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Interview with Alan M. Steinman [3/29/2004]

Steve Estes:

I am going to say my name and the date and you say your name and where you are right now. My name is Steve Estes and it is March 29, 2004 and I am at Sonoma State University. I am interviewing...

Alan M. Steinman:

Retired Admiral Alan M. Steinman in Dupont, Washington.

Steve Estes:

Ok, thanks, let's go ahead and start.

Alan M. Steinman:

All right, very good.

Steve Estes:

When and where were you born?

Alan M. Steinman:

I was born in Newark, Ohio on February 7, 1945.

Steve Estes:

And what did you parents do?

Alan M. Steinman:

My father was a chemist and had his own chemical plant ultimately when he moved to Los Angeles when I was a young boy and my mother was a homemaker, housewife.

Steve Estes:

Ok, did you go to public school for your schooling?

Alan M. Steinman:

I did.

Steve Estes:

And did you go to college before you went into the service?

Alan M. Steinman:

Yes I went to both college and medical school.

Steve Estes:

Where did you do college and medical school?

Alan M. Steinman:

I got a Bachelor of Science degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in June of 1966 and a Doctor of Medicine from Stanford University in June of 1971.

Steve Estes:

Very good, very impressive. So, why'd you decide to volunteer for the Coast Guard after spending your time at Stanford?

Alan M. Steinman:

Well, actually I joined the military after my internship year with the Mayo Clinic. You get a little bit of post-graduate training. At that time most people did one year of internship and then did their residency training in whatever specialty they wanted to go into. That had a bearing on my decision to join the military because I didn't know what specialty I wanted to go into so joining the public health service was a way of, sort of temporizing that decision. The Coast Guard was one of the many programs that the public health service offered for people who wanted to go on active duty, in their medical career so I thought the Coast Guard offered a lot of interesting opportunities in the field of general medicine, family practice and particularly in emergency medicine. So, that's why I joined.

Steve Estes:

Now was there any thought that you might be sent to Vietnam if you signed up with the public health service for the Coast Guard?

Alan M. Steinman:

Although the Coast Guard was in Vietnam, as part of the Navy, I don't believe any of the Coast Guard medical officers were deployed on vessels over there, I may be wrong about that. When I was talking to the Coast Guard, it was primarily because I had an interest in aviation medicine and there was an agreement that I would be a flight surgeon in the Coast Guard and I am quite certain that none of the flight surgeons in the Coast Guard were deployed to Vietnam because you only, the primary units the Coast Guard had in Vietnam were ships and small boats.

Steve Estes:

So, how did your family and friends feel about you joining the service?

Alan M. Steinman:

They were fine. There was never any -1 never had any thought that there would be any negative feelings about it, quite frankly, I don't even remember talking to them about it. I was not the first member in my family to be in the military, my uncle on my father's side was in the Navy in World War II and my older brother had been in the Army Reserves, so there really wasn't any kind of negative feelings about that at all.

Steve Estes:

Did your uncle's service or your brother's service have any impact on your decision do you think?

Alan M. Steinman:

No.

Steve Estes:

Yours was purely research driven?

Alan M. Steinman:

No, I wouldn't say it was research drive, it was, primarily two fold. One, I didn't know what I wanted to do as a physician in terms of specializing; this was a way to serve the country and provide an opportunity for different kinds of experiences. I liked emergency medicine at the time, I knew the Coast Guard was the premier search and rescue agency in the country. I found that attractive. There were several Navy flight surgeons where I did my internships at Mayo Clinic who were encouraging me to go into aviation medicine and that is what I sought to do when I joined the Coast Guard as well, to become a flight surgeon, a Navy flight surgeon and that's what happened actually.

Steve Estes:

So, I guess with someone with your academic pedigree, MIT, Stanford, Mayo Clinic, you really could have probably gone anywhere for a residency, is that correct?

Alan M. Steinman:

Well, I don't know about that. I probably could have stayed at Mayo Clinic, I was doing well enough as an intern there that I probably could have been accepted to either a surgery or a specialty there. But, that was where I was temporizing, I sort of liked orthopedic surgery, but I wasn't necessarily ready to commit the next eight years of my life or whatever to becoming a surgeon. I liked some parts of internal medicine, I like emergency medicine, so the other thing was there was a Vietnam connection here, in that I had applied to the public health service for a residency deferment, in other words, you could join the military during the Vietnam era in a medical specialty, so you could get a deferment for joining, you could go train in a specialty and then join the military in that specialty. My problem was I didn't know what the specialty was that I wanted to do. I was actually offered a position in the public health service as part of that, if I - at the time there was something called the Bureau of Health Statistics, and they offered me a position. I was their first choice to be in the Bureau of Health Statistics in the public health service but it required a three year residency in internal medicine and then a three year tour in that particular job and so they offered it to me at a time when I didn't know whether I wanted to be a surgeon or an internal medicine doc. And so, here I was being faced with six years, obviously forced to make the choice right then and there and so I said, "No, I can't make up my mind that fast." So, then they ultimately said, "Well, how would you like to go on active duty after your internship." And I thought that was a good way of temporizing the decision. I could work as a physician in a family practice setting doing some emergency medicine while I made up my mind.

Steve Estes:

Gotcha.

Alan M. Steinman:

And of all the programs the public health service had I favored the Coast Guard. I mean there are something like 75 different programs you could go into in the public health service but I thought the Coast Guard was the most interesting, for me anyway. What was also interesting about that decision, unbeknownst to me, Vietnam was winding down at that time and the Coast Guard had been a haven for physicians trying to escape the doctor draft into the Army. So, as Vietnam was winding down, the doctors were leaving the Coast Guard in droves. I didn't find this out until later. So, hear I come walking through the doors, saying, "Hey can I join?" right at the time everybody else was busting down the doors to get out.

Steve Estes:

So, they were glad to have you?

Alan M. Steinman:

Yes.

Steve Estes:

Gotcha. Now, do you have to do basic training or boot camp in the Coast Guard?

Alan M. Steinman:

No, there are some interesting stories about that. You have to remember that in the military the medical officers are officers so the officers don't go to boot camp. But, in the military most officers who are what they call line officers and not medical officers, do you know the distinction between a line officer and a staff officer?

Steve Estes:

I think so. You can maybe tell me really quickly.

Alan M. Steinman:

I'll tell you real quick. A good example is the Navy for example. The Navy has line officers who are general Naval officers who can command ships, command aircraft carriers, fly airplanes, command air stations, and basically are in control of operations and administration and all the other tasks that officers manage. Staff officers are specialists, for example, they are physicians, they are dentists, they are pharmacists, that kind of thing.

Steve Estes:

Gotcha.

Alan M. Steinman:

So, therefore they do not, they are not in the line of command. They cannot command a ship, fly a plane, work in the Pentagon in terms of program analysis and that sort of stuff. They work in their area of specialty, staff specialty, medicine, dentistry. I think lawyers maybe are staff officers too, not that they can't be assigned to the Pentagon but if they do they are going to be in their field. In the medical management field rather than in the - so that's the difference between a line officer and a staff officer. Now, in the Coast Guard, you only have line officers, but then you have the medical corp and the dental corp, which are public health service officers who are considered equivalent of Coast Guard officers while they are in the Coast Guard; wear the Coast Guard uniforms, subject to the UCMJ, subject to all the rules and regulations of the Coast Guard for all intents and purposes, they are considered Coast Guard officers. Ok, long winded answer to your question but it gets back to the fact that I joined the Coast Guard as a physician, I did not come up through the ranks of junior officer to mid level officer to senior officer. So, I walked into the Coast Guard as a midlevel officer, as a lieutenant because the military, not wanting to disadvantage their medical officers and dental officers, sort of give them the equivalent rank of what they would have been at the same age had they joined the military right out of college. In other words, I was five years out, so how far would an officer have gone five or six years after they joined? They'd probably be up to 03, lieutenant, and that's the rank I was given. So, that means that when I walked through the door, I was suddenly a lieutenant with no indoctrination whatsoever, no OCS, no Officer Candidate School, no boot camp, no training

Steve Estes:

Wow.

