't know what exactly it is you want me to say. [laughter]

Steve Estes:

I don't have anything I want you to say. I just wanted to give you a chance to talk about "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and what you think about it.

Brian Hughes:

Ok. Well I would say then that, you know, I knew what I was getting into beforehand, because I was openly gay when I enlisted, and I knew I would have to stay in the closet if I wanted to keep my job, and I found that I did in fact want to keep my job. It was something that I loved doing, and it was something I felt I ought to do and those things didn't change over the four years of my enlistment. So I never really wanted to come out in that sense, because I wanted to keep my job. On the other hand, because of the close friendships that I was forming, I did want to come out to my friends, to my brothers, because - [has trouble finding the right words] ironically enough the closer we got, the more I felt that was a wedge between us; that there was this large aspect of my life I wasn't sharing with them, and that was preventing me from bonding me as fully and as effectively as I could have with them. Um, so after a couple of years I started to feel a little isolated by my homosexuality, and by the fact that I couldn't talk about it; that I couldn't share that aspect of my life with these guys. So I became more and more withdrawn, more and more antisocial in a lot of ways, and that was unfortunate I think. I would have had a much fuller experience in the army if I had been allowed to serve openly, and as a result I might have even been a more effective soldier. I don't know, but certainly in terms of unit cohesion, I would have experienced more unit cohesion had I come out, not less.

Steve Estes:

Did you know of any other soldiers who faced discrimination because they were gay?

Brian Hughes:

No.

Steve Estes:

Did you...

Brian Hughes:

We were an isolated community, [laughter] Hunter Air Field was a very small post that consisted of us and an aviation unit that served with us and just sort of a few other soldiers who - Fort Stewart - Hunter Army field is a detachment of Fort Stewart, which is a much larger base, about an hour or two away, which is the home of the Third Infantry Division and is just enormous. So, I didn't have a lot of contact with soldiers outside my unit, and certainly nobody in my unit was out in any way. I have no idea were gay, but certainly no one was out.

Steve Estes:

How was your second tour - how did your second tour in Afghanistan compare to your first?

Brian Hughes:

It was very different, because at that time I was with the headquarters company; I was in a staff position. I was not a [searching for the right words] part of the front line infantrymen. I was in the regimental command tent actually. I was my battalion's liaison to the regiment. So I got to see the battle from a very different point of view, and I was briefing the colonel of the regiment every morning and (what else was I doing) -coordinating battles as they were being fought at that level. It was really a fascinating experience.

Steve Estes:

I know its hard to compare them in terms of which you thought you did better at, but could you try?

Brian Hughes:

Yeah, no they are such different jobs. But - I don't know, I think I did pretty well at both.

Steve Estes:

When you found out that were coming home after - when did you find out your tour was up? Was it just a matter of time again before you came home?

Brian Hughes:

Which tour?

Steve Estes:

The second tour in Afghanistan.

Brian Hughes:

The second in Afghanistan? Well, that one I sort of knew before I even left when I was coming back, because I had to get back in time to start out-processing the army, 'cause my tour was up - you know, my second tour in Afghanistan, I went in (Oh God) probably April? May? June of '04? (Oh God: how can I not know that? That was just this year.) It's all in the DVT 14. [Laughter]

Steve Estes:

That's fine: don't worry about it.

Brian Hughes:

I don't usually have to remember these things.

Steve Estes:

No, you don't.

Brian Hughes:

But - so, I had to get back in time to start out-processing, because I was - my enlistment was up in August of '04, but I was actually going to leave at the end of June to go to summer school in July. And all those arrangements had already been made before I flew to Afghanistan.

Steve Estes:

Gotcha. So I mean, this was - primarily the timing here was to get you out in time to graduate on time in December of '04? Is that right?

Brian Hughes:

Well, I mean it was to get me back on time to get out of the army on schedule.

Steve Estes:

Right

Brian Hughes:

Um, and part of the schedule - I had accrued a lot of leaves that I hadn't taken, so I took all my leaves at the end. So I wasn't - being done any favors or anything. It was my time.

Steve Estes:

Oh yeah, I wasn't trying to imply that.

Brian Hughes:

I know; I was just making it clear.

Steve Estes:

Ok, cool. So when you - let's fast forward a little bit: why did you decide to come out publicly and - well, let's start there: why did you decide to come out publicly?

Brian Hughes:

Uh, well I was well convinced and remain convinced that "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" is positively bad for our national security, as well as being unnecessarily discriminatory. And so, I felt that I was actually in a unique and strong position to help bring that to public consciousness. And I was so advised by a number of other former service members that had come out, by my family and friends, and we decided it was the right thing.

