Courage: An Intelligence Officer Finds Courage – In a Ring

| September 20, 2011 | 9 Comments

At the age of nineteen, I began a destructive life of deception, lies, and evasion with myself and the government of the United States of America. The day this happened was like any other day in Amherst, Massachusetts in the winter–cold, gray, and slightly breezy. I was wearing a maroon button-up shirt, khaki pants, and an old pair of worn-out brown boots when I made my way to Detachment 370, the local Air Force ROTC unit.

I sat in a small conference room adorned with 1980’s wood-paneling on the second floor of an aging building, waiting for Staff Sergeant H (SSgt) to bring in my paperwork so I could finally apply to join the Air Force. She was a determined woman who walked and spoke with an air of authority that rivaled my future Commander. As we went through the forms, I became increasingly excited about what I was about to embark upon. The history, the tradition, the honor, the integrity …

Before I signed each paper, SSgt H would look me sternly in the eyes and ask if I had any questions. No ma’am. So you understand what is expected of you? Yes ma’am. Of course, most of what she had been asking thus far were routine questions or issues that were not problems in my life: health ailments, drug or alcohol abuse, huge financial problems. For a brief moment, in the flurry of signing a mountain of forms, I had entirely forgotten about the DADT policy. It was not as if I did not know about it before joining ROTC. In fact, part of the reason why I joined ROTC so late was that I was still wrestling with my own sexual identity. Was I bisexual? Was this a phase? Isn’t college about experimentation? I wanted to be sure that I knew how I was feeling before I put myself in a situation that would bind me.

“The last thing we need to discuss is the homosexual policy.” I could feel the sweat starting to pour down the nape of my back. The room, which a moment earlier was fairly cool, became almost stiflingly hot. SSgt H bored into me with her eyes as she went through the regulation, staring at me like she could see right through my act. After she was done explaining the policy, she handed me a form and asked me to sign it. As I stared at the form, pen slightly elevated in my right hand, I told myself that joining the military — serving my country — involved some sort of sacrifice. Though the military did not expressly forbid gays and lesbians to join under the DADT law signed by President Clinton, one could not act of course on any of their natural desires. I foolishly thought to myself: It couldn’t be that hard to tame my burgeoning sexual desires while I served my time …right? I quickly signed the form and handed it to SSgt H. I was now officially a Cadet.

The implications of my actions were evident almost immediately. About a month after joining ROTC, I was on a date in my room discussing politics and my current slate of classes when my date’s eyes reverted to my bookshelf. Almost immediately, I noticed my AFROTC textbook and I bit my lip with nervousness. “You joined ROTC, Eddy?” The tone in his voice reflected disappointment, almost disgust. “How can you force yourself to live a lie?” Needless to say, there was never a second date.

Though I thought my date had a legitimate point — I understood his frustration — I believed that there was nothing shameful about serving my country, regardless of the circumstances. When I did finally land a boyfriend during my senior year in college, my stress level exponentially increased. Not only was I selected as Cadet Wing Commander, charged with setting the example for the rest of the cadet corps, but I was also on a scholarship. If someone were to divulge that I had a boyfriend, I would have lost everything. Luckily I had a boyfriend who was willing to stick with me through this process, but as I grew closer to my fellow cadets, the inevitable questions concerning my love life would almost always come up. The lies, the deception to the people I truly cared about and trusted tortured me over time.

It was not until after I commissioned that the closest run-in I had with outing myself occurred. After about two years into my commission I was stationed overseas, a year into a pretty serious relationship, and thoroughly enjoying my life. Despite the DADT policy, I had managed to successfully navigate my relationship through a maze of secrecy among my colleagues. Or at least that is what I thought. My boss at the time, a Major in the Air Force, called me into her office one day rather unexpectedly. “Eddy, I need to talk to you about something before I leave here next month. Follow me please.” As I followed into her office I sat down, placed my hand over the side of my cheek — my boyfriend’s ring on my finger — and stared at her with c omplete seriousness. “What did you want to talk about Ma’am?”

