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Interview with Greg Castleberry [1/16/2005]

Steve Estes:

Okay. My name is Steve Estes, and today is January 16, 2005. I'm in San Francisco California and I'm interviewing...

Greg Castleberry:

My name is Greg Castleberry and I am in Panama City Beach, Florida.

Steve Estes:

The first question is a redundant one; but, when and where were you born Greg?

Greg Castleberry:

I was born in Seminole, Texas November 10, 1978.

Steve Estes:

And you were telling me before we turned on the tape that your parents were on a road trip; but, they were actually from New Mexico? Is that where you grew up?

Greg Castleberry:

Yes, I grew up my entire life in New Mexico.

Steve Estes:

What town, and what was it like growing up there?

Greg Castleberry:

I lived [there] in the beginning of my life until my parents divorced, and, around 1987 I grew up in a town called Hobbs, NM which is in the southeastern part of the state in what is called the Llano Estacado which is known as the state's plains. It's very flat, with a high elevation. Its right around four thousand feet in elevation, the high Sonora Desert. After my parents divorced, I moved with my mother to Las Vegas, NM which is about sixty-five miles north of Santa Fe. My mother worked in state government, so, she was on the road a lot. So, I was a latchkey kid basically. I raised myself and matured very very quickly.

Steve Estes:

Did you go into the Air Force right out of high school?

Greg Castleberry:

No. No I didn't.

Steve Estes:

What did you do after high school?

Greg Castleberry:

After high school, I moved to Dallas, Texas and I attended the Dallas Institute of Funeral Service and received my associates of applied science in funeral services.

Steve Estes:

Did you work in that area?

Greg Castleberry:

I did. I worked for a chain of mortuaries in Dallas while I was going to school and, then, once I graduated I was nationally certified as funeral director. Then, I moved back to New Mexico and worked for a small family that owned two funeral homes: One in Espanola, NM and one in Taos, NM.

Steve Estes:

What attracted you to the funeral business?

Greg Castleberry:

You know, it was just a morbid attraction that I had every since I was a little kid. No family was in the funeral business at all. My father who was an anthropology major, who used to be a paramedic back in the day, shared that fascination with me; but, he never took the steps to become an actual funeral director. But, he was basically the one who supported me through it. You know, my mother thought it was extremely strange, and, it kind of frightened her when I was a child.

Steve Estes:

Why did you decide to join the Air Force?

Greg Castleberry:

My father died and I could not stay in the funeral business any more. That's when it finally got to me.

Steve Estes:

Right. Obviously.

Greg Castleberry:

So, I enlisted in the military out of sheer compulsion.

Greg Castleberry:

1998, yes. I was actually very anti military my whole life, even in high school. I'm a very thick headed person. You know, when I make up my mind up about something it takes an act of God and Congress to change my or views on something.

Steve Estes:

How did your mom feel about you joining the military?

Greg Castleberry:

She thought it was wonderful.

Steve Estes:

Really? Can you talk about why?

Greg Castleberry:

My mother has always had a problem with the idea of me being a homosexual, and anything that is going to break the stereotype- which I don't really have any identifiable homosexual characteristics anyways. She didn't come right out and say that, but I always said that I should change my major to psychology because of the way that I can read between the lines. I can tell that was why she was so excited.

Steve Estes:

So, did you know or where you out as gay before you went into the Air Force.

Greg Castleberry:

Oh ya. I came out to both my parents when I was fifteen.

Steve Estes:

Oh wow, that's really young. You went in after "don't ask, don't tell?"

Greg Castleberry:

Oh ya. I went in even after that policy had been revised to "don't ask, don't tell, don't harass and don't pursue. f*?

Steve Estes:

Did that have anything to do with you going in?

Greg Castleberry:

No, but the Air Force did.

Steve Estes:

Talk about that.

Greg Castleberry:

I originally went in- like I said, it was out of compulsion- so, the first place I went to check out was the Marine Corps. Because, I just needed something totally different. I had only one aspect of training in jobs, which was basically the funeral service. Now, I consider myself a fairly intelligent person and I can do what ever I set my mind to, but technically I had only been trained to be an undertaker. Excuse me, a funeral director. I just walked into the Marine Corps and it had been so many years since I had taken the ASVAB, which is the Armed Service Aptitude Vocational Battery. Which basically shows your level of intelligence. And, I scored very very high. That, in a very unprecedented move the Marine Corps recruiter looked at me and said " I don't think that you fit in." I thought, okay, this marine is telling me he doesn't want me; and, he said that the Air Force is three doors down and he directed me to the Air Force. So, I walked in there with my ASVAB score in hand and I said the marine down there sent me over here. He said I wouldn't fit in the Marine Corps, and that is where it all started.

Steve Estes:

So, do you think that he could just tell that you were gay, or?

Greg Castleberry:

He was looking at my scores. He knew that I would not be able to be broken down, just from speaking to me and everything. I mean, I had already had my associates degree; I lived in the real world; I wasn't a criminal, I wasn't a bad child. I did not have this juvenile record behind me, which is typical for a marine, and, I'm not a gung ho person when it comes to killing. I'm not militant in any manner. So, as a recruiter, they know the signs to look for. I wasn't asking the typical questions. I was asking questions more along the lines of benefits and college education. You know. How is this going to affect me when I get out of the service? What jobs will I be qualified for, and stuff like that. And, of course, these aren't the typical questions that a marine core recruiter being asked by a directionless seventeen years old. Instead, these are the questions he getting asked by a semi educated twenty-year old.

Steve Estes:

Sure. So, what did that Air Force recruiter say that convinced you that Air Force was right for you?

