Kirtland doctor shares experience of being gay military member

  • Published
  • By Bud Cordova
  • Nucleus writer
(This feature is part of the "Through Airmen's Eyes" series. These stories focus on individual Airmen, highlighting their Air Force story.)

With many liberties now being afforded to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender service members, people are finding it valuable to look back at the times when personnel had to serve in silence.

Dr. Daniel Hohman of the 377th Medical Group gave his perspective of service prior to "don't ask, don't tell" and during its reign as law at a pride month presentation here on June 17.

Before Hohman spoke, Col. Eric Froehlich, the 377th Air Base Wing commander, said it’s essential to love one another and be more inclusive in today’s military.

"It is important to reflect on the values of diversity," Froehlich said.

Hohman, now retired from the military, started service in the Navy before the implementation of DADT, which was repealed in 2011.

After graduating high school, he turned down a U.S. Naval Academy appointment out of fear of his sexual orientation being discovered. Instead, he attended the University of Michigan, studying cellular and molecular biology.

"Armed with the student loan debt, I decided to apply for the Navy," Hohman said.

He was accepted and went to Aviation Officer Candidate School in Pensacola, Florida.

"You had to live your life in the closet," Hohman said.

He was assigned to Naval Station Norfolk, Virginia, after completing his pilot training. That's when the problems started.

As he was assigned to his first aviation squadron, he was also given orders to sing at the White House during an inauguration. Singing did not fit with what his squadron commander thought a naval aviator should do.

"He gathered everyone in the squadron and had me sing to them. Not exactly a great way to introduce the new guy," Hohman said.

Shortly after that, the squadron was activated for Operation Desert Shield. While Hohman's top secret clearance was being renewed, it was discovered that he had smoked marijuana in college.

He had never failed a drug test in the Navy, but his squadron commander tried to charge him with falsifying a government document and added charges of conduct unbecoming of an officer and fraternization.

Two years later, Hohman was exonerated and the Navy then sent him to medical school.

"I spent all day in classrooms and all night in the library," he said.

He was one of the older students. It didn't seem like an advantage until they started clinicals.

"Being older earned me more trust from my patients. I guess it's because I didn't look like Doogie Howser," he said, jokingly.

After graduating from medical school, Hohman was accepted into residency at Bethesda Naval Hospital in Maryland, the flagship for Navy medicine.

"I had to live, act and appear as the naval officer I should be. I went deeper into the closet under DADT while at Bethesda," he said.

When he completed residency, Hohman was assigned to Okinawa, Japan, as the group surgeon for Marine Aircraft Group 12. During that time, 9/11 occurred and six months later he was reassigned to the USS Carl Vinson in the Persian Gulf.

He spent 37 months aboard the ship after hesitantly volunteering for the extension. He was the senior medical officer, yet had less time as a medical officer than some of those serving under him.

"The challenge was the squadron of aviators assigned to the ship also knew the background of the case in Norfolk and the probable cause of why it came about due to my orientation," Hohman said.

After his tour on USS Carl Vinson, he spent 15 months in Pensacola and then was sent to Okinawa again.

In Okinawa, rumors about Hohman's sexual orientation once more spread among Marines there. What finally ended the rumors was a general's comments on how Hohman was a great medical asset.

Hohman said it became hard to hide his orientation as he approached the 20-year service mark. He was terrified when a colonel at the wing summoned him to his office and said, "My wife, Gina, knows you're gay."

"You can't shine when you're paralyzed with fear," Hohman said.

He said LGBT service members learned that they needed to be a little better at their jobs than their peers to avoid the risk of getting kicked out under DADT.

"We have come so unbelievably far. Never before did I think that I would be speaking to a room full of service members as an openly gay man," he said.