“I am worried about you. You do a great job around here and I don’t want to see you leave because of a policy you and I probably don’t agree with. Perception is reality in the military. People notice that ring on your finger, the calls to the office from a man, and ask questions. Please, just be careful. Take off the ring.” Throughout this exchange I merely sat there and slowly nodded my head. Neither of us explicitly acknowledged the policy, or even uttered the words gay, but her point was abundantly clear — you’re beginning to cross the line. I thanked her for her concern and promptly left her office. My cheeks were bright red, my entire body was burning, and tears were forming in my eyes. What right did she have to tell me I could not wear a ring on my finger? Why was I questioned about my sexual preferences when no one else in the office was?

Though I was upset at the time, I grew to respect my former boss for her words and concern. Though they were borderline inappropriate, in my opinion, she was trying to look out for me — and there is something to be said for that. Despite her warning, the ring stayed on my finger. It became, to me at least, a talisman that gave me the strength to not back down. Though I continued to put my job at risk with such a simple gesture, I found the ring gave me an ounce of courage that I did not possess before this incident. It awoke in me a passion — more than I ever had before — to do something to make sure this policy would become history.

This magazine is the fruit of those efforts.

Eddy Sweeney is an active duty Intelligence officer who commissioned in the Air Force in 2007. He is also the managing editor of OutServe Magazine. For more information on Sweeney, read his bio at:

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Comments (9)

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  1. Halen Allison says:

    Great stuff, Eddy. Your courage is an example to be held in high regard. Keep up the excellent work.

  2. Allen says:

    Everyone should be proud of your perseverance including yourself.
    You are a leader by example to many.

  3. Kristopher Curry says:

    PROUD YOU serve OUR COUNTRY!!! Peace to ALL!

  4. Kelly says:

    Amazing article, Eddy. Proud of you for standing up.

  5. Lisa says:

    You are lucky to be servingin such a time where people are fairly open to the idea of homosexuals serving in the military. However, there was a time when the witch hunts were often and people were discharged just because of speculation. Things are now quite different, which is has been a long time coming. Good luck to you.

  6. Eddy Sweeney says:

    Lisa, yes I know!! Thank you all for your kind words. I promise I will never forget those who came before me.

  7. jordan says:

    Great write up eddy.. glad this day has come for you

  8. Laura says:


    I read this and had to laugh. Recently (2009) I spoke with the commander I am referring to regarding providing a reference for my first job after the military. He happily provided this reference, and we discussed old times.

    I was a platoon leader at the time (2004), with a highly motivated, beat the other batteries attitude commander. As a collective the LTs had disappointed him in some way. It was my turn to stand at parade rest in his office. I walk into the room, salute, and am placed at parade rest as he begins a rant, that I will never forget (although I don’t recall the reason I was in the office).

    “There are three types of women in the military. Bitches, Sluts and Dykes. Now Lieutenant ___________, she is a slut……. Lieutenant __________, she is a bitch………..,,,”

    The blanks said all they needed to. Although he never asked, and I never told, till this day, there was a large gray elephant in the room. I always had to do my job better, work faster, work harder, and live with the fact that I could not relax under those same freedoms my fellow Soldiers had, just in the simplicity, of not having to recall to change the sex of the person to whom I was referring. They didn’t have to have a stand in Gay male friend as a steady escort to all military functions, to serve as the boyfriend, they heard stories about.

    I never heard of OutServe until today, and if I knew a timeline for the repeal of DADT back in 2008, I may have made other choices. I congratulate all of you who are serving today freely. I can imagine the weight being lifted.

    Motivations, from wherever they come, experiences, rings, talks. Serve a purpose and make change happen.

    Best of luck and congratulations,

  9. Steven Board says:

    I’m glad you saw to it that you were able to hold out to the repeal of DADT. Thousands of patriotic Americans weren’t so lucky and were pushed out of serving the country we love. I am a USAF veteran who served in the late 80′s to early 90′s and got out. I didn’t want to rejoin and live a lie, so instead I proudly have my veterans license plates on my car and a rainbow magnet next to it. I’ve always been proud of my time in the military and am disgusted at all the lies I’ve heard over the years. Little ole’ Vermont has led the way in establishing equal rights for us and I’m glad to have done my miniscule part. I still represent the Air Force with my restored 1950′s USAF military truck and uniform. Now I’m a little bit prouder to have served my country.

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