Greg Castleberry:

Really, not much. I did not have your garden variety recruiter. My recruiter was very up front with me about everything. Basically, everything that she told me that would happen in boot camp happened in almost a verbatim manner. She said it is all a head game. You got to learn how to play the game, and all of that. Well, I love head games. I live for head games. You know, I get off on it. I basically had my mind already made up that this is what I was going to do. I did not have a lot of fears. I was still in a very deep, deep state of grieving—unbeknownst to me at the time. So, I mean, we're talking, this was four months after my father had already died. So, I knew this is what I wanted to do; but, yet, I had basically lost all fears of being, physical aspects of what was going to be involved in because, I wasn't in sports or anything in high school. I was in band. So, that's what scared me about the military in high school was because I hated P.E. So, I thought, well, I'm not going to go into the military, because of boot camp. So, basically, my only fear of going into boot camp as a twenty-year old versus my thoughts before, my only fear now was basically, God I hope they have stalls on the bathrooms, that's it.

Steve Estes:

So, what was boot camp like? I mean, can you talk about some of the head games and some of the physical stuff?

Greg Castleberry:

I have never stressed out in my life about is my t-shirt folded right. Did you know that you can get a pair of tighty-whities briefs folded into a four inch by six inch perfect square. Wow. That should be an Olympic event. I mean it was just. And I would catch myself getting stressed out over this and I would just have to sit back and go okay, it's just a game, it's just a game. But, I would try to bring some of my other comrades down with me because they were getting freaked out over the littlest things. But, these are kids that have been just picked out of the nest too. So, my drill instructor saw me doing this, basically, going around talking people down saying just calm down, you know its not the end of the world and all of that, and he made me dorm chief. Which I regret now because that gave me a lot of- so much for me standing in the back and doing what I'm told and staying unnoticed. Now I'm responsible for sixty other individuals and when they mess up it comes back on me. So, eh, me and my mouth.

Steve Estes:

Well was it a lot, also, that you were more mature then a lot of people?

Greg Castleberry:

Oh ya. That is exactly what it was. And, you know, my mother was a very verbally abusive woman; and you know, nothing bad on her. We both have accepted what's happened and we talk openly about it and things are cool now. But, growing up with her-boat camp was a cake walk. It really was. If I could go back and do it again I would. I actually had a lot of fun. It was like a six and a half week vacation.

Steve Estes:

So, what was your first assignment after boat camp? You went to tech training it sounds like?

Greg Castleberry:

Ya, I went to tech school and that was in Wichita Falls, Texas. That's where I actually started smoking again and, you know, doing my own things. Kind a reverting back to who I was before I went in, which, was nothing bad; but, that brainwashing didn't stick. It was, you know, water off a ducks back. I can pretty much blend in to my surroundings environment and do alright.

Steve Estes:

Now, was there any talk of homosexuality in boot camp or tech training?

Greg Castleberry:

I've never been surrounded by a bunch of guys my age or younger in that type of situation. One thing that really did surprise me and, I have never been able to figure this out, is, as a male, and if you study physiology and everything- with you having your doctorate I'm sure you done enough, anatomy classes- but, you know that there are certain instances that happen to the male human body in the morning. Stuff like that. When that ceases for six and a half weeks and, I don't know if it is the amount of stress that were under; but, everybody around week two started talking about how they were unable to get an erection at all. And, I don't know if it is possible a shot that they give us in our series of shots, that prevents us. And, if it is, I can kind of understand why, because it will cut down on your mind wondering off. You know, because a lot of stuff in boot camp is coed. I mean, we're in classes with females and stuff like that. And, for the few select of us how are not looking at the females, its beneficial for us also. So, I don't know. I never had that happen. I've always been a highly sexually active person, and then your libido, mentally and physically just to die, and it kinds of worries you after a while. I just found it very odd, the sexual references that straight men do. I've never experienced that before. How they will purposely act like homosexuals, and I'm sure their doing just for a laugh or the attention. Oh god, I have these mental pictures going through my head of some of the stuff that went on and I'm sitting there just kind of going, should I laugh at this. I don't want to laugh too hard. I don't want to seem like, you know. You're constantly worried about, you know, being found out about, especially in that situation. So, you know, some one who gets a hemorrhoid and they bend over and they go dude look at this, does that look bad and your like, what are you doing. There were times in there that were extremely uncomfortable for me. Namely, dealing with the classic cliché of guys who are sexual with their orientation. I'm sorry, who are comfortable with their sexual orientation are not going to think twice about joking like that or doing things like that, because to them, that just another guy. And to me, all my friends in high school were all female. I was not exposed to that type of humor or jokes and stuff like that, so, it was pretty uncomfortable in that aspect.

Steve Estes:

So, I assume you didn't know whether there were any other gay recruits serving with you? GS- You know. I don't know. I really didn't start finding that at until after boot camp, because, in boot camp honestly, your mind is in so many other places other then that: worried about if you're going to be able to do enough push-ups, if your going to be able to run, you got to worry about you facing movements or your going to have to keep on going to the back of the line and your not going to be able to have anything to eat. I mean just stupid stuff. There was one kid that approached me and said that he was bisexual; but, I think that was because he was looking for a way out. He didn't want to be there anymore. He started scratching the tops of his hands real bad with his nails to the point he would bleed. It's just common stuff that people do to make them think that they are nuts, or to get a medical discharge. So, the whole bisexual thing, I don't know, I don't buy that.

Steve Estes:

Okay, well let's get you passed tech school. I know your next training was a nuclear stuff; but I don't think you can talk very much about.

