The first openly gay general in the U.S. Army will join the command staff of Fort Benning, a sprawling military base in Columbus, just five years after the military repealed “Don't Ask, Don't Tell.”
Brig. Gen. Tammy Smith will be installed as commander of the 98th Training Division during ceremonies at the base on Sunday morning. Smith's military career spans 29 years and she most recently has served as the Army Reserve deputy chief of staff.
Smith will take her new post at an 11 a.m. change of command ceremony on Nov. 8 at the parade field adjacent to the National Infantry Museum. When she was promoted to brigadier general in 2012, Smith became the first openly gay general in the Army. Smith replaces Brig. Gen. Michaelene Kloster.
The Army repealed its “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy on same-sex relationships in September 2011. Smith’s relationship with her wife, Tracey Hepner, became public in April 2012 when Smith was promoted to brigadier general. In Army tradition, Hepner pinned the star on her spouse.
Smith comes to Georgia just five years after LGBT activists in Atlanta celebrated as President Obama repealed the military's ban on openly gay servicemembers in December 2010. After the repeal took effect in September 2011, Smith married her partner, Tracey Hepner, in front of the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C.
But Smith kept a wall between her professional and personal lives, she told an Out & Equal Workplace Summit in October. Via Dallas Voice:
Less than a year after Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was repealed in 2011, Smith married her wife in front of the Jefferson Memorial. But she continued to keep her private life separate from her service. So when she was promoted, she had to come out to her superior for the first time.
Tradition is that a spouse pins the new insignia on the officer’s uniform.
Smith thought a good time to come out to her commander would be at his retirement party, held about a month before her promotion ceremony. What she forgot was that everyone else in his command would be attending as well. So that night she got to introduce her wife, Tracey, over and over.
At her own promotion ceremony, Smith realized she had spent so many years keeping her two roles separate that she had forgotten to thank her wife from her remarks.
Smith discussed the significance of having her wife pin her in an interview with National Public Radio.
“It is not like I went around and told anybody,” Smith said in that interview. “I just felt a sense of relief. I think what made it different on the promotion was that repeal had taken place. Tracey is a member of my family. I don’t really think of it as I came out so much as her participation gave people a view into my authentic life — our authentic life. I don’t think it feels so much I came out — though I have seen a couple of headlines in the paper that apparently I did — but it was more about the recognition of family and the fact that Tracey is indeed my family.”
[photo via U.S. Army]