Alan M. Steinman:

Yeah, it was odd. It was funny.

Steve Estes:

Yeah, I'm sure, and in many ways lucky. Did that affect how other officer's related to you, non-medical officers or were they kind of used to medical officers coming in this way so it didn't, it was par for the course?

Alan M. Steinman:

Yes and yes. There had been at the time a degree of-1 don't want to say separateness -between the medical corps and the line corps, wherein the line had a tendency, and this is not everybody, but some of the officers in the line community had a tendency to look at the medical people as just docs, not really naval officers or Air Force officers or Coast Guard officers and in some instances that was justified because the medical corps wasn't indoctrinated or brought up the same way the line officers were so in a few instances they were a little sloppier looking and that kind of stuff, certainly not in my case or the majority of cases. In my case I was every bit as disciplined as a line officer, wore my uniform as proudly and correctly as any line officer, had the right kind of haircut, all that stuff. But, remember, this was when I first came in this was the Vietnam era and you had lots of anti-war sentiment, the medical people tend to be more liberal, and so in that era there was a tendency for some of the people in the medical corp, and I'm not just talking about the Coast Guard, I'm talking about the whole military, to be less doctrinaire than the line was, certainly not in my case and nobody I knew was that case, but sometimes there was a little bit if difference maintained between the medical people and the line. Now as I progressed through my career in the Coast Guard, that completely disappeared. I'd say halfway through my career, the Coast Guard made a great effort to make sure there wasn't any distinction, "Oh, he's just a PHS officer," now that went away, completely went away because of the quality people we had in the medical and dental corp. the professional people from Public Health Service. There was no reason to make any kind of distinction. We followed the same rules as the Coast Guard officers, the same discipline, same legal status, same uniform, same chain of command, everything. So, that kind of distinction they may have been there during Vietnam went away. And there wasn't much of a distinction afterwards.

Steve Estes:

Which is probably reflective of the split between civilians in the military during Vietnam that then began to heal, as the 70's became the 80's. I mean, I imagine, not that you were a civilian in any way, shape or form, but because the military wasn't seen as so separate from society, maybe that helped. Plus you were a career officer so I mean...

Alan M. Steinman:

Not when I joined I wasn't.

Steve Estes:

Right, but became one I imagine by halfway through your career.

Alan M. Steinman:

Probably even before that. Maybe so, I don't want to overplay that, I don't want your interview to reflect that the medical corps and the medical people were hippies or something, by no means, but I remember in my first assignment at Elizabeth City, North Carolina, my political leanings then and now were liberal and so I sometimes express myself and I remember that sort of rankled some people, [laughs] Military tends to be very conservative, even today of course. I forget what the incident was, I can't remember exactly.

Steve Estes:

Would you have considered yourself anti-war?

Alan M. Steinman:

No, by no means.

Steve Estes:

Can you say a little bit more about that?

Alan M. Steinman:

At the time, I thought that we were doing the correct thing in Vietnam. Subsequently I changed my mind based on the historical evidence, but at the time, based on the information that I was seeing, which of course was coming completely from the media, I thought that we were correct. On the other hand, I bore no grudges against people who were anti-war. I thought then, as I do now, that people who voice their disagreement with the government, simply are a reflection of how great this country is. I mean, God bless them for being able to speak out and not suffer any kind of repercussions from it.

Steve Estes:

Ok, let's talk, I mean you were stationed in a lot of different places as you told me before we turned on the tape. Before we go to the itinerant nature of being in the military, can you talk about your average day when you first joined the Coast Guard?

Alan M. Steinman:

Ok, when I first joined the Coast Guard, for three months, I was a general medical officer at the Coast Guard base in Elizabeth City, which meant that I was the only doc, in a clinic, an outpatient medical clinic, and I was responsible for the healthcare of everybody at that unit which was several hundred active duty members and their families, and any other military active duty members in the area and their families and all of the retired military people and their families. So, it was a relatively large patient population for which I was the only doc in the outpatient clinic and in addition to which I would fly on emergency medical cases, which we called medi-vacs, whenever they would come up, that needed a physicians presence.

Steve Estes:

Did you have to go on any sea rescues from Elizabeth City?

Alan M. Steinman:

Yep.

Steve Estes:

Can you talk about any of the more memorable ones?

Alan M. Steinman:

Sure, I mean, there were - remember I was only there for three months - but later in my career I did lots and lots of that, so I don't know if you want me to just limit it to this Elizabeth City experience.

Steve Estes:

Maybe you can talk about over the course of your career.

Alan M. Steinman:

Ok, so let's broaden the discussion then about what daily life was like.

Steve Estes:

Ok.

Alan M. Steinman:

So, let me separate it into two different phases for you then.

Steve Estes:

That sounds good.

Alan M. Steinman:

I had sort of two different careers in the Coast Guard. One was as a medical officer and a flight surgeon at Coast Guard Air Stations or other shore based units, in which my duties were, as I described before, taking care of the active duty population, and their families, kids, other active duty members, and retired members and their families, whoever was living around my clinic. All the clinics I was at in the field, except for Kodiak, were single doc units, I was the only doc at Elizabeth City, at Cape Guard, at Port Angeles and Astoria. So, the day to day routine was providing health care for patients who came in both routine and emergency in addition to which I would fly on emergency medical evacuations for - whenever we would launch a helicopter for a medi-vac it required a physician presence which often times it did, I would fly either by myself or with a corpsmen, on the helicopter to the case. That oftentimes involved ships at sea, either merchant vessels, or recreational boats or fishing boats with someone ill or injured on the vessel, in which case we would either lower down a basket or a litter, to bring the patient up to the helicopter or on occasion I would be lowered down to the vessel to evaluate the situation and provide emergency care, prepare the patient for evacuation, and then have the patient hoisted in the helicopter and then they would drop the hoist down for me and pick me up. So, there were lots of cases where that happened, being hoisted up and down is always a dangerous proposition particularly in bad weather when the vessel is moving in all kinds of unpredictable directions. So, when, on your list of questions I see a question that says, did you ever feel your life was in danger? The only time I felt my life was in danger while I was in the Coast Guard was during these hoists or when I was flying medi-vacs through particularly bad weather. So, that's sort of my answer for what life was like while I was in the field, then I had a different career in Coast Guard Headquarters, that was more of an administrative career although I still was providing clinical service in the Coast Guard Headquarters clinic for much of the time I was there, except when I got promoted to Captain and Admiral and then my duties were almost entirely administrative.

Steve Estes:

Ok, let's see...

Alan M. Steinman:

I also did, while I was in - there was a period of my career when I sport of straddled both of those areas and I did some primary research in hypothermia and sea survival and we ran several fairly large experiments at one of the Coast Guard Units in Washington State, Cape Disappointment, evaluating some of the effectiveness of some of the protective clothing that the Coast Guard air crewman or boat crewmen wore to protect against exposure to cold water, some of the same equipment the Navy was wearing and recreational boaters or fisherman might wear as well.