Greg Castleberry:

Ya. It was basically at an Air Force base in California. I was there, [but] didn't do much. It's actually an Air Force base not too terribly far from where you currently located. Which, I always wanted to go to San Francisco and being that close to it where I can smell it, I was extremely frustrated that I never got the chance to go there. Because you know, it's kind of like the Mecca.

Steve Estes:

Sure. Its kind of sad actually.

Greg Castleberry:

The only time I have seen it was from an airplane when we were grounded in 1989 when Oakland got hit with the earthquake. But, that was in California and in there again, was just training focused on what I was to do there, and, that was when I started my PRP which is Personnel Reliability Program. That's basically where you're monitored for a year to see if you are of adequate character to support and hold a top secret or better security clearance. You cannot buy over the counter medication. Phone calls can be monitored. You can be followed. I mean, you basically lose all rights.

Steve Estes:

So one question I have for that is, could you live an openly gay lifestyle if your...

Greg Castleberry:

No, no, no. And I didn't, and that's why I did not go to San Francisco on my time off. That's why I did not even mention going to San Francisco on my time off. Some one hey we're going to- you know that big art museum down there.

Greg Castleberry:

Isn't there one down there by the Wharf?

Steve Estes:

There's the DeYoung.

Greg Castleberry:

It's the De Young. That's the one I was thinking of. It started with a D. They had some sort of Faberge egg exhibit. You know, I'm like, well no because I really don't want to go down, I got this to do, you know. And I would get the invitations and think, you know, if they take me into San Francisco, man, I would start waving the flag so bad everyone would notice. No thank you. So, under that PRP I kept a very, very boring lifestyle. I guess if I were Catholic I would have made a good monk.

Steve Estes:

So. But, you got the top secret clearance after that year?

Greg Castleberry:

Ya. Ya. I finished my first six months in Italy.

Steve Estes:

Alright. We're gonna fast forward a little bit if that is okay, to when you found that you were going to involved with the cleanup of Kosovo campaign.

Greg Castleberry:

Actually, I found that out before I ever went to my first base.

Steve Estes:

Really? How did you find that at so early?

Greg Castleberry:

They were needing Air Force liaisons and those of us who were still new to the PRP program, who had not been officially cleared, and, they saw that we had assignments r1"7 over in Eastern Europe. Hey, he's on his way over there, we'll go ahead and grab him. So, I got to Italy IM processed and I immediately went to Incirlik Air Base in Turkey.

Steve Estes:

Okay. Can you talk in general terms about what you were doing?

Greg Castleberry:

Basically we're Air Force liaisons to the weapons to the logistics group that's going on. Whenever an unexploded ordinance from an enemy is brought in to- well it's taken into U.S. hands, basically NATO was out there collecting all this stuff. They bring it onto a Air Force base, we have to supervise that the Army EOD is following Air Force protocol in the detonation of unexploded ordinance. We're basically standing there watching them and making sure that they are grounded to the copper wire, and all of that-following Air Force rules.

Steve Estes:

Is there any fear that something could go wrong in these?

Greg Castleberry:

Oh ya. Because there were constantly Ally forces that were working with NATO that were getting their legs blow off by frag mines, anti-tank mines, personnel mines and stuff life that. So, you were constantly hearing about that stuff, and that wasn't because they were stepping on them, it was because of the careless handling of them. So, there was quite a bit of stress riding up there.

Greg Castleberry:

The Kosovo intervention, I did not know a whole lot about, because, I lost a lot of contact with what was going on in the world, especially in boot camp. In tech school, papers aren't readily available. I mean, you can go get them, but, you have to walk everywhere. And then when we get to Europe, by god, you were completely out of touch with what's going on. People talk about censorship over here, you have no idea how information the New York Times, for example, will spill out versus a publication coming out of Italy, for Germany. Now, Europe censors the hell out of their press, so, there was a lot of information that we were not knowing about, so, the only time you knew what was going on was by turning on CNN. But, I thought that was a well operated task force in comparison- I'm anti-war to begin with. I'm not to the point that I'm an anarchist, that I'm anti-government; but, if there is a way around it let's do it. That's why I like Clinton, I like Clinton's policies. I like the balance that was in the Clinton administration. You had a very middle of the road liberal Democrat president; but, yet, you had a very conservative Republican Secretary of Defense, William Cohen. It doesn't get more conservative then that, he'd give Donald Rumsfeld a run for his money; but, yet, you have the balancing act going on there. Whenever Secretary of Defense wanted to do something, you had to go through the President; well, the President would kind of bring him out of the clouds and vice-versa. So, exact opposite of what is going on right now. I thought Milosevic needed to be pulled out, there were horrible things going on over there; but, we took the proper steps. It was a NATO task force. We had strong allies, and we were in and out- boom, boom. Minimal casualties, it was how an operation should be. And, I don't know a lot about contingencies and reconnaissance because we're not taught that in the Air Force; but, as a civilian point of view, which, is how I was looking at it-ya-I don't think it could have worked any better. And of course were still in the wake of what happened in Mogadishu- that nightmare; so, we weren't too sure exactly how this was gonna happen. But, this was already going on while I wasn't listening, so, I know that was, kind of some turmoil in Eastern Europe, while I wasn't listening. Didn't think I would go over there, but, nothing bad came of it.

Steve Estes:

Sure. So, you're in the Air Force on September 11, 2001. Can you talk about your feelings when you first heard about that, where you were, and what you thought?

