A transgender pilot’s advice for serving authentically

  • Published
  • Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs

He always knew he wanted to be a rescue pilot, serving a higher purpose and rushing to the aid of others in harm’s way. Fighting courageously to save lives no matter the terrain or conditions.

His rescues garnered him multiple awards and decorations to include the Jolly Green Association Rescue Mission of the Year Award and a medal for risking his own life to save the life of a critically injured truck driver.

But there was always something bothering him. Something that didn’t quite feel right but couldn’t be easily explained.

After years of soul searching, consulting his pastor and talking with friends and family, he decided to tell the truth to himself and the world. The decorated pilot, who risked his life for others, came out as transgender and started the process to become his true self.

“In 2017, I suffered a number of tragedies in a short span of time, I felt lost in the ocean with my head barely above water with waves continuously crashing down” said Maj. Jason Vero, Joint Base Andrews Air Show director. “During that period, I did a lot of internal reflection and after speaking at length with my pastor made the decision to transition.”

With more than 1,500 flight hours and 350 instructor hours, the seasoned UH-1N Huey aviator sought out as much information and as many answers as he could obtain.

“During that initial period – and even now – there is not a lot of guidance for aviators that have transitioned to get back their flight status,” Vero said. “But thorough research of Department of Defense and Air Force policies alongside my mentors and healthcare team guided me through the process.”

Having open-minded and compassionate leadership that was willing to talk and listen to his position and foster an inclusive environment enabled the major to continue his lifelong dream job of being an aviator.

“Being able to be myself, coupled with a command team that has cared for me and fought for me to be here, has made a world of difference and enabled me to continue to serve,” Vero said. “One great example was my leadership calling me up prior to a urinalysis test and asking if I preferred a medical observer versus a military observer.

“A small gesture, but meant a lot to me personally and professionally,” he added.

Vero advises service members who are considering transitioning and wanting to continue to serve to read and understand what the DoD and Air Force policies state in detail. He suggests starting with DAFPM-2021-36-01 Assessions and In-Service Transition for Persons Identifying as Transgender.

“This will assist you in your transition process and advocating for yourself,” he said. “If you’re aircrew, you can still transition and fly. Work with your command and medical team to find a way to ‘Yes.’ Just remember, you are your own best advocate.”

In March 2021, the Department of Defense recognized transgender and gender non-conforming people and their continued struggle for equality, security and dignity. The Air Force soon followed suit, releasing guidance that essentially restored the original 2016 policies regarding transgender service. Specifically, they prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender identity or an individual's identification as transgender. They also provide a means to access into the military in one's self-identified gender, provided all appropriate military standards are met.

More information on how the Department of the Air Force is committed to foster a diverse and inclusive environment can be found here.