Steve Estes:

Or surfers.

Alan M. Steinman:

Or surfers, right.

Steve Estes:

I speak from personal experience.

Alan M. Steinman:

We did test the wet suits by the way in that study.

Steve Estes:

I am sure I benefited from that in those days. Let's see, well, we have kind of ranged a little bit in terms of chronology, which is totally fine...

Alan M. Steinman:

Ok, we can go back to chronology if you want but I didn't want to just limit when you said, "What was life like when you first joined."

Steve Estes:

I think you were right to kind of look at it the long view and then we can telescope in on a few things as we go along. So, you spoke about morale in your unit and about your feelings about Vietnam. I guess, lets talk a little bit about sexuality...

Alan M. Steinman:

Well, you want to go back to morale, I mean we didn't talk about that.

Steve Estes:

Sure, sure.

Alan M. Steinman:

You didn't ask that question. You talked about my attitude towards the anti-war sentiment and I expressed myself there, but in terms of the Coast Guard Active Duty Workforce, no there wasn't, I don't recall much discussion while I was at Elizabeth City about the war. It was a busy base, you had a very active large Coast Guard Air Station there. You had a huge Aircraft repair facility there, and you had support facilities there. Everybody had a bust job to do, not directly involved in fighting the war. The Coast Guard, of course, guarding the coast and on missions the Coast Guard was responsible for, we were busy enough and as it was, we had our own war, which we still do. Then and now, the war was against smugglers, against illegal immigration, against illegal fishing, and of course, search and rescue for people who are in distress. So, in that way, the Coast Guard's mission hasn't really changed although they had a national defense mission to at the time of course, as a I said earlier, the Coast Guard was in Vietnam with several other vessels and some other crews running small boats.

Steve Estes:

I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about the Coast Guard's uniqueness in terms of the services because of that, I mean certainly it must have affected you during Vietnam and other Coast Guard Service folks during Vietnam and were you seen as "part of the military establishment because you wore the uniform, because you served the country," or were seen as somehow different?

Alan M. Steinman:

Seen by whom?

Steve Estes:

I guess the public, in the areas where you served.

Alan M. Steinman:

I am sure the public saw - well let me first back up - the Coast Guard has always historically valued and treasured its status as one of the armed forces, so there is no question of the legal status of the Coast Guard, it is one of the branches of the Armed Forces and there are five of them, the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard. So, the Coast Guard, I am sure was seen by the public, as one of the branches of the military and I am sure there were places where the Coast Guard, probably where anti-war sentiment was hot and heavy, were vilified for that. I didn't encounter any of it where I was stationed. As the war was winding down -1 came into the Coast Guard in 1972, was at Elizabeth City for three months then I went to Pensacola, Florida for six months as flight surgeon training. Of course, now Pensacola is the heart of military establishment in the South and the place where today, the Coast Guard, Navy and Marines train there pilots then and now. So, I was in the middle of that and there was never any hint of anti-war sentiment in that environment, in fact people were proud to serve and the community loved the Navy down there. We were beloved everywhere we went down there, so that was not a problem. But, I imagine for some Coasties perhaps in San Francisco and some other cities they may have run into some trouble because of their military affiliation. But, I never saw that though.

Steve Estes:

So, you would say in general, morale in the units where you served was relatively high?

Alan M. Steinman:

Very high, yes. I think people loved what they were doing and had good morale. I mean, the other thing that - you have to look at the political landscape at the time, I think some people may have joined the Coast Guard to get out of the rest of the military. I'll tell you that from the standpoint of where I saw that happening is we had among our hospital corpsmen and most of the people in our clinics early on in my career, some really smart and talented people who were college graduates who were quite open about it, they joined the Coast Guard to stay out of the Army, to avoid the draft and unfortunately those people all left as soon as they could [laughs]. So, we had sort of a drain of people when they war ended.

Steve Estes:

A brain drain.

Alan M. Steinman:

I don't know if it was a brain drain, and again I don't want this interview to sound like the people who replaced them or who were not college graduates were any less talented, but we had some interesting people trying to avoid the draft join the Coast Guard and do a super job by the way, they were not dirt bags, they were not troublemakers, by any means, at least I never saw them, my corpsmen were great. But, there was an element who at that time joined the Coast Guard to stay out of the draft.

Steve Estes:

Gotcha.

Alan M. Steinman:

But, then the war ended shortly after that, I don't remember when the official end was, so I didn't really see much of that.

Steve Estes:

Ok, do you mind if we talk about sexuality now?

Alan M. Steinman:

Go ahead, I am not afraid to talk about sexuality.

Steve Estes:

No, no I am glad that you backed up to talk about morale though because I think that is very important and I had gotten your sense of individually how you felt but I hadn't gotten a sense of how other people you served with felt. So, the first question about sexuality is a real broad one and that is how did you sexuality affect your experiences in the military?

Alan M. Steinman:

It affected it in this way: since I was gay, I had to be in the closet, deep in the closet and as you might have read, when I came out publicly, I mean the tragedy of that was that I was not permitted to have a normal personal life like everyone else could. So I couldn't have a family, I couldn't share my life with a loved one, I couldn't do all those other things that the straight people in the Coast Guard take for granted and could do. I had to be very guarded. And so obviously since my service in the Coast Guard was voluntary and I loved it, I made that choice but of course therefore, my whole personal life was nil, [laughs] form the sexuality standpoint while I was on active duty. So, the question was how did my sexuality affect my life, well, in a huge way, I had no sexual life.

Steve Estes:

Right, did you know other gay soldiers who were serving in the Guard?

Alan M. Steinman:

I never did. I never encountered- well in a trivial way, yes, on occasion I was required to do discharge physical exams for Coast Guard members being separated by virtue of sexuality, so I mean there were maybe three or four of those that I recall but I never knew of any - other than that -1 did the physical exam on the individual and then he was gone, I never saw that person again. But, other than that, I never knew anybody who was gay while I was on active duty, nor did I ever seek out anybody who was, I mean obviously it was completely forbidden, so I completely separated that part of myself from my professional duties.

Steve Estes:

Well, let me ask you how you felt about when you were doing those physicals for guys that you knew were getting kicked out simply for the reason, or I assume primarily for the reason of their sexuality. What was going through your mind?

Alan M. Steinman:

Again, as I say, I separated myself, or I just sort of walled off that part, and if I allowed myself to think about it I would have thought how stupid this is. At the time I was doing the physical exam this was my job to make sure this guy is healthy enough to get out, and it was simply one in a zillion physical exams I did on people and I did the exam and I didn't really think much about it. I didn't ruminate on "Oh, woe is me, how stupid this policy is." It was, unfortunately, the way life had to be if I wanted to be on active duty and of course I came in growing up in the age that I did, well actually even today, it is so much different today, a little better perhaps, as you know when you are a boy growing up on our society, being a "fag" is the worse thing you could be. And kids use the word "fag" in teasing somebody or else or to ostracize somebody even before they know what it means. So you quickly learn from a very young age, this is a horrible thing, society thinks that nobody is ever supposed to know, or find out about you otherwise there will be trouble. So, you hide in a closet, you don't reveal part of yourself. And, that's the way I lived my life.

Steve Estes:

Now, did the military policy evolve, or change over time in regard to sexuality and I don't mean don't ask don't tell, but I mean did you see a change over, you were in the military for several decades, was there a change?

