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Serving with pride

Staff Sgts. Alexx and Chip Pons, who serve separate commands as photojournalists at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph, Texas, stand united as a married, dual-military, same sex couple. Since the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell in 2011 and the legalization of same-sex marriage in 2015, the two have been able to serve openly with the support of their Air Force family. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Alexx Pons)

Staff Sgts. Alexx and Chip Pons, who serve separate commands as photojournalists at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph, Texas, stand united as a married, dual-military, same sex couple. Since the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell in 2011 and the legalization of same-sex marriage in 2015, the two have been able to serve openly with the support of their Air Force family. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Alexx Pons)

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-RANDOLPH, Texas (AFNS) -- I am an American Airman. I am a warrior. I have answered my nation’s call.

I am a wingman, a photojournalist and a husband.

I am gay.

Once, those words would never and could never have escaped my lips. I hid who I am from the world for so long and was forced to feel shame for being “different.” But different is my normal, and after all of these years, I’ve learned that that is okay.

The decision to embrace who I am became a pivotal moment in my life, and equally important, in my Air Force career. Despite outward success as a high school and college athlete and projected promise as an Airman, I had long sentenced myself to a life hidden in the shadows, afraid to open myself to the possibility of true happiness.
But then I met the man who would become my husband - my forever wingman.

Alexx was everything that I couldn’t be: strong, confident and secure in who he is. He is the epitome of airmanship and, to this day, I look to him as an example of servant leadership, undeniable loyalty and compassionate care to those he serves beside. When I met this fellow Airman, everything for me just fell into place. I no longer felt uncomfortable in my own skin, rather I felt free to be the man and Airman that I always envisioned.

My marriage is a product of the Air Force; whether or not fate exists, my husband and I would never have crossed paths if we hadn’t decided to raise our right hands and enlist. Serving alongside one another has made us stronger, both individually and as a couple. It has taught us how to balance our priorities and ultimately, has redefined our concept of wingmanship.

Coming out as a gay man tested the relationships of those closest to me, yet members of my Air Force family continued their support and encouragement as if nothing had changed. The words “I’m gay” were insignificant to those around me, despite the gravity of their meaning to me. By openly accepting who I am, I felt empowered to live my life to the fullest for the first time.

A friend and colleague of mine once said, and I couldn’t agree more with her words, “Who I love is so essential to why I serve and so irrelevant to how I serve. There are a lot of great reasons to join the military, but ultimately, we join for the people we love and the country we love.”

I share this quote as a reminder that we, as members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, have loved ones we have vowed to protect just like our fellow Airmen. We have fears and insecurities, hopes and dreams just like they do. We are a community that thrives upon inclusivity and openness. And while I am a gay man, I am proud to say that I identify first and foremost as an Airman.

June’s LGBT Pride month celebrations are relatively new to us as an Air Force, but the importance of its message should resonate with every Airman.

To me, pride goes far beyond sexual orientation or identification – it speaks to the resilience and inclusiveness of our force. It is about self-acceptance and living your life as authentically as you can, because as Airmen, we are charged with embodying excellence in all we do. We are charged with living a life of integrity first. In order to do that, we must be open to being our truest selves and brave enough to share our once-perceived vulnerabilities with the world. Most importantly, we are charged with courageously putting the service of others before ourselves.

Like all Airmen, I have faced my share of obstacles, both personally and professionally. I have met those along the way who were less than supportive of the military opening up to the LGBT community; however, with the addition of new diversity and inclusion policies, the Air Force is now more accepting than it ever has been for my husband and me. While it could have been easy for us to live with fear and insecurities, being part of something bigger than ourselves is such a monumental realization. It is an honor to put on the same uniform worn by the strongest and bravest individuals in our country, and I do so every day with appreciation for their sacrifice and commitment to excellence, integrity and service.

As a member of a married, dual-military, gay couple, I can speak for both my husband and myself when I say I am proud to serve my country alongside the great men and women of the Air Force who have allowed and emboldened us to do so in the only way we know how – with pride.

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