This article first appeared in the January 2020 issue of Modern Military Magazine
In 2014, after 13 years in the Army—and eight years of school—I was finally going to achieve my goal of becoming a JAG officer. Until, that is, I was told that the Army doesn’t allow people like me to move from enlisted to officer. What, you ask, was the bar to serving my country and fellow Soldiers as a JAG officer? I am a person living with HIV.
I currently serve as a reservist in the DC Army National Guard. I served for three years on active duty in the U.S. Army as an airborne paratrooper stationed at Fort Richardson, Alaska. And I have served for about sixteen years as a reservist – completing two overseas deployments with the Oklahoma National Guard to combat zones in Afghanistan in 2006-2007 and in Kuwait/Iraq in 2011-2012.
I put myself through law school between these deployments – using a variety of part time jobs and military education benefits. I had to redo my first year when I was pulled out of classes during my second semester in 2006. And, I ultimately earned a JD/MBA from the University of Oklahoma in 2012.
After returning from my second deployment, I passed the bar exam and I was selected as a Presidential Management Fellow. I moved to Washington DC in 2013 – initially taking a job with the U.S. Small Business Administration. Then, I transferred to the DC National Guard, and I was offered a JAG position with the Legal Services Office supporting the Director of the National Guard Bureau.
But when I started putting together my packet to secure a direct commission, I ran headlong into the military’s outdated and discriminatory policies regarding servicemembers living with HIV.
These policies may have made sense when they were first adopted in the ‘80s. At that time, there was no effective medical treatment, and everyone with HIV had a terminal diagnosis. However, medical technology has evolved considerably over the past 30 years, and HIV is not only no longer invariably fatal, but is now more easily managed than many other chronic health conditions.