Alan M. Steinman:

Most of the time I was in the military, there was a policy against homosexuals because they were considered unsuitable for military service. It was one of the categories in which they would be discharged for unsuitability, like bed-wetting, sleepwalking, personality disorders, there is a whole rash of them, these things you could be separated for. I believe that the policy, I am not a lawyer but, my understanding of the pre don't ask, don't tell, had to do with homosexual conduct, which then as now is a violation of the UCMJ - Uniform Code of Military Justice. So, I certainly was never guilty of homosexual conduct, so I was never in violation of UCMJ, so that wasn't an issue, but that was my understanding of what the policy was like. There was an occasion, one at least that I can remember, where I had to sort of invoke that for one of the Coast Guard people who was coming to me for healthcare. This was probably in the late 70's somewhere when an air crewman came in, for I forget the reason, but in my initial conversation with him it sounded like he was going to talk about being gay and the policy was at the time that you can't admit to being homosexual, you are going to be thrown out for that reason, cause it's unsuitable, "incompatible" is the words in the military service. I wasn't sure if this individual knew the rule or not, so I stopped him from going any further in that part of the conversation to make sure he understood that the military had this rule about don't tell anybody. Now, I don't believe that had he told me that I was responsible for telling the commanding officer, I don't think that was the case. In my capacity as flight surgeon, I did have the responsibility of assessing somebody's fitness for duty, either physically or psychologically, and had I suspected this guy was psychologically impaired someway that would affect his flight duties, I would have grounded him, for that, I am not sure I would have run to the commanding officer and "hey this guy's homosexual," but that wasn't the case, this guy was fine, I never knew what the problem was, I kept him from making that admission, if in fact he was going to do it, so he understood what the rules were and we went on with the rest of the exam.

Steve Estes:

Do you think that that's how, I mean just from talking to the other flight surgeons, do you think that that's how straight flight surgeons handled the same situations?

Alan M. Steinman:

Don't know, I never talked to anyone about it.

Steve Estes:

Ok.

Alan M. Steinman:

I mean it's interesting. It never came up that I recall, even in conferences or anything else.

Steve Estes:

The only reason I ask, is because I talked to a guy, a doctor in the Navy, and he said very similar things that when people would come to him and get close to that topic, this was in Korea, he would say, you know, "You can't say anymore about that or else we're going to be in waters that are dangerous." So, anyway I was just curious. You told me before that you didn't have any romantic relationships in the military, you kind of implied that earlier but I just wanted to make sure that that's -

Alan M. Steinman:

Well, let me just - as a blanket policy when I decided to come out, I had decided that I was not going to talk about my personal life either while on active duty or afterwards, so I sort of am not going to go there, so and most people, that was ok for most people. The fact that People magazine didn't like it [inaudible laughing]. So, from that standpoint we don't have to talk about my personal life.

Steve Estes:

All right, I respect that. You still there?

Alan M. Steinman:

Yeah, what, did you think I hung up?

Steve Estes:

No, no it just got real quiet there. So, how did the passage of "don't ask, don't tell" affect the Coast Guard or you individually?

Alan M. Steinman:

We'll, when don't ask, don't tell was being implemented, I was a brand new admiral. And every Wednesday morning in Coast Guard headquarter we had basically a Board of Directors meeting, all the Coast Guard admirals in headquarters and their civilian equivalents from the Senior Executive Service would meet in a centralized secure conference room with the Commandant, the Vice-Commandant, the Chief of Staff, to discuss business, whatever business of the day was. And one day this issue came up as the Pentagon was debating the policy and they actually formed a committee to discuss this, I don't' know whether you have interviewed Master Chief Patton or not...

Steve Estes:

I haven't.

Alan M. Steinman:

He's in your area. I don't know if he's done this interview for the Library of Congress or not. He would be the perfect one to talk to because Master Chief Patton was on this committee inside the Pentagon talking about the policy but anyway we can leave that as an offshoot of this discussion and come back to it if you want - particularly vis-a-vis your list question, who else should I interview.

Steve Estes:

Right.

Alan M. Steinman:

My thoughts on it at the time were that it was all rather silly, because had President, Clinton prevailed in his attempt to remove any kind of ban from gays and lesbians serving openly in the military, that nobody would notice any difference, had "don't ask, don't tell" not been passed, because nobody was going to come out of the closet, well very few people would come out of the closet, because most people don't reveal their sexuality unless they feel safe to do so with their friends or close confidants, and oftentimes that's not the case on a vessel, on a Navy vessel, a Coast Guard vessel, or whatever unit you happen to be on. I think most gays and lesbians would have carried on their business, nobody would have noticed any difference, maybe a couple of people would have come out. And had that been a disruptive situation, the military is quite adept at dealing with disruptive situations. I don't think it would have been a problem at all. So, I was sort of bemused by all of this pandering going on and was fairly insulted by what I was hearing people like Senator Nunn say and unfortunately even Colon Powell, who I think was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs at the time, was I just have to shake my head, this was complete crap. When it came time for the Coast Guard to discuss it, the Commandant at the time, who was the man who appointed me to my job, basically said, "The Coast Guard will be in lock step with the Defense Department on this issue," end of story. I mean that was the decision by the Commandant, there was no discussion. Now, he was right, the Coast Guard as I told you earlier, has always valued its affiliation with the Armed Forces, so you can see how the head of the Coast Guard would like to stay in the same page with the Armed Forces. In the back of my mind it was conceivable the Coast Guard could have done something different because they were with the Department of Transportation, not the Department of Defense. They were not under the Secretary of Defense, they were not in the Pentagon, they were a separate, under a separate cabinet secretary. So, had the Commandant been so inclined be might have been able to push for the Coast Guard to get a different status, maybe that would be a trial balloon for the rest of the country to see if it was going to work or not. I doubt whether most people in the Coast Guard would have liked that, but I mean it's possible that would have happened. And again, from the Coast Guard standpoint, nothing would have been different, I don't think you would find many people jumping up and saying, "Hey everybody, I'm gay." I don't think it was going to be an issue, but that wasn't to be. So, the Coast Guard allied itself with the Defense Department at that time. In fact I believe it was even written into the law that the Coast Guard was specifically mentioned, I would have to go look at the law to make sure. But, what the Coast Guard did, which I thought was interesting, we were able to discuss and I participated in this discussion, about what about Coast Guard civilian employees and there was a fairly lively discussion about that and nobody as I recall had any problem with openly gay or lesbian civilian employees, to the extent that the Coast Guard almost immediately, revised its personnel manual to make sexual orientation for civilians a protected class vis-a-vis harassment and discrimination, we were the first agency I think, I am sure we were the first agency to do that because it was the very same day that the Commandant said we would be in lock step with the DOD in this issue that we said let's do something for our civilian employees. And we did. So, that was kind of neat.

Steve Estes:

That is cool. When you say you were the first agency, you mean military agency...

Alan M. Steinman:

I think federal agency, I wouldn't be surprised, it would be interesting to go back and look. I could call up Tom Fisher, who was the Head of Personnel; he's still back at Coast Guard headquarters right now. I think we were, because it was almost immediate. I think we amended the personnel manual very quickly and I think we beat the rest of the military by probably a year. The Coast Guard can move much faster that way than the Defense Department can.

Steve Estes:

Why do you think that is, just the nature of bureaucracy?

