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OutServe Magazine | April 17, 2014

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First Openly Gay Flag Officer Promoted

First Openly Gay Flag Officer Promoted
Sue Fulton

by Sue Fulton
OutServe Communications Director

It was a low-key ceremony, befitting the officer Lt. Gen. Jack Stultz referred to as a “quiet professional.”

At the Women in Military Service for America Memorial, at Arlington National Cemetery, on what Gen. Stultz and Chaplain Robert Pleczkowski called “a great day for the Army,” Tammy Smith was promoted to Brigadier General, her stars pinned on by her wife Tracey Hepner, co-founder of the Military Partners and Families Coalition, and her father, Jack Smith.

All the trappings were present – the playing of honors, a rousing rendition of the National Anthem, the Pledge of Allegiance (led by a young boy whose carefully perfect recitation made everyone smile as they joined in), the invocation, reading of the orders, unfurling of the new general’s flag – right down to the Army Song. General Stultz spoke glowingly of Smith’s performance working for the U.S. Army Reserve, about her volunteering for Afghanistan in the thankless job of Army Reserve Liaison Officer – “It’s a high-profile job, because you never get noticed until something goes wrong with a soldier. That’s why you have to have your best and brightest in there,” he said.

There were just a few moments in the ceremony when we were reminded that here was, at last, an openly gay general officer.

The official party was introduced: “Her father, Mr. Jack Smith; and her partner, Ms. Tracey Hepner.” After the formal pinning by Mr. Smith and Ms. Hepner, Smith removed her tunic, and in her dress shirt – still adorned with Colonel’s birds – she went downstage to Hepner’s parents. She knelt on one knee so that her mother-in-law, in a wheelchair, and father-in-law could replace the birds with general’s stars.

Newly promoted, BG Smith spoke movingly of her mom, who passed away in 2009, then mentioned her family briefly: “My dad, from Oregon; the Hepners from Ohio.” She followed that by saying, simply, “I am just so pleased that my family could participate in this ceremony today.” Simple words, loaded with meaning for gay and lesbian service members whose spouses and families were, for so long, not included.

In her new role as the deputy chief of staff for the Army Reserve, Gen. Smith’s responsibilities include looking out for the families of Army Reserve, making sure that pay and benefits are administered, and that they get the support to which they are entitled. She refuses to be drawn into a discussion about the fact that her own spouse gets none of these benefits. Her focus, she says, is on doing her job well, which means leading and taking care of her soldiers and their families.

In Smith’s speech, she spoke about “standing on the shoulders of giants,” women in the military who’d broken barriers, who’d been “firsts,” who’d “broken glass ceilings but got scratched in the process.” I can only imagine that in the future, gay and lesbian generals and admirals will be open and proud of their families, and will show the humility that Tammy Smith showed today – and thank her for being first.

Lt. Gen. Jack Stultz, Chief of the Army Reserve, promotes Tammy Smith to the rank of Brigadier General in the position as his deputy.

Tracey Hepner, co-founder of the Military Partners and Families Coalition, pins her wife’s first star to her shoulder during Brig. Gen. Tammy Smith’s promotion ceremony Aug. 10, 2012. Gen Smith assumed the position as the Deputy Chief of the Army Reserve and is the highest ranking openly gay service member to date.

With the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” a year ago, Brig Gen Smith can publicly recognize the sacrifices that her wife has made, as so many officers rightly do at moments like this.

“For years, gay and lesbian generals and admirals were forced to hide their families in order to protect their careers. It is a great day for our military and for our nation when this courageous leader is finally able to recognize her wife for her support and sacrifice in the same way that all military families should be recognized for their service to our country,” said Sue Fulton, a 1980 West Point graduate and member of the OutServe Board of Directors.

*Photos by Todd Burton