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Stories to be Told

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By U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Joshua Mann [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons By U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Joshua Mann [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Gay partners in the military face stand in a difficult place

This month’s column is going to consist of some house-cleaning and a really astounding tale of dedication and courage. First, the catch-up: The final results of our ‘shaking our cans’ in front of  Safeway, Super 1 and Yoke’s on Monday, May 28 was just a tad north of $1,700. That total does not include the anonymous check for $1,000 that the DAV received the week before. To all who gave the DAV two hours out of your holiday weekend, my sincerest ‘Thanks’ for a job well done.

Now, for some house-cleaning chores: First, I blew it big time last month. On Saturday, June 16 the local VVA held the largest ‘Stand-Down’ in the area and I didn’t even mention that it was scheduled—my bad! Thanks go out to all concerned, especially Russ Fankell, who was in overall charge and spent many hours doing all the things that are required to put on a success event. Several hundred people received services and support during this one-day event at the Bonner County Fair Grounds.

Here are some fun facts from this year’s Stand Down: 901 veterans were served, consisting of 851 males and 50 females. Add in 250 spouses and 131 children. Local area dentists saw 42 veterans, providing 18 extractions of 1 to 3 teeth (a total of 30 teeth). The dentists made two referrals for work that needed to be done, and there were five vouchers for $100 issued by the Idaho Dental Foundation to veterans for treatment at a future date. 
Among those volunteering at the ‘Stand Down’ were Boy Scout Troops 104, 111, 141,171, 188 and 308.
A special ‘Thanks’ must be given to John Davis of the Spokane Homeless Veterans program and the 215 volunteers who put this event together. These volunteers worked hundreds of hours on Thursday and Friday, all day Saturday and several hours on Sunday cleaning up after one of the most successful Stand Downs in years. A hearty ‘Well Done’ to all involved.

In last month’s article it was intimated that no civilian could understand the stresses placed on a service man or woman’s family when that service member is deployed. I wrote: “The only situation that I can come up with that is close is a single-parent household having to deal with all of the above scenarios, but it falls a short when it comes down to the soul-deadening, 24/7,  worry of the potential death or wounding of that absent spouse.” Then I became aware of an even more isolated group—our gay service members serving under Don’t ask! Don’t tell!

The military community has developed—through necessity—a very extensive and varied support system. The military community knows their families encounter unique demands when a spouse is deployed and, to large degree, have been successful in helping spouses handle these circumstances. The one glaring hole in this system is that a gay service member couldn’t even make it known that he or she has a spouse! Imagine not even being able to say ‘Goodbye’ in public when your spouse is going into harm’s way. Not being able to welcome them home with a heartfelt hug and a kiss along with the rest of the unit’s spouses.

These men and women were not allowed to even list their spouses as next of kin. Their spouses have no access to base facilities such as Exchanges and Commissaries. They cannot be issued ID cards. They had no access to the various support groups because under DADT, they literally couldn’t be known to exist.

Imagine this scenario: The love of your life cannot be publicly acknowledged or officially supported and you are being sent to a place where there is an excellent chance that some ne’er-do-well will be either shooting at you or planting IEDs in the roads over which you will be traveling. Couple this with the fact that if you are killed or wounded, the spouse at home will not receive any official notification. Nor will that spouse be allowed to publicly grieve in the event of death or even be allowed visitation at the medical facility their partner may be in. That is what all gay servicemen and women dealt with at the height of both the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts. The repeal of DADT didn’t become effective until September 2011, so for almost the entire war period these serving men and women had less rights and support than any of their ‘straight’ comrades-in–arms.

Okay, so DADT was officially ended in late 2011, and it is now okay for these dedicated, honorable men and women to be seen in public with—in many cases—their longtime partners. Are they now free to apply to get all the support, benefits and services that are available to their heterosexual comrades? The answer to that is, ‘NO’. They won’t be eligible to obtain dependent status for their spouses until the Defense of Marriage Act is overturned and their unions can be legally recognized. Every member of the military that I’ve talked to or corresponded with is ready for this. The hang up on overturning DoMA seems to be within our national civilian leadership.

Now, let me introduce you to Master Sergeant David L. Brunstad, USAF. MSgt Brunstad began his military career in 1984 and served in the Army through Operation Desert Storm until his discharge in June of ‘91. He had advanced through the ranks to Platoon Sergeant and served as Battalion S-3 NCO. After he was honorably discharged from the Army, he joined the Idaho National Guard unit in Moscow, Idaho. David was discharged from the Army National Guard in July 1993. He joined the Oregon Air National Guard unit in Portland in July 2003, where he serves to this day. Since joining the Air Guard he has been deployed three times: once to Spain from December 2006 to February 2007; once to Oman from January 2008 to March 2008; and, once to Kirkuk, Iraq from December 2008 to August 2009. His current assignment with the Oregon Air Guard is as Combat Arms Training and Maintenance Non-Commissioned Officer in Charge for the 142nd Security Forces Squadron, 142nd Fighter Wing. He is responsible for the weapons training of the Air Guard Security Forces and must maintain his own qualification status on all the weapons used by those security forces.

His list of awards and citations is lengthy, dating back to his service during Operation Desert Storm, and include the Iraq Campaign Medal with Bronze Star, the Air Force Expeditionary Medal with Gold Border and Air Force Commendation Medal. He has also been recognized as being proficient in all the weapons he is responsible for training the security forces on with the Small Arms Expert Marksmanship Ribbon with Bronze Star. In others words, MSgt Brunstad is a warrior—a warrior with a long history of dedicated, proud and honorable service to his country. And, up until September of last year, a warrior who could tell no one that his spouse was a man named Darin. And, that he and Darin had been a couple for almost his entire military career.

Theirs is a story that needs to be told but I’m running out of room. I’ll continue their story in next month’s issue. Until then, may all our returning warriors receive the welcome they’ve earned and the benefits they’ve been promised.

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Author info

Gil  Beyer Gil Beyer A 21 year Navy veteran, lived in Bonner County for over 30 years, Past Commander of the Priest River DAV Chapter and admitted news junkie.

Tagged as:

veterans, Veterans News, Dont Ask Dont Tell, homosexuality

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