Alan M. Steinman:

Yeah, remember that those kind of overarching personnel issues come from the Defense Department itself so you have the four other branches of the military under the Defense Department so if DOD wants to make some kind of overarching policy, other than the fact of the Presidency or the Secretary of Defense say "this is the way it's gonna be guys make it work." On this issue he probably would have sought the input of the other service Secretaries and the heads of the other branches of the military, other wards, the Secretary of the Army, Navy, Defense, and the Commandant of the Marine Corp, Chief of Staff of the Army and Marine Corp and Commandant of the Navy, what do you guys think. Should we do this for our civilians, and there would have been memos going back and forth and all kinds of drafts, it would have taken much longer. With the Coast Guard, we are our own agency, we got one Admiral in charge of personnel, above him is the Chief of Staff the Vice-Commandant and the Commandant and it would have been real simple, and it was. Just fix it for our civilian employees, I mean there was no reason not to, even today, who, people do, but who could justify harassing anybody, often they do.

Steve Estes:

I think there are several Senators who haven't passed that for their offices.

Alan M. Steinman:

Although the Defense Department continues to say, "We treat all our employees with dignity and respect, blah, blah, blah." That's the line you get from them whenever this issue comes up. But, they don't, I mean there is on the books, as you are probably aware, a very effective and comprehensive anti-gay harassment policy, regulation, promulgated by the Secretary of Defense, with instructions that each service is supposed to implement it. They haven't fully implemented it yet to this day. Yet, they still say we treat our people with dignity and respect, but if you look at SLDN's annual reports, that go back everyone of them for ten years, you can see, well it's unfair to say ten years, because the anti-harassment piece didn't come about until I think after Barry Winchell's murder. So, I'll go back to '99, 2000, and what not, back three or four years, not much has changed in the harassment world.

Steve Estes:

So, do you feel like in the Coast Guard, I guess the original question was: Did the "don't ask, don't tell" change the Coast Guard on a day-to-day basis and you said no.

Alan M. Steinman:

No, short answer is no, it did not change the Coast Guard day to day - [tape shuts off -change to Side B].

Alan M. Steinman:

I wanted to speak on behalf of "don't ask, don't tell." Are you recording?

Steve Estes:

I am; it's fine.

Alan M. Steinman:

The silver lining of "don't ask, don't tell" is the law says that gays and lesbians can serve honorably so long as they are silent and presumably celibate. So, we serve, we can serve, it's no longer illegal, it's no longer incompatible with military service. We are legally able to serve, and that's something that the opponents of gays in the military always forget. It's very amusing when you hear them talking about privacy issues and undermining good order and discipline, all that's based on the fact that, the assumption is that there are so many homophobes and thugs in the military that the mere presence of a gay person would cause such anger and disruption that the military would suffer or that these people would collapse in a puddle of emotion and not be able to carry on or that straight people are so fragile that they couldn't possibly endure the thought that some gay guy might be looking at them in the shower or locker room, that's why we can't have them there. The problem is that we are there; that's what the law says, so when I hear this nonsense about well look we separate men and women in locker rooms and shower rooms and sleeping areas, why should gay guys be with straight guys, there was no difference, you have to respect people's privacy and the answer to that is the law says we can be there so we have been there guys for the last ten years. Where's been the problem? The big fear is the big open locker room or big shower room, where the gay guy might be looking at a straight guy and the straight guy wouldn't want his privacy compromised. Well, it's already happened, right; what's the problem? Just that it's happened the whole guy's life growing up in the U.S., I mean you don't have separate locker rooms in grade school, high school, college, health clubs, YMCA, men have been put together in these facilities their whole life, why is the military suddenly different? So, there have been gay guys with them in all of these places as there are now so what's the big deal? I guess the big deal, when you split the hair is, well, I didn't know which one of them was gay so therefore it was ok. Everyone knows that gay people are there, but I guess if you don't know which one of them is gay then you can pretend they are not there. So, that's the most bizarre part of the privacy thing. So, the long winded answer to your question is no, there hasn't been a big impact in the Coast Guard, other than that the gay people can now serve legally, but they have to be silent and celibate.

Steve Estes:

Which is basically how you served your entire time.

Alan M. Steinman:

Right.

Steve Estes:

And not that this is a smooth segway, but your silence and celibacy allowed you to rise much higher in the ranks than most people who have come out and talked about their veterans experience. So, I guess I would ask you not necessarily about your sexuality, but how did your career change as you rose through the ranks especially as you got to Washington and became a Flag Officer?

Alan M. Steinman:

I'm not sure I understand the question, or vis-a-vis the law, or what?

Steve Estes:

Actually no. How did my career change, vis-a-vis my sexuality,

Alan M. Steinman:

The law didn't do anything to change what I was doing with my life.

Steve Estes:

Right, I was trying to actually move away from the topic of sexuality per se, unless you thought it was relevant but more just personally.

Alan M. Steinman:

Well, here's where it was relevant - As a gay man in a small military setting, a small unit, and the Coast Guard is basically small. You got lots and lots of relatively small units all over the country and in all of the air stations I served at, you maybe had a couple hundred active duty people at most, at the larger ones and some of them might be less than that. And then the officer coips was obviously much smaller than that. So, when you are a gay man in a relatively small work unit, people are always trying to fix you up. You are a single guy, people always want to fix you up, assume you are straight. So, I always had problems with fix-ups, you can only turn them down so many times. So, that was always troubling, I never liked it, I obviously had to go on dates I didn't particularly want to go on. So, I endured that; it was uncomfortable and I always made excuses one way or another for whatever. When I got to headquarters, that became much easier because headquarters is a huge organization with lots and lots and lots of Coast Guard officers who live in geographically dispersed areas so that you didn't have a tendency, didn't have parties that you had to go to anymore. A lot of times at the air station, the air station would have a party ever other week or so, an officer's party that you were expected to go to, particularly if you are the flight surgeon, you are a key member of the command, you are a key member of the command. So, you can't just not go to parties, first of all its rude, it's not fraternal with your fellow officers, you have to participate in those social events. When you got to headquarters there were far fewer of them because in the Washington, D.C. area, people could live anywhere within a sixty-mile radius of Coast Guard headquarters, and did. So, it was difficult to have parties in which the people, I mean obviously there were parties that went on, but the ability to not have to go to them was easier. Until I became eligible for Flag than it was clear to me, obviously my career in the Coast Guard I knew what was going on, as a Flag Officer you have a fairly large number of social obligations that you have to go to, as Flags, so if I was going to be a Flag, how was I going to deal with those things. SO, when it was fairly, I was going to be a candidate for appointment, of course it is never certain, you never know if you are going to be a Flag or not, but it got down to I was maybe one of four or five leading candidates for appointment, if I was going to get appointed to Flag, I was going to need to have someone to go to parties with. [Laughs]

Steve Estes:

Did they ask you this in the interview?

Alan M. Steinman:

No, of course not.

Steve Estes:

No, I know...

Alan M. Steinman:

They actually could have, you know I was surprised that it didn't come up, I think the Commandant who appointed me, his name was Bill Kime, good guy, I don't think the thought ever crossed his mind that I could have been gay or that he even thought about that kind of stuff. He was more interested in what I had done professionally for the Coast Guard, for him personally, in his tenure as Commandant. He for example asked me to give the Coast Guard a wellness program and I had done that very well, service wide nationwide wellness program, so he was very pleased with that, he was pleased with my demeanor as a senior officer, my appearance and my whole career in his eyes very stellar, so I was one of the leading candidates and I don't think this other issue ever crossed his mind, there was no reason for it to.

Steve Estes:

But, it crossed your mind?

