DADT repeal: Remembering the past, looking to the future

349th Air Mobility Wing/Public Affairs
Story by Staff Sgt. Daniel Phelps

Date: 06.22.2017
Posted: 12.08.2017 11:59
News ID: 258030

They raised their hands, committing their lives to the service, knowing exactly what was expected of them and what sacrifices they would have to make.

“Joining the Air Force was the best decision I ever made,” said Maj. Maria-Rocio Vazquez, 349th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron flight nurse. “I knew Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was there, but I wanted to serve regardless.”

Vazquez was encouraged to commission by her now spouse, Heather Bradley, an Air Force Reserve captain and equal opportunity manager for the 349th and 60th Air Mobility Wings. Vazquez entered the Air Force Reserve in 2009. But before doing so, she was required to sign a piece of paper stating she would not participate in any homosexual behavior.

Master Sgt. Renea Zachary, 571st Mobility Support Advisory Squadron defense travel system cell, enlisted in the Air Force in 2003, though she wasn’t out of the closet yet.

“I dated guys the first year,” she said. “It was hard coming to terms with who I was. Fortunately, I had a good support system to help me through it.”

Zachary explained that during this time, these support systems tended to find each other.

Unfortunately, prior to the DADT repeal this wasn’t always the case.

Zachary recalled during her time on active duty, she would be out at bars with her friends and they would be nervous because the Air Force Office of Special Investigations would be patrolling them.

Others would be called in for questioning on multiple occasions regarding their personal lives.

Zachary met her wife, Yakita, while she was stationed at Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England around 2009.

“We met at a comedy club when we went out with a group of mutual friends,” she said.

Vazquez also met her wife before the repeal. Zachary and Vazquez both had to hide their relationships.

“She was just my friend and roommate,” Zachary said. “We couldn’t expose our relationship.”

Award ceremonies were especially hard, Vazquez said.

“No one knew at the time,” she explained. “She was just my ‘battle buddy,’ my ‘friend.’”

This time in history was very frustrating to those who were affected.

“I often thought, ‘Why couldn’t I have the same rights as everyone,” Vazquez said. “But, I knew what I was getting into.”

Master Sgt. Christy Jeffreys, 79th Air Refueling Squadron, joined in 1996. She was slightly nervous about being outed, but she was always surrounded by co-workers who supported her.

“I had a really good community; we were like family,” she explained.

“You just had to feel out the person,” Zachary agreed.

Finally, on Sept. 20, 2011, DADT was repealed and sense of empowerment overcame those in hiding.

“When that happened, I felt this power released, like shackles came off of me,” Zachary said. “I felt like I was no longer a second-best Airman.”

“I felt like I could be a full citizen,” added Vazquez.

Soon after, on Sept. 3, 2013, same-sex couple were able to not just be out, but their spouses could receive full benefits.

“It was such a memorable moment when I was finally able to introduce Heather as my spouse,” Vazquez said. “I will forever cherish the memory of her sending me off on my deployment to Afghanistan. These moments helped solidify my commitment and feelings of being valued for my abilities.”

Vazquez also enjoyed knowing her wife would be protected in case something happened while she was deployed.

They recognize though the policy and laws have changed, it will take time for individual’s minds to change.

“Before, people could talk trash about homosexuals, and we didn’t feel like we could say anything without outing ourselves,” Zachary said. “Now, people who have that mentality are better about keeping their opinions to themselves.”

Jeffreys pointed out that if someone expresses any kind of discrimination or abuse based on a person’s orientation, the victim is protected and they have advocates to talk to if a situation arises.

Even so, after being closeted for years, it still requires some acclimation to be open, Vazquez said.

“I was so used to hiding; I was conditioned to accept it,” she explained. “I’m still cognizant of hand-holding (in civilian clothes) and such.”

They pointed out that the future looks bright. Zachary and her wife have adopted two children and are in the process of adopting a third.

Deployed members can celebrate the return of their loved ones without any fear of repercussions for embracing their significant other.

“I can show the world who has been my rock, my support, my mentor, my partner, and one of the reasons I fight for my country,” Vazquez said.

“We’ve made some huge strides and are headed in the right direction,” Jeffreys said.

“The Air Force is truly progressing and embracing change,” said Vazquez. “Change and diversity are a good thing. If someone raises their hand to serve, they should enjoy all the rights.”