UNCW student speaks of service under DADT
Published: Friday, October 5, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, October 24, 2012 20:10
After the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell in 2011, one UNCW senior who had traded her desert uniform for a black shirt and jeans finally switched her double life for an open one. Laura Siljander is gay and from the moment she joined the Air Force in 2009 until 2011, her sexual preference was kept secret.
In 2010 there were about 71,000 lesbian, gay and transgender persons serving in the US military, according to a study published in May of 2010 by the Williams Institute of UCLA. Like Laura they kept it a secret to save their jobs because of a policy that prevented them from disclosing their sexual orientation, called Don't Ask Don't Tell. When President Obama passed the bill that would repeal the military’s almost 10-year policy in 2011, Siljander was in the Air Force Reserve- and a UNCW student.
“Because I’m gay I didn’t have to live that double lifestyle anymore,” said Siljander. “It definitely boosted my morale.”
Siljander sits with one shoeless foot tucked underneath her outside the Fisher Union on Wednesday afternoon. The crowd flowing into the building for food pauses as they catch a glimpse of Bacon, Siljander's miniature pig, squirming and snorting in her hands. Many students stop and ask her for a picture. Siljander obliges, getting Bacon to look in the direction of the camera.
“But I was dating someone who was still active duty so it was nice to actually be able to hold hands in public, to actually be able to do normal things,” said Siljander.
During her time in active duty Siljander was accused of violating the DADT policy twice.
“They cannot report you for being homosexual but they can report you for performing homosexual acts,” said Siljander.
A fellow service member wrongly accused Siljander of kissing another female outside the barracks one night and reported to her superiors. Once a report or accusation is made the military is forced by policy to put the accused under investigation.
“It’s not like a court marshall where it’s all formal but there are attorney’s involved, statements, witnesses and alibis,” said Siljander.
Siljander maintained her innocence throughout the investigation period and the accuser was eventually honorably discharged from the military for lying, but not before Siljander had to endure months of investigation.
From 1994 to 2009 there were a little over 14,000 service members discharged from the military due to violations of DADT according to the DADT Digital Archive Project. Those discharged before the 2011 repeal are able to re-apply to the military and will be evaluated on the same standards they were first accepted on.
Siljander was stationed in Mississippi at the time of her first investigation and was there for the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. She was not allowed to work when under investigation so she finished her job training in tech school and volunteered to rebuild houses after the hurricane.
“It was a great cause but I still couldn’t go anywhere, I couldn’t move on,” said Siljander.
Within a year of finishing boot camp Siljander and her squadron were deployed to Iraq. Siljander did convoys, taking supplies to different locations. When a base was mortared Siljander would perform searches and patrols in the aftermath.
In her squadron, only those closest to Siljander knew of her homosexuality and acted towards her like they would act towards a heterosexual service member.
Siljander thinks her friendliness and open personality kept those that did not accept or agree with her sexuality at bay. She even believes that she changed some people’s minds on how they felt about serving with a homosexual service member.
“When they’d get to know me first and then found out, I wouldn’t face any backfire from it,” said Siljander.
While deployed in Iraq Siljander thought she was treated a little differently by the men she served with not because of her homosexuality but because she was a female.
While stationed in the Middle East a male officer cut in front of her while Siljander was waiting in line for food.