Greg Castleberry:

I was in Guam, and, I was actually on leave. My mother had been planning the trip to come see me in Guam. We were gonna celebrate her fiftieth birthday, which was on September 22. So, her original plan was to get there on September 14, 2001. Now, she had bought her plain tickets well in advance, were talking, like back in May of 2001. So, anyway, I get this frantic phone call from a friend of mine who was at Lajes Field, which is in the Azores, outside of Portugal- and, I was watching her dorm room for her- and she calls me, and it's about 2:30 in the morning in Guam, Wednesday morning, because I believe September the 11th was on a Tuesday here in the States. Lovely thing called the International Date Line.

Steve Estes:

Right. Right. I understand.

Greg Castleberry:

All of us in Guam had no idea what was going on, we all slept through it because it was the middle of the night for us. So, we're all waking up eight hours later, Towers had been down for eight hours. You know, were all waking up to this, none of us had the advantage of seeing it live. So, I get this call from her [female friend], she says: I'm not gonna be able to come in, you know, they grounded all the flights," and, I say, well what's going on. And, She said, the Twin Towers had been bombed, because, she didn't have a television, she just had a radio. And I say, bombed, again? You know, thinking what happened in 93. And she said go turn on the T.V. Well, I didn't have one, so I had to go to the base lodging- the base hotel. I had a friend who worked there, and I knew they had a big screen. I walk in there and there is about four people standing in front of it, and right when I walk in was about thirty minutes after the second Tower had already fallen. So, there showing clips- well, they're showing the live footage and all you can see is dust everywhere. And I'm like: well that's a hell of a bomb. You can't even see the Towers. And they guy next to me, I don't know who he was, he just said, " No the Towers are gone." And I said, "What do you mean gone?" He said, "Gone, they're gone, they fell." I'm like, what kind of bomb was that? So, needless to say, I was up for about twenty-four hours straight just thinking, okay, I'm on leave, what's going on. So, I'm in touch with my first sergeant saying are we gonna be deployed, what's happening here? [Sergeant] "I don't know, I don't know, but, don't leave the island, don't leave the island." Because my mom and I were gonna go to Saipan, to go gambling; but, no, no, that never happened. So, anyways, all the airports were reopened and my mother still came on September 15, non stop from San Francisco to Seoul, South Korea, which is like a thirteen hour flight. So, South Korea to Guam. The island of Guam was totally empty. It is usually inhabited by tons of Japanese- just like Hawaii- but, Japanese scare very easily, so, they were all gone. And, I was able to stay on leave. Just check in everyday. So, after my mother left, on the twenty-fifth of September, two days later, I was in Diego Garcia, building bombs.

Steve Estes:

This is for the tape, so, say again where Diego Garcia is.

Greg Castleberry:

Diego Garcia is in the South Indian Ocean, and it is an RAF base- Royal Air Force Base. And, it's not even an island, it's just an atoll. If you draw a line straight down from the tip of India, and just start going straight south past the equator, you will see the word Diego Garcia, but, you will not see it on the map. It's shaped like a horseshoe.

Steve Estes:

Okay. When say your building bombs, can you say anything more detailed then that?

Greg Castleberry:

Ya. That was actually the campaign that the press, here in the United States, got so upset about, because, the Department of Defense did not tell the press we were bombing Afghanistan until two weeks after we had already started. It was because they didn't want to see what happened in the Persian Gulf, during the first Gulf War, where enemy fighters were surrendering to CNN camera men. Troops were finding out more from CNN then they were from their company leaders. So, there was a big hush, hush that was going on. But, what we were doing, is we were building a bomb- a smart bomb called a J-Dam- which is a joint direct attack munitions. And what that is, that is a precision guided bomb that was being dropped by B-l's and B-52's. It's a five hundred pound general purpose bomb that has been attached with fins and a camera on the front. And, the operator of the aircraft will basically use those cameras- I'm sorry, these were laser guided. The infrared, they are programmed to seek out a certain target and they lock on that target, and they have like a three foot radius accuracy hitting from five hundred miles away. So, very, very expensive munitions, they were the first of their kind to be used in a situation like this. So, Honeywell and Lockheed Martin were very, very proud of what they put together for us.

Steve Estes:

And how do you feel about this, as kind of an anti-war person whose putting together bombs?

Greg Castleberry:

Well, I thought it's stupid of us to start bombing a country that they just happened to be from there. These people were in the Unites States for over a year, the ones who actually did the attack. Yes, you know half were actually Saudi Arabian they weren't even from Afghanistan; but, it was the Taliban government that we were after. And, basically what we did, is we rammed them further into the corner. And I look at he whole scheme of things now, and I'm like, well it kind of fell into place, it exactly what they wanted to do. But, you know, I paid the price for it, so, I would like to see some money-you know, maybe get some royalties off of some oil sales here. But, I didn't know what was going on then that I have a pretty good idea of what is going on know. And if I did-it's one of those clichés. If I would have known then what I know now I would have said, "Screw you guys. I'm an only child; I'm a contentious objector, bye." And, I would have saved myself, you know, having to take medication everyday for post traumatic stress disorder.

Steve Estes:

When were you sent to Afghanistan?

Greg Castleberry:

Sent to Afghanistan? I can't give the actual- it was after September 25th of 2001.

Steve Estes:

Okay. And what were your first impressions of Afghanistan?