Steve Estes:

What was it like to be the center of attention - I guess in some sense, to continue to be the center of media attention because of this?

Brian Hughes:

Uh, another eye-opening experience. As I've said, some reporters report more than you would like, and some perhaps a little less than you would like [chuckling]. But, its very gratifying to receive the attention, and you just hope that you can get the message out; not that I have much of a message, but that you can make an impact on people. One of the overriding reasons why I came out publicly was because in the winter of 2003, three flag officers came out: General Kerr, General Richards, and Admiral Steinman. And these were the first flag officers - they were retired, but the first flag officers to come out. And that made a very strong impression on me; it was on the front pages of a variety of papers, and I felt that if I could make some slight impression, as they had made a large impression on me, that I would be doing something worthwhile, so I did.

Steve Estes:

Hehe. Um.

Brian Hughes:

I received an overwhelmingly positive response as a result. They warned me actually that I would receive a lot of negative mail, and that hasn't happened at all. And the response has been overwhelmingly positive and uniquely positive: I haven't received any hate mail.

Steve Estes:

That's good. I'm surprised, but pleasantly surprised.

Brian Hughes:

Yeah, well so was I! [Laughter] I wasn't looking forward to reading the other stuff. But it never surfaced.

Steve Estes:

Let me see - I know that you did some lobbying with Admiral Steinman - I don't know if you'd actually call it lobbying - let me turn the tape over 'cause its about to... [Side Two]

Steve Estes:

Uh, yeah - so how was it talking to congressional staffers, and maybe even congressmen and women with A1 Steinman, and what were you saying and what was the response?

Brian Hughes:

So I think its called a 'legislative event' [laughter]. It was a panel that was myself, and Dr. Nathaniel Frank, who had written a study that I'd participated in on gays returning from Iraq, and Admiral Steinman, who was able to join us as well. And we -Dr. Frank presented his findings, and I sort of told little bits of my story to flush out my story from what it was in the study. And then we took questions, and it was interesting; I got a lot of follow up emails and calls from that too, from people who were surprised that I had in fact - well, not me but the panel as a whole I guess - had changed their opinions, and had reversed their position on "Don't Ask, Don't Tell", where before they had thought that it was a necessary regulation, they in fact now believe as I do that it's a detriment to our military.

Steve Estes:

Uh huh. So do you think you swayed any power brokers? Did you...

Brian Hughes:

[laughs] I don't know about that. [Laughter]

Steve Estes:

Did you get a call from the president or the vice-president on that?

Brian Hughes:

[laughs] Not really.

Steve Estes:

Well, I worked on Capital Hill, so that's kind of why - there's a little joke in there -that I feel the same way about the stuff I did while I was on Capital Hill, but I'm sure that you're changing the world, man. Let's see - you graduated from Yale in December, is that right?

Brian Hughes:

Uh, yep. As an intern; that's one cup of coffee at a time, right?

Steve Estes:

[Laughs] Exactly.

Brian Hughes:

Yeah, I finished at Yale in December, and so hopefully they'll work me a degree in May.

Steve Estes:

And I know this is hard to say, 'cause you're kind of in this limbo period, but what are your future plans?

Brian Hughes:

Um, yeah, for the moment I'm interning in Washington DC, and we'll see. I'm sort of looking for a job. [laughs]

Steve Estes:

What would you like to get? What's your kind of ideal?

Brian Hughes:

I really don't know. I'm looking about in all sorts of ways in all sorts of fields.

Steve Estes:

Ok. If you had to look back over your time in the service and sum up its legacy in your life, what would you say?

Brian Hughes:

Oh wow (I should have thought about that one ahead of time). Um, but what a wonderful experience, what a wonderful privilege to serve with such fine men: that I will never forget the men that I served with.

Steve Estes:

Ok. Well, is there anything else you feel is important to talk about in terms of your military service, I mean - its hard outside of the sound bites and the PR machine, but...

Brian Hughes:

Covered a lot of ground I think.

Steve Estes:

Ok

Brian Hughes:

So, yeah so - by all means, send me a note, you know, asking for whatever supplementary materials you would like to have.

Steve Estes:

Ok

Brian Hughes:

And, you know, hopefully I'll be a little better about getting back to you [laughs]

Steve Estes:

Well, don't sweat it: I totally understand that you're swamped and you're getting the cup of coffee at a time kind of thing. No, but I do understand that you're real busy, and I appreciate you taking the time to chat. [End of Side Two]

 
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  October 26, 2011
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