War Journal

By SSG Steven Proctor, Tennessee Army National Guard

This nation has been at war for ten years, and though our fight back home for equality and freedom has been hard, it pales in comparison to the sacrifices that many of us have faced overseas. In an effort to provide the forward-deployed perspective on open service, OutServe Magazine will be featuring real issues and stories from the front line that highlight experiences from the battlefield.

SSG Steven Proctor is currently on his fourth combat deployment since joining the Army. Today, he’s on his first deployment as an openly gay Soldier. Currently serving as the OutServe chapter leader for Bagram, Afghanistan, he faced numerous challenges while in the closet, and different ones as a newly-out NCO.

Here is his story:

SSG Steven Proctor flying from Bagram Air Field to Kabul

SSG Steven Proctor
In 2002, I enlisted in the U.S. Army at age 18, shortly after graduating from high school in Goshen, Ohio. I worked hard in high school, hoping academic success would help me earn scholarships. I was involved in choir, drama club and academic teams. Goshen is a small, homogeneous town. I assumed everyone else there was heterosexual. I was always scared to be anything different from the grain around me. I thought that the feelings I had for other boys were just part of an awkward phase that I would outgrow.

I was close to my grandfather, a retired Marine sergeant major, and I wanted to do something great like he did. I definitely didn’t want to disappoint him, and joining the military seemed a logical way to make him proud. As I considered joining the Army, many people said I wouldn’t make it. Their criticism drove me to prove them wrong. I went to basic training at Fort Jackson, advanced individual training at Fort Lee, and was stationed at Fort Campbell in Feb. 2003.

The next month, I deployed with the 227th Supply Company. We were on the ground in ArifJan, Kuwait, prior to the official start of Operation Iraqi Freedom. My platoon was responsible for receiving all the supplies from the supply depots back in the states and sending the supplies up to the major commands as we prepared to attack.

I clearly remember the first time a siren went off. My platoon and I ​were eating our MREs (Meals, Ready to Eat) in a container yard when we learned that the president had officially declared war on Iraq. SPC “H” took out her Bible and read Psalm 9:1, the prayer for protection. Seconds after her prayer, another alarm went off and we had to don our gas masks and full chem warfare equipment. A soldier next to me started crying and another soldier tried to help her snap out of it. Others brimmed with adrenaline, simply reacting and not thinking. I remember thinking that nothing in my life until now measured up to this moment. My future was uncertain. I am a soldier at war. I thought, “I am with all these other soldiers that I care about and they care about me too. I will be okay.” After a few moments, we heard the Patriot missiles shoot off and take out an Iraqi SCUD missile. As the ALL CLEAR sounded, all was well in the world again.

SSG Steven Proctor earning an Army Achievement Medal in Afghanistan

We worked long hours in the heat during that first deployment. Our platoon was vital in getting the warfighters the supplies needed in Iraq. After a couple months in Kuwait, the attacks slowed and we were able to lower our protective posture, but the work never ended. During the slow periods, I tried having a bit of a personal life in Kuwait. I went to the gospel church service and was a member of the praise and worship team. I felt welcomed in the church and welcomed by members of other ethnic groups, a first for me, given my hometown experience.

Eventually, my platoon’s mission changed and we moved to Balad, Iraq, to work at the Corp Distribution Center. In Iraq, we received incoming mortars. Sometimes, we sat in concrete shelters for hours, just waiting for the ALL CLEAR. The remainder of that first deployment passed without much fanfare. I even had a chance to take leave for Christmas. I surprised my parents and enjoyed seeing my family. I was 19 years old, on leave from a combat zone near Cincinnati, Ohio.

It was during this trip that I went to a gay bar for the first time. I was nervous about being there. Before joining the Army, I was just the skinny kid with bad acne. In my opinion, I was not very attractive and had never found myself receiving many compliments on my looks. This all changed while I was on leave. Though I was scared, the thought of being attractive to someone else was very exciting, and my confidence increased without me even realizing it. This confidence would come in very handy when I returned to Fort Campbell and ultimately got into my first relationship, but that’s a story for another issue.

The most poignant part of my first deployment was the respect I gained for my fellow soldiers and the bond that formed between us. I realized that not every American was as closed-minded as some I knew back home. The vast majority of soldiers turned out to be fantastic, driven, dedicated citizens who truly believed in making the world a better place. This thought was a very liberating discovery for me, because it meant that as I came to terms with who I truly was and began to accept myself, that I would be able to find accepting friends in the Army. The prospect of this idea was exciting, especially considering how unavailable that same prospect seemed to be in Goshen.

The Army, for all of its flaws and its rather industrial persona, is a very forgiving organization, filled with people who are so diverse that they make the Army quite accepting in my experience. It is in this Army that I find my combat and garrison service rewarded. It is in this Army that I find my mentors and my friends for life. It is in this accepting and affirming Army that I find my passion; leading Soldiers and making them better citizens.

Sergeant Proctor went on to deploy three more times following his first deployment in 2003. Currently stationed in Bagram, Afghanistan, Sergeant Proctor’s story represents one of many from our forward-deployed ranks. In future issues, OutServe Magazine will feature other service members’ experiences from the front line. You’ll read of their triumphs and struggles, and gain some insight into the unique challenges and opportunities available to LGBT troops deployed around
the world.

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