Greg Castleberry:

I thought it was beautiful. I was expecting to see- and I been to Saudi Arabia several times, and I was expecting to this great big desert. And, Afghanistan looked like parts of New Mexico to me: high deserts, huge mountains- you would not believe the mountain ranges in that country, white capped with snow because it was the winter. And your flying over, looking at some of these places- and, like I told you, me father was an anthropologist and I have great appreciation for early man that lived in my part of the country, in New Mexico like the Ana-sasi and stuff like that. And, I'm seeing these homes done there that people still live in, and who knows when these were built. I wish I could have learned more about that area while I was there; rather than help destroy it. But, we went to an area to set up an air force base outside of Kabul, and we were there as Air force liaisons to make sure that as the munitions stock pile was being placed and put in order, to make sure everything was done to Air Force specifications. They're very, very picky about stuff like that in the government I understand.

Steve Estes:

Well when you're dealing with munitions, maybe that's not such a bad thing.

Greg Castleberry:

Ya, right. It's usually civilians doing it. So, that was my impression of the country, very timid people also, with the few encounters that I did have. Women would not look me in the eye. They don't smile or show any type of happiness to a Western male, because, according to some of the extreme- now, I don't think they're Shiite Muslims. I can't remember the name of what they are. But, anyway, their version of Islam that they are in Afghanistan, these extremists, they are equal to what we would call Amish here in the United States. It's very extreme, basically if a women looked at me and smiled and nodded her husband would basically have the right to kill her. I mean, its very- these are the people who are only happy when they are miserable, so, that's why they fight all the time.

Steve Estes:

Now, there was an incident of friendly fire that you were involved in. I was wondering if you could talk generally about that.

Greg Castleberry:

Generally what happened, it was during a training exercise and a marine's sidearm was locked and loaded and discharged. And, it went through the airman in front of me. It went completely through his bicep and lodged in my left shoulder.

Steve Estes:

What was your-I mean, how did you feel about that?

Greg Castleberry:

I didn't know I had been hit. I saw the guy in front of me get hit because I got splattered in the face. And, so, I'm wiping my face of dirt and blood and what not, and I'm like, "oh my god," and I go to push my self off the ground and realize that I can't feel my entire left arm. So, I'm focused on him, you know, where making a tourniquet and everything for him. Well, I go to take off my BDU blouse, which is the outer shirt of the camouflage- there the brown, you know, because where in the desert. I go to take off that top shirt called the blouse, and, the guy standing next to me goes "Holy shit." And, I said what and looked at my arm, and my entire left arm and left side of my shirt going done to my belt was completely saturated. I lost, a little over a pint-and-a-half, and, I was on the verge of passing out; but, you have such an adrenalin rush going on, you could be practically dead. Because, I think that the human body has what, like five pints of human blood in it.

Steve Estes:

Ya. I think you're talking about one-sixth of your blood.

Greg Castleberry:

Ya, pretty much. But, I lay in a hospital and, I mean, I never thought that they were gonna get enough blood back into me. I mean, I'm pretty white to begin with, but, that was ridiculous.

Steve Estes:

One question that I have, there's probably just some...

Greg Castleberry:

I don't know if you meant how I felt physically or emotionally. Emotionally, I'm sitting there going "I joined the Air Force man, this is not supposed to be happening.

Steve Estes:

Why don't you get a purple heart for friendly fire?

Greg Castleberry:

It wasn't enemy fire, and you weren't basically putting yourself in the line of enemy fire- that is what a purple heart is.

Steve Estes:

But, you were offered a different medal.

Greg Castleberry:

Mar-it-tor-ial Service Medal.

Steve Estes:

Right. And can you talk about why you ended up declining that?

Greg Castleberry:

Basically, because- Oh how can I work this. You have no idea how many times I wanted to tell people the whole, whole story. There are certain places where enlisted Air Force officials are not supposed to be. There are certain responsibilities that enlisted officials are not supposed to have. I'm usually very articulate. When you are given certain responsibilities that its not necessarily against the rules for you to have; but, when your told, look, we're gonna give you this type of power and, nothing bad is gonna happen, where just doing this as protocol. You happen to be the closest, with this type of clearance, for this type of situation that we have. Do this for us, and everything will be fine. In my language, kosher. So, I'm like, alright, sounds fun. And, then when the shit does go down, they're like, oh my God. After we get you all patched up and, you know, we put all this blood back in you, and everything, you have to go through a series of debriefings now and, tell what happened, you will be issued a statement on this is why you were there officially, and this is what happened officially. Basically, if I went to the press and said, "look, the Air Force put me into a position, that, you know, almost got me killed-" that's not my job, they were breaking the rules- the Air Force would go, no, here's the record and documentation with his signature on it saying this is what happened, and he's lying. It's his word against ours. I only thought this stuff happened in movies, man. I really did. So, officially what happened, is, I was there as an Air Force liaison. There with my security clearance manning an operation with other Department of Defense Service members, mainly from Army and Marine Corps, as they were setting up what is now an Air Force base outside of Kabul. Friendly fire incident, they wanted to award me the medal for going above and beyond, because I was doing an operation that was not part of my daily tasks in my career field, and I turned it down. And, If I could have seen him face to face, I could have told him exactly where he could have stuck that medal too. And, I told all of my World War II Veteranated family members what I did. I can hear a lot of them spinning in their graves too. Totally different war now folks; but, try telling that to an eighty year old Iwa Jima Vet. But, that is about as general as I can get.

Steve Estes:

That's fine, I get a sense of what happened. Here's a question for you, did you get out before the Iraq started?

Greg Castleberry:

We did not officially invade Iraq until March of 2003.

Steve Estes:

Would you have gone to Iraq had you still been in?

