Reservist Becomes First Openly Gay US General

Brigadier General Tammy Smith

A Reserve Army general made history Friday when her wife pinned on her new rank making her the U.S. military's first openly gay general officer.

Brig. Gen. Tammy Smith receives the distinction after Congress repealed the "don't ask, don't tell" policy in September. She will serve as the deputy chief at the Army Reserve's Office of the Chief.

Smith told Stars and Stripes she didn't want her promotion to gain notoriety simply because of her sexuality, although she knew it would gain attention.

"All of those facts are irrelevant," Smith told Stars and Stripes about her place in history. "I don't think I need to be focused on that. What is relevant is upholding Army values and the responsibility this carries."

Smith chose to come out to her colleagues after the policy was repealed. Smith and her wife, Tracy Hepner, said they were relieved to see how accepting and open her fellow soldiers have been.

The "don't ask, don't tell" policy famously dictated the military could not punish a service member for their sexuality as long as it stayed secret. President Obama campaigned to end the policy and Congress voted the repeal into law this year.

In 2011, Smith spent most of the year deployed to Afghanistan. She told Stars and Stripes she mulled the decision before the repeal whether to come out to her fellow soldiers.

Gay and lesbian advocates pointed out that Smith is not the first gay general in the military. She is only the first one who can serve openly.

"For years, gay and lesbian generals and admirals were forced to hide their families in order to protect their careers. It is a great day for our military and for our nation when this courageous leader is finally able to recognize her wife for her support and sacrifice in the same way that all military families should be recognized for their service to our country," said Sue Fulton, a 1980 West Point graduate and member of the OutServe Board of Directors.

Hepner, who has been with Smith for a decade, has attended promotion ceremonies in the past, but Friday's was the first one they didn't have to hide their true relationship.

"It is a great day for our military and for our nation when this courageous leader is finally able to recognize her wife for her support and sacrifice in the same way that all military families should be recognized for their service to our country," Fulton said.

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