War Journal: Coming Out Pre-deployment
By Pepe Johnson
An important lesson I’ve learned over the past 10 years is that you don’t come out just once, you come out again and again over the course of your life. It doesn’t necessarily get any easier, but never once have I regretted the decision to be honest about who I am.
I first came out to my family in 2001, shortly after Sept. 11. A little more than a year later I came out to my commander, and the investigation began that ultimately resulted in my discharge from the Army. Yet another year later I started on my own journey to the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) by wandering from booth to booth at the Dallas Pridefest asking about LGBT veterans. I was a bit naive and certainly inexperienced, but it was a modest start to a remarkable adventure that took me from Dallas to places such as Miami, Charleston, W.V., and Vermillion, S.D., spreading the word about DADT and why it should be repealed.
Sitting in the Senate gallery when Sen. Evan Bayh of Indiana rapped the gavel announcing the bill’s passage, I realized it was anything but the end of the journey for me. It was a fork in a trail that is now taking me around the world. Once certification was completed, I returned to the Army. Before, I was a field artilleryman serving in the regular Army, but on Oct. 13, 2011, I joined the Army Reserve as military police. As I type this, I am serving as a team leader in the 304th Military Police Company out of Bluefield, W.Va., and we are preparing to deploy to Afghanistan.
The mobilization process has been intense, time-consuming and, at times, frustrating. Though I haven’t intentionally hidden my orientation, coming out to my brothers- and sisters-in-arms in the 304th MP hasn’t been a priority with all the training we undertook this summer. Our training is complete so, with my one-year anniversary in the Army Reserve approaching and the one-year anniversary of repeal behind us, I took the opportunity to come out to my entire squad on National Coming Out Day.
For me, at this time and in this place, coming out is not a political statement as much as it is a chance to demonstrate the trust and confidence I have in my troops to be professional and treat me with the respect I deserve as their leader, fellow Soldier and human. It is a declaration of my commitment to my personal integrity, to leadership and, perhaps most important of all, to love in all its forms.
So here’s how coming out to my troops went:
ME: So today is National Coming Out Day and…
SPECIALIST 1: Sar’nt, we already know.
ME: What?! How’d you know? Who…?!
SPECIALIST 2: It’s all over Google, Sergeant.
SPECIALIST 3: Yeah, we had to a do a background check on
our team leader.
ME: Well, in that case, Carry On!
And carry on we do. Over the coming months I hope to share some of my personal experiences being deployed, being open and honest about who I am and what it’s like being back in uniform. The journey continues and, much like 10 years ago, I don’t know where it will lead. If the past is any indication, I have much to look forward to.
About the Writer
A native of Clarksburg, W.Va., U.S. Army Sgt. Pepe N. Johnson is a 1999 graduate of Fairmont State College where he earned his Bachelor of Science in business administration. Sergeant Johnson served as a field artilleryman at Fort Sill, Okla., from 2000 until 2003 when he was discharged because of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” While serving at Fort Sill, he was selected as Fort Sill’s Soldier of the Year in 2001. Back in the Army as a reservist and embarking on a deployment to Afghanistan, he will update OutServe Magazine readers via his war journal.