Retired Army Sgt. Maj. shares story of transitioning during military service at LGBT Pride Month event

By NAWCAD Lakehurst Public Affairs | NAWCAD Lakehurst Public Affairs | July 10, 2018

JOINT BASE MCGUIRE-DIX-LAKEHURST, N.J. — Approximately 100 personnel from across Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division (NAWCAD) Lakehurst came together in honor of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender (LGBT) Pride Month on the Lakehurst side of base June 28.

The event marked the second annual Pride Month celebration to take place at NAWCAD Lakehurst, hosted by the NAWCAD Lakehurst LGBTQ (Queer/Questioning) +A (Allies) Advisory Team and Equal Employment Opportunity and Diversity Division.

This year’s theme was “Serving with Pride and Resilience,” and featured guest speaker Retired U.S. Army Sgt. Maj. Jennifer Long who shared her story of transitioning during military service.

“I tell my story because it makes it relevant for people to understand the journey that I’ve taken and where I’ve wound up now,” Long said.

“I’ve accomplished more after I transitioned than before. I’ve been able to get more involved in so many more things and have a more positive experience now than I ever would have had. It’s made me a better person,” she said.

Long enlisted in the military in 1983 and her service included tours to Guantanamo Bay, Iraq and Afghanistan. She received the French National Defense Metal and the Bronze Star Medal for combat action.

Long spoke of serving in dangerous situations and putting her military service first. She realized she could no longer live a double life and began the process of living as a woman in 2007.

“I really at that point decided that I really needed to explore the other half of my life, which I had repressed for so long. It was hard. It was hard to actually come to that moment to decide I’m going to explore it,” Long said.

Long shared the challenges of transitioning during her military service and her experience coming out to family and friends. She provided advice to the audience on what to do if a family member, friend or co-worker comes out to them.

“You have to understand what point they’ve gotten to in their lives to come to you and have this discussion,” Long said. “This was long since coming and there’s a lot of anxiety that day because you don’t know how you’re going to be received.”

“Ask questions that are honest. If you don’t know just ask. If you don’t know about the pronouns just ask. Try to be as empathetic and understanding as you can. Think about yourself having to go through that,” she said.

Long retired from the military in 2012 and currently serves as a Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Post Commander and is a financial advisor. She shared her passion for advocating for Veterans and Transgender persons, and how she successfully fought to have her name officially changed on her DD 214 Form (Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty), one of the first people to do so.

“Jennifer has an amazing story about serving her country during our most aggressive time of war and managing her transition. I think it really drives the point home that she didn’t take advantage of the military; she put her life on hold to serve,” said Brittany O’Neill, NAWCAD Lakehurst LGBTQ+A Advisory Team deputy lead.

Along with the June 28 event, the LGBTQ+A Advisory Team hosted a separate intimate event June 21 for Prototyping and Manufacturing Division (PMD) members at NAWCAD Lakehurst whose work schedules usually prevent them from attending diversity and inclusion events.

NAWCAD Lakehurst team member Margie Graefe shared the story of her son’s transition and provided advice on how to be an ally.

“Sometimes the words you say won’t let somebody come out to you because they heard you say something before, so I just wanted you to be accepting if this comes your way. They’re still the same person,” Graefe said.

In addition to the Pride Month events, the Lakehurst LGBTQ+A Advisory Team is working to be a support system for employees, providing guidance and resources.

“We’ve already seen some employees come to us for support for the transgender rules and regulations here on base. I think that’s already a fantastic initiative that we’re going to try to support here in helping our employees,” O’Neill said.

The Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) LGBTQ+A Advisory Team was established in 2016 to foster a diverse, inclusive and equitable environment where all individuals — regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression — can fully participate and contribute. A national Pride Month event was hosted at Patuxent River, Maryland June 7.

NAWCAD Lakehurst Public Affairs
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