Alan M. Steinman:

Of course it crossed my mind, I mean how many events can you go to stag. What's wrong with you, you don't have a girlfriend, a lady friend, what's the deal. So, I went out looking for a lady friend, and the way I handled it was I put an ad in the Washingtonian Magazine, it was very interesting. This is sort of before Internet chat rooms and that kind of thing, this was like '92. So, I put an ad in the personal section of upscale Washington D.C. Magazine. It said Senior Executive, Gay Senior Executive seeks - no I didn't even say that - yes I did, seeks female companion for meeting social obligations, [inaudible] Yeah, I did. I said that, because I remember the thing was stratified by straight male seeks straight female and vice-versa.

Steve Estes:

I didn't realize Washington even had that.

Alan M. Steinman:

Oh, they did at the time, it was quite popular, you read them anyway whether you had an ad in them or not. They were quite amusing, I am sure they have all sort of died out because it is so much easier to do that kind of stuff on the Internet. So, I got five or six responses, letters, because remember you had to respond by letter to a mailbox somewhere and then they forward it to you, a regular post office box not e-mail. And so of those responses, by the way one of them was from a male prisoner in a federal prison in Virginia, he was getting out soon and was interested in hooking up with me or something I don't know. But, one was a beautifully written letter, she obviously was head and shoulders above everybody else who had responded so we agreed to meet for dinner at the Ritz Carlton Hotel as a matter of fact, in Pentagon City, I still remember that and trade stories and she had an interesting story and she thought I had an interesting story and she liked me so we decided to make a deal as it was, we have since, very shortly after that became very good friends and she is still one of my best friends ever, but that was the way I met her, the primary reason to meet her was having someone to go to parties with. Which just shows you how stupid the law was or how stupid the regulation was and what we had to go through as a gay man to exceed in our society. And I am sure that carried on today in corporate America, I am sure that's the case. So, it's so dumb, but that's what I had to do in the military so she went with me to all of our parties and I never introduced her other than my friend and that's the way everybody saw her as my friend, they probably assumed we were a couple, obviously we were a couple in their eyes. So, we stayed friends throughout my whole Flag career and ever since. That's how I met her.

Steve Estes:

That's a good story. So, was there any excitement as a Flag officer, anything that you want to talk about, that you think is historically significant, not necessarily related to sexuality, but that you think should be in the Library of Congress?

Alan M. Steinman:

Let me think.

Steve Estes:

I know I didn't give you that question, sorry.

Alan M. Steinman:

Well, there's lots of internal Coast Guard stuff that happened that would be of interest historically to the Coast Guard, not to the public at large I don't think. The Coast Guard mission had already started changing, the mission focus had started changing while I was at headquarters as a Senior Officer, from a primary maritime safety focus in which we did search and rescue and navigation, managed regulations for merchant vessels and expect merchant ships to more of a law enforcement focus, drug interdiction, drug smuggling to the U.S. began to be a real problem during my career in the Coast Guard, huge problem, still is, so the Coast Guard began to gear up for that and so it's law enforcement focus began to take a larger level of importance over the search and rescue, maritime safety focus and does to this day, homeland security being the ultimate in that in terms of security and law enforcement and terrorism and smuggling interdiction, drug interdiction, while still trying, not trying, still doing search and rescue and maritime safety missions. So, that's probably, from a public standpoint, that's probably something that's interesting to look at, the Coast Guard has all of these missions, that it does very well and as the needs change, the Coast Guard is able to flexibly change its focus. And all that's because, in my opinion, the Coast Guard has a multi-mission focus, and the people in the Coast Guard can do multi-missions. Political that isn't always understood by Congress, wasn't at the time, I went through the whole time with Gingrich and his "Contract for America," what someone else called "Contract on America," in which there was at the time a need to save money, spend less federal bucks, not the case today, so there was lots of effort to downsize the Coast Guard—sorry not downsize, right size the Coast Guard and then there was strong sentiment among some of the Congress to have the Coast Guard busted up into various little pieces so that they could do different missions, part would do search and rescue, another part would do law enforcement, another part would aid navigation, another part would do mercenary inspections, maybe that whole piece could be civilianized, and Coast Guard was successful in pointing out that the public and the government gets a multiplier effect out of the Coast Guard with the way it is, the Coast Guard is one of the most efficient federal agencies there is. And to be able to do all these things with so little, you get a lot of bang for the buck.

Steve Estes:

So, it's interesting because as you are talking I was thinking in some ways you are more of a veteran on the war on drugs and the war on terror, or Coast Guard folks are in general, than or as much veterans of those wars as they are foreign wars.

Alan M. Steinman:

Yes.

Steve Estes:

So, it's something I hadn't thought about before, I am sure most people in the public and most historians that might see this will have to reconsider after they listen to this interview.

Alan M. Steinman:

Well, here's the way the Coast Guard sees it - internally the Coast Guard people look at the Defense Department and say you know those guys are always training for war, we have a war every day. We are in a war every day of our life against smugglers, drug interdiction, accidents and injuries, in that way we are always doing our operational mission, we are not training for something that will happen in the future.

Steve Estes:

Right, that's an interesting way, I mean it seems a very appropriate way of looking at it.

Alan M. Steinman:

And it's true. Of course now the military is almost fully engaged so it would be almost unpatriotic to say that but at the time when we weren't at war the mission of the Defense Department is national defense and if you weren't in an active war you were training for it, and did well. Now we have an active war, so - in the Coast Guard didn't have to train for war we had our missions all the time and our own equivalent of war ongoing. Mostly not being shot at, and I always wondered why that was, the drug smugglers have all kinds of money at their disposal, but they rarely ever shot at Coast Guard helicopter, which was basically unarmored and unarmed. I don't know if today whether they are unarmored and unarmed, the Coast Guard vessels have some armor on them but not particularly the boats don't have a great degree of armor, the ships are obviously bigger, bigger guns, but the Coast Guard helicopters were always vulnerable I thought. Somebody with a shoulder fired missile or you know, a rifle [laughs].

Steve Estes:

Luckily, when you were in them they didn't get shot at.

Alan M. Steinman:

We never had, as far as I know, we never had - we had Coast Guard helicopters shot at, you know sometimes we would land and find a bullet hole or something and that wasn't always at sea by smugglers, that was flying over New York City, [laughs] At air station Brooklyn, they on one or two occasions found a bullet hole in the helicopter. So, we didn't train for war we had our own war going on all the time.

Steve Estes:

When you decided to get out, to retire, was this just a stage of life decision for you or was there anything else going on.

Alan M. Steinman:

Yes, it was a stage of life decision, I wanted to be a gay man. I wanted to live as a gay man. I actually didn't tell the Commandant that, I mean the Commandant at the time was a different guy than who appointed me, his name was Admiral Kramen, Robert Kramen, just a superb guy, I thought the world of him, still do. But, I wanted to have a life. And I couldn't if I stayed on, I didn't have to retire, I could have stayed on another year or two as far as he was concerned, but I thought it was time for me to move on with my life. I made all the contributions I thought that I could for the Coast Guard, I was still doing a good job, I was highly followed, but I needed to move on with my life and so I retired.

Steve Estes:

How long after you retired did you get involved with SLDN and can you talk about why?

Alan M. Steinman:

Sure. Immediately after I retired, almost immediately, I was asked to be part of a - well let me answer your question first and then I will tell you why. The answer to your question was about two years after I retired.

Steve Estes:

Ok.

