DADT repeal strengthened AF integrity

JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. -- Integrity (in-ˈte-grə-tē)


1: The quality of being honest and having strong moral principles
2: The state of being whole and undivided

Integrity First, Service Before Self, and Excellence in All We Do. I have been living these concepts my entire life. However, living them became problematic during my time at the U.S. Air Force Academy when I realized I was gay.

Suddenly, my life became a secret, cloaked in deception, and I felt like I was forced to lie, forced to be, at least partially, dishonest. I was torn in so many ways, divided by my desire to serve in the military, fly planes, and have a career in the Air Force, and by Don't Ask Don't Tell (DADT), which made me feel that part of who I was would have to die.

This feeling of division got worse when I met Kate seven years ago. I've always wanted to excel in the military, but I knew meeting Kate might affect my success because she's the person I wanted to spend my life with. Because of DADT, I couldn't choose both a career and love, so I chose my career.

And solitude.

It was service or self, and I chose service. DADT was keeping me from reaching my full potential as an officer and as a person.

In the wake of this choice, I worked hard to find my place in the Air Force. I have always excelled in teams and I've always been a leader. I've been the captain of every soccer and rugby team I've played on. I was a three-time All-American rugby player, a two time National Champion, and a National Champion MVP. What I love about teams is that on the field, teammates trust each other and work together for one purpose: winning.

The Air Force is made great by the same relentless pursuit of excellence my teams embraced, and I desperately needed the Air Force to trust me and understand that the person I love would not affect my performance. Instead, being able to wholly embrace the person I am would do nothing but enhance my individual performance and strengthen our team.

I finished pilot training in 2007 in the midst of force reductions. I watched as good officers left the service so they could live their lives openly and be part of organizations that fully embraced them. I watched as the Air Force team lost great teammates because of DADT, and I knew that when my commitment was up, I too would be faced with the same choice. I lived that anxiety daily for the next four years.

The 2011 repeal of DADT changed everything. Shortly after the Supreme Court ruled The Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional, and Washington state legalized gay marriage, Kate and I got married. She and I are both officers and pilots. We love our jobs and we are looking forward to serving together at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, finally flying the same airframe, the C-17 Globemaster III.

I spent six of my nine years in the Air Force hiding under DADT, uncertain of my future. Now, while I am doing the same job as I did under the policy, I am free to fulfill my potential and I know that I will not be forced to choose between my career and the rest of my life.

Our Air Force team is made stronger by the pride we have in ourselves, in our Airmen, and in our mission. The biggest difference between the time under DADT and now though, is that now I get to serve openly beside the person I've chosen to spend my life with - Maj. Kathryn Benson, United States Air Force.