Greg Castleberry:

No, no. Not freely. If I would have had the option, of me doing the whole thing, of me being an only child and my father being dead, which is an old act that goes all the way back to World War II, If you're an only child and you have one surviving parent you are given the option. I was basically given the option while I was in Diego Garcia if I wanted to go home. And I said no, why would I want to go home? We're going after the people who tore up our country and our headquarters, the Pentagon. Of course, you know, we're all pumped up thinking that's the main objective, so, of course I didn't want to go home. I had become extremely motivated at that point.

Steve Estes:

But that changed, is what you're saying, between 2001 and 2002?

Greg Castleberry:

When you sit there and analyze what's happening and everything, and then when you get back State's side- you got to realize, I hadn't been State side for any extended amount of time in almost four-and-a-half years. So, I totally forgot what it was like to live over here and hear people with opinions. I felt like such an outsider because I listen to NPR and not Rush Limbaugh. I like A1 Franken and I hate Bill O'Reilly. I was definitely an outsider in that aspect. Which, I could never talk to people my age normally. So, I'm sitting here conversing with my supervisors who are senior enlisted officials, and lower ranking officers, and, there trying to fill my head with their bullshit and I'm trying to fill their heads with my bullshit. It was very healthy. I never felt like my brain was going stagnate while I was in the military. There was always someone to engage in a very arousing conversation with, unlike now.

Steve Estes:

This is a general question. How did, if at all, your sexuality influence your time in the military?

Greg Castleberry:

When things slowed down after I got back from Turkey and went back to Italy, I was done with PRP and I could have a life, so- a lot of my roots come from Austria, Germany, Czechoslovakia and places like that-I thought I would go and check out Europe on some leave. And, in going through Europe-I don't know if you've ever been through Europe or not, or had toured Europe alone. When I say alone, there two ways to see Europe, by bus or by yourself. There's a lot of gay people that travel to Europe. And, I remember going with a buddy of mine, and of course he wasn't gay and I never mentioned the fact to him that I was. And, no one ever thinks that when you're in the military overseas, because, you have no family. You know what, you better make friends with the people that you surrounded by, otherwise you're gonna be miserable. So, it's not uncommon to see two guys going out to eat together, you know, that are in the military. Because we're friends, we're not even thinking about it. There would only be certain times where I would be sitting there at Out Back in Guam and- you know, with a friend of mine- I'm thinking, woo, I wonder if anyone thinks we're a couple. But, other than that, that thought never enters you mind. So, as I'm touring around Europe, I'm looking at these gay couples, discretely, going wow, look at them enjoying it. And I'll see them looking back at me, and I'm like, what? And there thinking the same thing. There like, wow, look at those two G.I.'s. Just, screw the don't ask don't tell. Look at them; they're just doing it anyways. Of course that wasn't the case. And it became very frustrating, because I was like, you know what, I really wish that I had someone here- you know- that I could be more open with, and really share these same experiences. You know, my buddy over here wants to go to Potsdam, Germany, to go look at where Eisenhower signed the- come on, I don't want to look at that. I want to go to Milan, alright. So, just little conflicting things, but it starts to wear on you emotionally after a while because you kind of lose your own identity, after being a chameleon for so long. And that color sticks.

Steve Estes:

Well especially since you been able to be, kind of, out since you were fifteen for five years and then go back into the closet when your twenty.

Greg Castleberry:

When I say out-I mean-I never parade it around. I told my parents because they thought I was on drugs, and, I was like, no, no, no. So I had to get that myth out of their heads. You know, otherwise I never would have been able to experiment with anything. So, I had to put their minds at ease and that is why I was forced to come out. But, other then that, I never even told any of my friends- well, except the lesbian that I went to prom with. How cliché is that? But, she and I would leave town when we wanted to go do things. You know, we hang outside of the gay clubs at like two o'clock at night, because were too young to get in. So, we're waiting as everyone comes pouring out to go to these after hour's parties. Well, I look at it now and I'm like, well you know, that was pretty stupid. No telling what could have happened; but, hey, I always done my own thing. So, I never really had a problem being secretive. It's just kind of my nature anyway to not let everybody know- or to not let a person know everything about me.

Steve Estes:

When you were in, was Barry Winchell murdered in '99?

Greg Castleberry:

Oh ya. He was a jumper right? He was in the hundred and first Airborne. I dated-woops-I know a person whose with the hundred and first. This was after I had already go out though. Ya, that happened when I was- was that in '99 or 2000?

Steve Estes:

Maybe 2000. The dating is a little off.

Greg Castleberry:

That was in Texas though. I think that is where their jump school was, no.

Steve Estes:

Kentucky, maybe?

Greg Castleberry:

Kentucky.

Steve Estes:

So, was there any worries on your part that people would find out?

Greg Castleberry:

You know what that spawned in the Department of Defense, homosexual awareness training.

Steve Estes:

Talk about that a little bit.

Greg Castleberry:

That is the stupidest thing I have ever seen in my life. Basically it's saying that there are gays in the military. If you thing someone is gay here's what to say and what not to say, because, this is considered harassment, [and] this is considered harassment. You are at fault if you do-I mean, it was just a bunch of bullshit. Basically the government is saving their ass so that they cannot be brought up on a civil lawsuit by the family latter on, which, is exactly what happened with the army guy, Winchell.

Steve Estes:

So, what did they say that couldn't be said.

Greg Castleberry:

Oh God, I wish that I could remember verbatim. Basically, it was a reiteration of existing policy: don't ask, don't tell, don't harass, don't pursue. You need to be aware that there are homosexuals in the military, deal with it. Do not make any types of jokes about this- you know- even if you think it is funny. A guy dressing as a woman for Halloween, if that is offensive to someone and someone brings it to your attention that that's offensive, change your outfit. Basically, we don't want these gays to do a big uprising in or militia right now. That's how I was reading it. You know, they're here, deal with it. And, you can, according to-I almost said scripture- according to Department of Defense doctrine, you can serve and be openly gay.. .(end of tape)

Steve Estes:

Okay, according to the Department of Defense protocol, what were you saying?