Alan M. Steinman:

Because, immediately after I retired I was asked to be part of a Presidential panel on Gulf War illnesses from the first Gulf War. That was a controversial thing that was raging at the time and I had a background in occupational and military medicine. The White House was trying to make things right with the Veterans and make things right with Congress on the Gulf War illness issue. They had in the Pentagon set up an organization called The Office of the Special Assistant to the Secretary on Gulf War illnesses run by a Senior Executive service guy and they were vigorously investigating Gulf War illnesses but neither the Congress or the Veterans thought that was going to be an independent analysis, going to be suspect, the fox guarding the hen house, nobody believed anything the Pentagon was going to say on the issue so they wanted a panel of independent people, respected people to oversee what the Pentagon was doing and report to the President via the Secretary of Defense and that's what this committee was, it was called the Presidential Oversight Committee on Gulf War Chemical and Biological incidents something long like that.

Steve Estes:

Classic Washington-

Alan M. Steinman:

It was the Presidential Oversight Board for Department of Defense Investigation on, I have Gulf War Illnesses on my resume but I think its Chemical and Biological instances in the Gulf War or something like that. It was headed up by Senator Rudman, a Republican, a retired Republican from New Hampshire and there were other military Flag officers on it, there were civilians, there was myself and a senior enlisted Army retired Grand Sergeant Major and our job was to make sure that the Defense Department was honestly evaluating the Gulf War. Now I was out of the military at the time but now even more engaged in military operation than I had been in the Coast Guard so I still felt that I couldn't, even though I was no longer on active duty so I still felt that I couldn't come out publicly just for, it would have, I could have legally, but it would have introduced perhaps, an element that would have been disruptive to the committee or perhaps somehow change the respect that the committee had in the eyes of the Defense Department and the public and Congress, so I didn't step forward publicly and say I'm gay. I certainly no longer felt constrained to be celibate, or even silent, I mean I came out to my family, I came out to my friends, it was more public that way, but I didn't step forward in the Press and say that I was a gay Admiral. So, with that as background, when that committee ended its work the first day that Bush took office, since is was a Clinton committee, shortly after that I sent a fax to Dixon Osborn, you know Dixon?

Steve Estes:

No.

Alan M. Steinman:

Ok, Dixon is the Director of SLDN now. I sent him a fax, basically saying "Hey I am a gay Flag officer, what can I do to help?"

Steve Estes:

And he probably was like: "Yes!"

Alan M. Steinman:

The way he tells the story, he was working late at the office in D.C. and as it would happen was the fax was in his office and here comes this fax and it was my name and my little one liner and he immediately called me up and we had this long conversation on the phone about who I was and what I wanted to do to contribute and what opportunities there were to contribute and this was, this happened, it was immediately after Bush took office, it was about a year later because I had moved out here, but it was definitely after 9-11. The timing of that was such that, he said I could do anything I want. I could do something as simple as volunteering to serve on their Honorary Board of Directors, and there are other straight people on the Board so I wasn't even necessarily coming out by doing that, sort of, I mean everybody assumes that anybody on the Honorary Board is gay, but the fact is that there are people who are straight on there. At least two people, right. Or the other extreme was I could be the poster boy for their annual report that was going to be released in the next six weeks and be there in D.C. when they released the report and go to New York and be on televisions interviews and do all that kind of stuff. And so I said, "Well, let me think about it." And I gave it some thought, I called up some close friends, one of whom was a retired Coast Guard Admiral, a line officer Admiral, whose opinion I highly respected, he had worked in the National Security Council for the White House for several years, he had worked personally for the Secretary of Transportation. He had lots of contacts in the Pentagon and I asked him, unfortunately, it was a time crunch, I had to make a decision fairly quickly and so I ended up coming out to him on the telephone in the course of asking him his opinion, which I regret having done, I mean someone who's a friend like that you don't want to drop it to them on the phone, you want to meet them in person. He took it well, I never thought that he wouldn't take it well, but he understood that he said give him couple days and he'll get back to me with an answer. So, he did that, thought about it himself, asked some of his friends in the Pentagon, anonymously, and his answer was don't do it. If your intent is to use your career and your rank status to demonstrate how stupid the law was, he said it would probably backfire because we are currently in a state of national crisis, national emergency, because it was three or four months after 9-11. It will be seen as somehow damaging the military, causing a distractions, causing a disruption in our response to terrorism and the war on terrorism so any good that you hoped to accomplish would not only go down the tube, but they will come after you personally. Which is certainly good advice given what we see happening with Richard Clark. So, I took his advice and said, "You're probably right, I won't do it," and I called up Dixon and said, "Let's do the Honorary Board option." So, I became a member of their Honorary Board and served for two years or so, a year and a half, I guess a year and a half on the Honorary Board before I fully came out. Fairly active in the organization, that was interesting, I mean when I was considering coming out, before the decision was made, I flew back to SLDN and met with the entire staff, they spent two days with me, answering my questions, briefing me on what questions I would be given if I came out, how to handle them, what the issues were politically then and perhaps in the future so that was all Very useful and the reason I came out now was with the other two Flag Officers was it was the tenth anniversary of "don't ask, don't tell." We thought as a group it would be more powerful, three Flag Officers standing up and saying how stupid the law is. Gay people can be in every rank in the military and that's why we came out basically.

Steve Estes:

You said that when we first started the interview that the Coast Guard sort of hemmed and hawed about your public health affiliation when you came out, can you talk a little bit about that?

Alan M. Steinman:

Well, when I came out, well first of all before I came out publicly, I had sent an e-mail to my friend who was the Vice-Commandant of the Coast Guard, because I did not want, when you are a Coast Guard Flag Officer, you are part of a fraternity kind of, I mean it is really, everybody is sort of on good terms with each other, friendly, you don't want to hurt any of the other Flag Officers. And I felt that without giving the Coast Guard a heads up, that it would be insulting to these guys that I had spent my career with. It would be disrespectful to the service that I spent twenty-five years in, so I wanted them to know that I was going to do this so they wouldn't be blindsided. So, they had a heads up that I was going to do it, they had -1 gave them the Press Release that SLDN was going to put out, I gave them the article that I and the other two Flag Officers had drafted for publication that we thought was going to be in the Washington Post at the time, but I said I don't know when this is going to happen but it's going to happen, so I gave them the heads up and I expected the response to be, if they had to make a public response, was that Alan Steinman did a great job for us, but we support the President's policy on gays in the military. They had to say that; they can't say anything other than that. So, that would be reasonable for them to say that. So, instead what happened was I came out, they never said anything publicly, but what they did do was focus on the fact that I had called myself a retired Coast Guard Admiral, and that I called my position Surgeon General instead of Director of Health and Safety which is the equivalent of Surgeon General, and busily ran around, had their public affairs guy run around and every place in the media that published the story, they sent them a little thing saying you ought to make a correction because Steinman misrepresented himself here and here. So, I was a little - and never said anything to me, or make a public statement as far as I know. So, I was a little bit disappointed, actually I was hurt that here I had bled Coast Guard blue my entire adult life basically, and their response was to sort of hold me at arms length and say he was not really a Coast Guard person, he was really a Public Health Service people. So, here we are back full circle, the way to was back when I first joined in the battle days, suddenly you are no longer a Coast Guard person, you are one of these Public Health Service people, who just happen to be assigned to the Coast Guard, and in fact when the Navy Times published an article about it, and I assume the other Army, Marine and Air Force Times, the article said, it had a little article about us coming out and in the paragraph about me, it said Admiral Steinman was a Public Health Service, was a retired Public Health Service Admiral whose last assignment was as Director of Public Safety for the Coast Guard, so that's how they tended to minimize, what I thought was minimizing my career in the Coast Guard and I guess making a big deal out of saying that I was a retired Coast Guard Admiral or saying I was a Surgeon General. The reason I said I was, let me tell you, there were two reasons why I said that, one, it had been at least a decade and a half before anybody was making any distinction between if you were a Public Health Service Admiral or Coast Guard Admiral, I mean we were Coast Guard Admirals, it was not an issue, to the extent that my successor, who was the first female Flag Officer in the Coast Guard Admiral, who herself was a Public Health Service Admiral because she was a physician, she was celebrated as the first Coast Guard Admiral, first female Coast Guard Admiral, I'm sorry, both when she was appointed and certainly when she retired and so strong and so repetitive was this Admiral Johnson, Coast Guard Admiral this, Coast Guard Admiral that, that I remember talking to the guy sitting next to me who was my predecessor remembering the battle days and I said, "Mike, look how long its been since anybody made the distinction between, oh he's just a Public Health Servant working for the Coast Guard." And we sort of chuckled about it, and so not three weeks later after her retirement, suddenly now I am one of those PHS people that's not really a Coast Guard Admiral and the job description, was a real mouthful to say Director of Health and Safety and the public doesn't know what that is, so typically what I would say is I was Director of Health and Safety which is the equivalent of Surgeon General in the other branches of the military, a bigger mouthful.

