Melanie Nathan; 8-11-10
Here is the Video of Captain Jonathan Hopkins’ interview on the Rachel Maddow show tonight.
The Captain graduated in the top of his West Point class in 2001, served three tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, and was discharged yesterday for being a gay man.
Hopkins graduated #4 out of 901 commissioned officers in West Point’s Class of 2001, where he was also ranked #1 militarily. He was slated to return to West Point to teach International Relations until the Army discovered he was gay.
At the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom in March, 2003, Hopkins led his infantry platoon on the 173rd Airborne Brigade’s combat parachute jump into Northern Iraq. Although his platoon had only been formed two months prior to the operation, it nevertheless led his battalion’s assault into Kirkuk as the Iraqi Army was retreating. During that year in Kirkuk, his platoon patrolled the tense city, keeping the peace, and quelling two major riots that spring. Hopkins himself earned two Bronze Stars, one with valor.
One year after returning from Iraq, his unit deployed to Afghanistan, where he served as a personnel & public affairs officer, and later as a battalion operations officer, during which Hopkins planned military operations in Zabul Province and served as the unit’s liaison with the Afghan Army.
Finally, as a Stryker company commander, he trained his unit in Alaska, deployed them to the Philippines, and then again to Iraq. He was identified by his commander as one of the top three out of thirty commanders in the brigade, despite his own personal difficulties trying to ensure no one ever realized he was gay. He was ultimately outed by a fellow officer as gay. Indicative of the paradoxical nature of the policy, he was informed of the investigation into his conduct on the same day it was announced he would be promoted to major one year early (such “below-the-zone” promotions are granted to only 7% of Army officers).
“What I’ve learned from this,” Hopkins said, “is the toll this policy can have on your life. Long after admitting to myself I was gay, I lived in denial about how hard it would be to remain in the Army under ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’ I was a professionally focused officer who spent part of every day paranoid about whether somebody was figuring me out or would try to out me. People are made stronger by having full and complete personal lives, complete with loving and fulfilling relationships. In that regard, I am glad to be moving on. I love the Army and was fully dedicated to it. But I am glad that I am no longer living a life that is somewhat self-destructive, trying to comply with this policy.”
Hopkins continued to work in his unit in Alaska for 12 months waiting for a discharge board, and tried in vain to meet in person with senior commanders. Finally, at his Board, when all the evidence was heard, he was recommended for an Honorable Discharge.
Homosexuality is the only charge for which Boards cannot consider a Soldier’s record in determining whether he can stay in the Army.
“It almost seemed like they regretted having to do it,” Hopkins said. “At one point, the board even asked me whether I thought the Army was ready to repeal ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” I said undoubtedly yes. Our Soldiers are ready. Just some senior leaders, born in a different generation, are not ready to treat all service members the same based upon their performance and performance alone.”
“I’ve learned a lot during the 14 months between the time I was outed and the time I finally left the Army. I learned first of that most in my units had long ago guessed that I was gay; they just never told me. It didn’t matter to them; they considered me a good commander. During the 14 months since I was outed, I have lived in my own personal post-DADT Army. Everybody knew I was gay, I did my job, and they didn’t care. I have a boyfriend now, openly, and go to dinner even with my most socially conservative of Army friends. They continue to respect me as a good officer and are glad I’m happy, even if in some cases if my relationship conflicts with their religious beliefs. My quality is still assessed very much on how well I take care of Soldiers and live up to the Army Values— including Honor and Integrity.”
Hopkins will be attending graduate school this fall at Georgetown University. He remarked that leaving the Army is “a lot like a divorce. While I’m sad to leave something I loved and dedicated 13 years of my life to (including West Point), I look forward to being able to serve my country in other ways without having to lie on a daily basis about who I am. It’s time to move on; I’m prepared to do that.”