Greg Castleberry:

Right. You can be admittedly a homosexual. You can verbally announce that you are homosexual, and, you cannot be kicked out just for that verbal admission. You cannot. When people are saying that they're being kicked out of the military, it's because they have been caught in the act. Now, in the act is very, very descriptive. In the act can be anything that someone might construe as being a homosexual act. I knew a guy who was stationed in Portugal, who, got kicked out of the military because there was a photograph of him with a dildo in his mouth. I am not kidding you at all. I am not kidding. That was considered in the act. [So is] Holding hands, living together. Now that's very specific, so, it's just better for you not to even say that you're homosexual. But, trust me, you know there are some- God, I could not tell you the flamers I have seen in uniform. It's almost frightening. And they're usually in the non-militant, like chaplain assistance or in the medical group and stuff like that. And I'm looking at them going, how in the hell did you ever get through boot camp acting like that. That is absolutely freaking amazing. You can be known to be gay or even suspected of being gay, and you can even say you're gay; but, until you are caught in the act, nothing they can do about it.

Steve Estes:

Did you know of anyone who was gay who you thought was discriminated against?

Greg Castleberry:

Discriminated against? Now, I didn't know him personally, but, I knew of him. Besides from the guy I just told you about with the picture. The man, whether he was gay or not, I think that is a pretty indecent thing to do to someone who's fighting for a government cause. But, in stories like that, you don't know the whole thing, but, I knew that a homosexuality charge was used against him. So, it could have been a mountain of other things behind it, but, homosexuality was one of them. Directly, no. Indirectly, oh ya, we all suffer from it. We all suffer from it. People stop talking to you. People are afraid to be seen alone with you, worried about what other people are thinking. I've never really been the subject of any direct discrimination. I guess it's because I come across as being rather intimidating. I mean, I'm six-foot five and I am not a small person and I always been a very big person. It's that German compound. But, I guess that is why I have never been on the receiving end of any discrimination, because I don't fit a lot of stereotypes. I can at times, when my true self comes out; but, like I said, I'm very conscious of my surroundings and therefore I know how to behave to not draw attention to myself. Well, that, and my mother's favorite words to me: "don't you embarrass me."

Steve Estes:

What do you think, actually today, of the don't ask, don't tell, don't harass, don't pursue?

Greg Castleberry:

I think they should get rid of it and say "look, here's a paper. Sign it if you want to enlist. This is what happens in the military. If don't want this to happen to you, don't enlist." We all know what we're going into. I don't think we should have any special protection. This is what makes a very middle of the road person, when it comes to a lot of my political philosophies. I don't think we deserve any special protection in the military from discrimination, because, we know what the military is all about. If you don't think you can control your actions and your sex drive, surrounded by a bunch of people of the same sex, then you have no business in the military. Not because it's gonna be bad for you, because, it's gonna be bad for the people that don't like you. When you have a very big homophobe, who is laying in a foxhole next to you and you two have to rely on body heat to survive, that guy is gonna rather freeze to death then to spoon with a known gay. That compromises military strategy. That compromises an entire mission.

Steve Estes:

So, you don't think that changing the policy will make that guy change his mind, like, in the same way that when African American were brought into the military.

Greg Castleberry:

That's not what the military is all about. African Americans, you know they're black by looking at them. You don't know I'm gay by looking at me. And, if he doesn't know that, he doesn't need to know that. If it's gonna affect his performance, I'm not gonna compromise any of our lives. You know, the military was forced to accept integration-and trust me; I am so not against integration by any means. I'm using this as an example because, you know a black person is black just by looking at them. You can tell by their appearance. Therefore, the force change in policy was made. You had to adjust your way of thinking. I don't think that a true gung-ho, kill, kill, kill should be forced to accept that he is fighting alongside a homosexual. That homosexual should know how to keep it under control. Know the people to talk to, and know the people not to talk to. If I can do it, anybody can. Some people do it just for the challenge: "Well, no one is gonna tell me that I can't join," and you know, here goes Mrs. Thing signing up. No. No. You don't need that. We don't need that, because, it totally breaks down what is being drilled into us, the military. Now, I don't get a lot of sympathy from gay activists on this subject, but, damn it, they were never in the military. They have no clue what I'm talking about. If they were in the military, they were not in active combat, so, they have no clue what I'm talking about. And, of course, it's just my opinion.

Steve Estes:

Oh sure, but, that's all I ask for, so, it's fine. When did you leave the Service?

Greg Castleberry:

2002.

Steve Estes:

And, why?

Greg Castleberry:

My enlistment period had ended, but, I was held on a stop/want. Meaning, until, more people who were trained became available to fill the post I was about to vacate, I could not leave. Plus, I had an ammonia.

Steve Estes:

So, you were in the hospital?

Greg Castleberry:

Ya. This was after I got shot. I got communal ammonia from laying in a nasty hospital bed in Ramstein, Germany.

Steve Estes:

And. Did you actually make it back to the States in 2002?

Greg Castleberry:

Oh ya, Ya, I made it back to my home of record, which, is Albuquerque, New Mexico. Had an aunt that picked me up at the airport. Ate some Mexican food, and, a week later, I moved here to Panama City.

Steve Estes:

Why did you move to Panama City?

