Strength in Diversity

by Airman 1st Class Gwendalyn Smith
Osan Air Base

OSAN AIR BASE, Republic of Korea --Despite all personal barriers and differences, whether it be race, religion, political or sexual orientation, every member of the U.S. Air Force raised their right hand to serve the same country.

Tech. Sgt. Dominique Walker, 51st Operations Support Squadron executive assistant, joined the Air Force in 2005 when the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT) policy was still in effect. DADT prohibited military personnel from discriminating against homosexual and bisexual service members, but also prevented service members from being openly gay, lesbian or bisexual.

“It was pretty much something that you kept to yourself,” said Walker. “When I enlisted, it was the time of my transitioning and coming out, so I was still coming to terms with it as an individual.”

For her, and many others, this meant hiding and separating their personal lives from their military careers.

“Coming into basic training, everyone was talking about their families, their boyfriends and stuff like that, but it was something I kind of had to keep under wraps,” said Walker. “Moving past that and transitioning into the Air Force work centers, I had to be extremely private. I didn’t want to leave even a hint about the lifestyle I lived. That was the rule, but you never know when you will see people off duty or when someone will pop up that you know. I was always looking over my shoulder.”

In 2011, DADT was repealed. People could now serve in the U.S. Armed Forces while being openly gay, lesbian or bisexual.

“When the repeal was passed, it was kind of like a silent victory. I didn’t go around saying ‘Oh hey! Now I’m free,’” said Walker. “It was something that I was still cautious about because for so many years that’s how I lived. After five years, I got used to it and just never talked about my personal life.”

Although the transition didn’t change how Walker went about work, it made getting the support she needed in other facets of her life a possibility.

“In the last section I worked for I went through a really bad breakup, and they were able to be neutral,” said Walker. “That was probably the most I ever let someone in the Air Force into my personal life, but I needed help at that time. They were able to handle that well and treated me as if it was anyone else. It didn’t matter if it was heterosexual or homosexual. They just got me the help I needed.”

Moving forward, Walker uses her experiences and incorporates it into her role as a leader for base and community events.

“I’m the project lead for all the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) month events,” said Walker. “Having the opportunity to throw myself into stuff like that has made me feel more welcome in the Air Force.”

In observance of LGBT month, Team Osan ran a 5k Fun Run and will hold a Sip & Paint on June 17; as well as an Art Appreciation/Informational Forum on June 23.

“Having special observances like this supports our mission here as a wing,” said Joan Frantz, 51st Fighter Wing equal opportunity deputy director. “I think having that awareness really helps to enable us as a team. When we realize that there is strength in our diversity and there is strength in coming together instead of being divided, that’s when the mission can get done.”

For members like Sergeant Walker, the Air Force’s drive for equality has ensured an open and accepting work environment.

“This particular detail about me does not define me,” said Walker. “So the fact that the military was able to let that [discrimination] go, so I could serve freely, is a really great thing and motivates me [to serve.]”

Subscribe to our Stripes Pacific newsletter and receive amazing travel stories, great event info, cultural information, interesting lifestyle articles and more directly in your inbox!

Follow us on social media!

Facebook: Stars and Stripes Pacific
Flipboard: Stars and Stripes Community Sites

Looking to travel while stationed abroad? Check out our other Pacific community sites!
Stripes Japan
Stripes Okinawa
Stripes Guam

Recommended Content