My journey started when I transition October 1, 2010. To a Transgender person getting sworn into the military is something they want or wanted to do to serve their country and will never forget the oath we take. That was my case when I joined the Maryland Defense Force (MDDF), a state guard in November 2011, which was an honor to do so.
It was a summer day in August when I was with the Prince George’s County Community Emergency Response Team (CERT). The CERT program that trains citizens to prepare for emergency situations in their communities. When a disaster strikes, CERT members give critical support to first-responders, aid to victims, and organize spontaneous volunteers at a disaster site. So, on that sunny day, our group headed out to Baltimore County for a CERT Rodeo, with competing teams from other Maryland counties. Later that day, three soldiers with the MDDF who were watching the event talked with us. They told us about a special team they were putting together, that would be doing Search and Rescue (SAR) for the state of Maryland. Since one of the components to CERT is SAR, that caught my interest.
Now back to the evening in November of 2011when I had to fill out all my paperwork to join MDDF. What was going through my head was my legal name documentation to turn in and getting a physical. I was told that the physical I needed to take could be with my own physician, which was great. No one knew that I was transgender, since all my paperwork had my new legal name, including my passport (which I could use instead of my birth certificate) to join. These are just some of the things a Transgender person is thinking or worried about when they join the armed forces. When a Transgender person is already in the military, they worry about what they need to go through to come out. My time in after I joined was always wondering what if someone finds out I am Transgender. Even though I was able to separate those thoughts I still worried about someone finding out and turning me in. Being a soldier, you are always ready, supportive, and being there for your “Battle Buddy”. To be openly out and accepted by your fellow soldiers takes away that tension so that a Transgender soldier can do their job. They can focus on the task at hand and not worry about if someone knows they are Transgender. Right now, a lot of soldiers and Command Officers do not care, they just want to know our “Readiness”, which the Trump Administration kept harping on. For someone that has never served in the military, they have no idea, what it takes to be a soldier and being there for our fellow soldiers. One main issue I experienced when I first had to stay at the barracks for the first time, I worried about the shower area. I came up with a game plan, which worked out well in case I was not the only person in the shower. I feel this is one issues that any trans soldier must or will worry about while serving due to no shower curtains around each shower head. To solve an easy problem, just put up a curtain around the shower head. In over the years I learned that women are very self-conscious about their bodies, dressing or showering in front of each other. So, a Transgender person weather they had bottom surgery or not will not be walking around nude in front of other people, mostly women.
To tell you how Transgender people have value, when I went through my Initial Entry Training (IET), I received the Leadership Award at the end. After my first year with the MDDF in December 2012, I was awarded the Non-Commission Officer (NCO) Soldier of the Year Award. In November 2013, I received Soldier of the Year Award, given to me by the State Guard Association of the United States (SGAUS). After receiving these prestigious awards, I knew my work was not done. My mission was that while receiving these awards both in 2012 and in 2013 I wanted more. A lot of the female soldiers were coming up to me saying, “Great job, you’re doing it for us”! Little did any of them know I was transgender. I felt the comments to be true, but I kept saying to myself, “I am also doing it for the Transgender Community”. During my time with the MDDF, my duties were Morale, Welfare, and Recreation, Honor Guard, and Force Protection. I later received my Military Emergency Management Specialist Badge. I was then assigned to work in the Maryland Joint Operations Center at Maryland Emergency Management Agency.
On April 8th, 2016, I had vaginoplasty surgery, otherwise known in the trans community as Surgical Reassignment Surgery (SRS) or Genital Reassignment Surgery (GRS). Shortly after that date, on April 25th, ABC News released the interview I had with called “A Transgender Soldier’s Personal Story”. (Tinyurl.com/y3q52lbh)
After the interview several of my fellow soldiers came up to me saying that they loved my interview and were in full support. Some of the soldiers were even saying, “You’re not only a good soldier, but you’re a good friend”. During my time with the MDDF I receive two promotions, retiring with the rank of staff sergeant. Serving with the MDDF was awesome due to the men and women I served with, my battle buddies, who were also my friends. Later in January 2017, I retired from MDDF with an Honorable Discharge.
Now for the past three years, I have been serving with the US Veteran Reserve Cops with Maryland receiving three promotion with now being First Sergeant, with the utmost respect of my fellow soldiers and command. My goal now is to become Command Sergeant Major. So please do not count Transgender Soldiers out on leadership, knowing that we can bring a lot to the military.
By Karen Holmes (She/Her/Hers)