Greg Castleberry:

Okay. When I answer this, the person that I am about to talk about-just because I am talking about him, does not necessarily mean that we ever engaged in any type of homosexual activity, but, it is a person that I met while stationed together. I am not gonna say what base, but, this person had been transferred to a base here in the states, in Panama City. And we decided to continue to live together though I was going to be a civilian, so, that's why I moved here.

Steve Estes:

Okay. So, what do you do now that you're not in the service?

Greg Castleberry:

I'm an assistant general manager at a hotel. I have only been doing this for about a year. I have been here for almost three years now. Previous to that, I was the weekend news director for an NBC affiliate here in Panama City Beach.

Steve Estes:

On air?

Greg Castleberry:

No, no, no. News director, meaning, I'm the monkey the monkey that sits behind the board and punches all the buttons. And that was on the weekend and then during the week, I was a commercial producer for a photographer. I had always wanted to work in television, so, I tried it and hated it.

Steve Estes:

In your email, you said that one of the things that you wanted to do now is to mentor people who are gay, or, in the service who are gay. How do you do that?

Greg Castleberry:

Basically, these are people that I meet and talk to on line. I know how unforgiving it can be to be so far away from anybody. Now, these are people that I talk to, via, on line that are overseas. If your gay and in the military, and your State side, you have absolutely nothing to bitch about. You can live your lifestyle here, never be found out, and serve twenty plus years, and, separate with honors and benefits. Overseas is a totally different thing, because, your too afraid of losing the friends that you have over something so stupid. But, it happens. And, a lot of people that are overseas did not choose to be overseas. I chose to be overseas, so, there is a difference. But, regardless, it's still very hard when you can not be yourself. And the friends you do make, like I said, you don't want to lose them. So, your to afraid of being yourself completely. Now, people aren't stupid, especially females. A female can spot a gay guy instantly, especially when the meet, because he's not scoping her out most of the time. So, a lot of my friends happen to be female. When I talk to these individuals, I'm basically telling them- I'm giving them the advice that I made and the rules that I made for myself and what helped me survive. Which will all pass first of all. This isn't forever. Don't compromise your future over something so mediocre as your sexuality. If you truly have nothing else going for you in this world, and your military career is you last option, don't screw it up. It's totally not worth it. The big problem with this dang age is celibacy. I'm not an advocate for forced celibacy; but, yet, sex is not the only thing that matters. And, when you try to preach this into a young man, it's a hard pill to swallow; but, if you're talking to a person that truly wants advice, they'll take it. And, it worked for me. It honestly did. I'm not saying that I was totally celibate, but, you know when and where to play and when not to. But, I don't want to see our military, our defense, fill up with a bunch of advocates for a cause that doesn't belong in our defense sector. I'm not saying that gays don't belong in the military, I'm saying advocates who are joining just to prove a point have no business in the military because the have ulterior motives. And, therefore, it compromises everything that our defense plan stands for. Which, isn't much anymore.

Steve Estes:

This is kind of a summation question, so, take your time and think about it. I you could sum up how military service affected your life, what its legacy for you was, what would you say.

Greg Castleberry:

It opened my eyes to what bureaucracy actually is. Like I said, my mother was in state government, so, I always had the pleasure of her being in these wonderful moods when she would come back from Santa Fe, meeting with- you know- secretary of human services and lieutenant governor or whatever, and listening to her talk about how she would love and support me no matter what I do in my life as long as I don't become a murderer or a politician. And, I never really understood the politician thing until I joined the military. And, I thought, nobody can give me a direct answer on anything. So, here layeth my lesson in civics basically. Nothing like hands on, you know. I do agree with the fact that, people don't need to know everything that goes on, because, if we did this country would collapse out of total fear, of how we even survive day by day. Ignorance is bliss, you know. And, that's what basically draws me to a lot of my assumptions and my opinions on what happens in the world today- and my extreme discuss for what happens today. But, on the plus side of all of this, I gained an inexplicable amount of self confidence. I did things in the military that I never dreamed possible, physically and mentally. I saw places that I never know existed. I know Guam was out there; but, I didn't know exactly where it was. I have never seen a penguin in the wild until I went to Antarctica. Reykjavik, Iceland is freaking awesome-I mean, volcanoes, come one. I've not been to two continents, and, that's Africa and South America. So, I think I have done a lot for twenty-six, and, I have mostly the military to thank for that.

Steve Estes:

Is there anything that I didn't ask you about, that, you think is important to get on the record for the Library of Congress and for Veterans History Project?

Greg Castleberry:

I think we pretty touched every thing that I can think of- you know-I don't the full extent of your work, of what your summation of everything is going to be on this; but, from the sounds of it, there has always been homosexuals in the military. You've either known about it, or, you haven't. That's a known fact, even throughout the beginning of civilization. And, these were people who did not use their sexual orientation as a crutch. I am so not for anybody using anything that they can tolerate and handle and keep under control as a crutch. Now, if someone has one leg, or something, I'm not gonna sit there and go, get off your ass. If it is something that they can control, like marijuana smoking and stuff like that, then ya- you know- quit bitching and do your job. But, there are those of us who served quietly, and it's not because we are forced to serve quietly. We serve quietly, because, when we describe ourselves being gay is not the first thing that comes out of our mouths. We were airmen; we were soldiers who happened to be gay. Kind of a play on words; but, it means a lot.

Steve Estes:

Ya. No. I appreciate you saying that. I think that is actually a real good place to stop the interview. Let me say officially Greg, thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me about this stuff, and I'm gonna turn of the tape, alright?

 
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  October 26, 2011
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