Steve Estes:

So, reporters, as they want to do is say he's like the Surgeon General.

Alan M. Steinman:

The only time I ever got to talk to anybody about that was among the people the Coast Guard public affairs sent the e-mail or memo to was the newspaper in New London, Connecticut where the Coast Guard Academy is. Of course the Coast Guard Academy is a big deal in New London as it should be and one of the editorial writers called me up on the phone and wanted me comment on this and so I did. I said I [inaudible] I loved the Coast Guard, I have nothing but the highest respect for the men and women in the Coast Guard, loved all my time in the Coast Guard, and to his credit he quoted all of that in the editorial, but the gist of the editorial was I was sort of being disingenuous by misrepresenting myself by implication and therefore everybody can ignore the issue and I don't really exist. He certainly didn't use those words but that was the jest of the editorial, but that was about it. Then the following week after I came out, a week or two, I forget what it was, locally in Seattle, by the way the next day in Seattle I was a front page story, a huge front page story with a picture, and that was the first anybody knew in the Seattle area Coast Guard that I was gay and thinking back, I sort of regret that I didn't give the Admiral out here a heads up on it, although I know he got the memo, he had the e-mail from headquarters so he knew.

Steve Estes:

But, you wanted to tell him personally.

Alan M. Steinman:

Well, I probably should have told him personally. I gave the Coast Guard a heads up and I just assumed they would inform anybody that needed to be informed but since I am living out here, it probably would have been respectful to go talk to him, but he's not a guy I had ever met before, I had taken the effort to go meet him one day shortly after he was assigned here as a courtesy call, we call it a courtesy call, you go say hi, I'm living in the area, just thought I would stop in to say hello, we did that back in September or August or something of last year. But anyway I came out in a big splash publicly and took them all by surprise and I think he, I heard through the grapevine that he had a staff meeting and wasn't too pleased about a Coast Guard Flag coming out like that, I don't know exactly what was said, but I think the issue of the Public Health Service came up again, but anyway, as a preamble, I attended a retirement ceremony a couple weeks later, to one of my old friends in the Coast Guard, Master Chief [inaudible] whom I had known for over twenty years and we had worked together closely on lots of different things and I was friends of his family and they invited me to his retirement ceremony and of course when you are that senior in the enlisted ranks in the Officer Corp, it's a big deal when you retire and the Admiral himself presided over the ceremonies. So, here I am, I am sitting up in the front row of this huge meeting room, where we were having the ceremony and the Admiral was cordial, he noted my presence in the audience which is the proper thing to do when there is another Flag Officer in the room. But, in conversations either before or after, I don't remember which it was, the atmosphere was cordial but frosty. It was not the old [inaudible] that exists between Flag Officers and between Senior Officers. You could tell there was some discomfort there, I don't know why, it certainly didn't come up in discussion and it's interesting, you'd think the people that would have the most angst about it would be the Senior Enlisted Community which is my friends peer group. So, we all went out drinking afterwards to a bar nearby just to have some beer and sandwiches and stuff and they were fine, we had a great conversation. They all knew who I was because I had done a lot for the community when I was on active duty. They had no problem at all, it just seemed the Officer Corp seemed a little discomforting, maybe that's my own perception because they certainly didn't say anything, so nothing on record was said as far as I know. But that's the only negative that I got. Subsequent to that time, I attended a three day a Rescue Conference in Michigan back in January or February where the Admiral from the Midwest was there, great guy, his Senior Officers were there for the whole three days, we got along great, it was just like old times, not a peep, not even a hint of any problem Now I don't know if the Coasties, the enlisted guys who were running the stations knew or not, I assumed they must have known, if they didn't know when they got there, I am sure that the word must have gotten around. There was never any hint of any problem, it was just like old times, which is the way I think it should be. And then just last month I was at Boston where the Admiral in charge of the New England area, a female Admiral whom I had known from years back, I went to see her and paid her a courtesy call, we had a nice discussion, she asked me why I was in town. I happened to be in town to testify at a trial and to do a video for PBS on "don't ask, don't tell," and to lecture to her staff on hypothermia and near drowning and sea survival so I told her all those things. She said, "Why are you in town?" and I said, "As you know I am speaking to your staff tomorrow morning," and she said "Yes I know, I am sorry I can't be there, I have a previous engagement down in Norfolk..." And I told her of course I did this video for "don't ask, don't tell" and I testified at a trial. Well, we didn't discuss the "don't ask, don't tell" part at all, so I let that go, and we just had a nice, cordial chit chat, after fifteen minutes one of her staff came in and said "You're next appointment has come up," and that's their job, and that's the way it was. So, things were fine there; nothing was said. Basically that's what has happened. I have heard no formal official response from the Coast Guard at all. The people who I know, or who I was friends with have all called me up or wrote me letters and said "No, big deal," either we knew anyway, or we love you anyway, it doesn't make any difference, who cares. The people who don't like it, I haven't heard from at all. So, I am sure there are some people out there like that but...

Steve Estes:

Ok, let's just do the one last question, which is the general one about how you think military service affected your life?

Alan M. Steinman:

I think my service in the Coast Guard, first of all, I wouldn't change it for a second. It would be nice if I had been able to be a normal person while I was in the Coast Guard, but the experiences I had in the Coast Guard were fabulous and extraordinary, things I never would have been able to do as a civilian, so I think it helped me grow professionally, it put me off into directions that I probably wouldn't have done as a civilian. So, from that regard, I think it was a very valuable experience.

Steve Estes:

Ok, is there anything I didn't ask you about that you think is important to talk about?

Alan M. Steinman:

I can't think of anything.

Steve Estes:

It's hard after an hour and a half of chatting to say, oh yeah, there's this one thing, but I always ask that and sometimes people say, "Oh, there is this one last thing that we didn't really touch on. So, if you think about something later on, feel free to e-mail me and I will add it to the transcript, that's fine. I will go ahead and turn off the tape before we talk about who else I should interview but I just wanted to say, officially, thank you very much for taking the time to talk to me about your experiences in the Coast Guard.

Alan M. Steinman:

My pleasure.

 
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  October 26, 2011
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