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The Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project

Oral history interview with Cheryl Lynn Brown, 2010

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Object ID: wv0482.5.001

Description: Cheryl Lynn Brown speaks of her early life, education, military service as a Korean linguist in United States Army Intelligence, and later professional civilian life.

Summary:

Brown primarily discusses her career as a Korean linguist in the United States Army from 1980 and 1984. She gives a detailed description of her training, service, and time spent in South Korea. She also gives a detailed description of the events that followed her realization that she was a lesbian, and the impact that this had on her military service and quality of life. She also tells of serving on the boarder of the Korean Demilitarized Zone.

Other topics include her later civilian career as a sociologist, her research into the lives of homosexual individuals who served in the military, and her observations of the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s in Alabama and Mississippi.

Creator: Cheryl Lynn Brown

Biographical Info: Cheryl Lynn Brown (b. 1958) served as a Korean linguist in the U.S. Army from 1980-1984.

Collection: Cheryl Lynn Brown Oral History

Rights: It is responsibility of the user to follow the copyright law of the United States (Title 17, U.S. Code). Materials are not to be reproduced in published works without written consent, and any use should credit Jackson Library, The University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

Full Text:

Therese Strohmer:

This is Therese Strohmer. It is April 2nd, 2010. I am at Cheryl Brown’s house in Greensboro, North Carolina. I am here to do an oral history interview for the Women’s Veterans Historical Project at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

Cheryl, how would you like your name to read on your collection? 

Cheryl Brown:

I usually go by my whole name: Cheryl Lynn Brown.

TS:

Okay, is there an e at the end of that “Lynn”?

CB:

There is not. C-h-e-r-y-l L-y-n-n B-r-o-w-n.

TS:

All right, excellent.

All right, Cheryl, why don’t we start out by you telling me when and where you grew up?

CB:

Well, I grew up in the—I was born in ’58, so I always tell my students that the ‘60s described my growing up period. I was born in Florida, but my dad worked for a finance company. So, we moved all over when I was a kid. We lived in Atlanta, [Georgia]; Jackson, Mississippi; Birmingham, Alabama; Knoxville, Tennessee; and then back to Atlanta by the time I was ten.  So I said that I was destined to be a sociologist, because if you’ve lived in Alabama and Mississippi and Tennessee in the 1960s you knew that there were some larger issues in the world that needed to be dealt with.

TS:

So, what was the town that you were actually born in?

CB:

I was born in Hollywood, Florida, which is in the southern part of Florida. I spent most summers down there until I was sixteen with my grandparents in Miami Gardens.

TS:

Nice. Where would you say—where would you say home is, from where you grew up?

CB:

Home is Atlanta. Well, I lived there for a couple of years when I was really little. I don’t remember much about it. I was like four and five, or something. We moved back in 1968, when I was ten. So, I lived in Atlanta from ’68 until I went to the military in ’80, and then came back in ’84 and lived there for another—gosh—fourteen—no, eleven years, before I took my first teaching job.

TS:

When you were growing up—so, before you were ten you were kind of jumping around a little bit?

CB:

Yes. 

TS:

What was it like to be that, as a kid, moving around a lot?

CB:

Well, you were always the new kid. When I sat down to do my clearance at twenty-one, I had 21 addresses. Yeah, we had to go back and like, “In Mississippi we lived in these two houses and” —so, it certainly exposed me to a whole lot of different people. I had two Yankee parents, so growing up in the South was tricky because you didn’t have the insider knowledge that parents could give you.

TS:

Like what? What kind of insider knowledge were you missing?

CB:

Well, I didn’t eat grits at the time. I do now. But, they had a very different sensibility. So, in Mississippi my dad’s company had rented a house for us, kind of sight unseen. So when we got there—I guess it was okay—I was six, so I was just starting first grade. But, I remember every week my mother would run out and snatch something off of the lawn and run to the garbage can and stuff it down. Well, as I got older I found out that it was the Klan [Ku Klux Klan] newspaper—that the guy who owned our house was a member of the Klan in Mississippi, and my mom didn’t want us to see “that trash” as she labeled it. So she would run out—because, they couldn’t figure out how to stop the newspaper from being delivered from the local Klan.

So, it was stuff like that. It was finding out that our church had been threatened, because we had a black member that we allowed to join the Lutheran Church in Jackson, Mississippi in 1965.  So, we were there when the civil rights workers were killed. I remember radio announcements, “White women: don’t go into Jackson, Mississippi, today.” So, that was my earliest memories—the dogs in Birmingham [Alabama] and the water hoses, and seeing that on the nightly news, and wondering where we were going. I just remember it as a very turbulent time as a kid.

TS:

Now, do you have any siblings?

CB:

I do. I have two younger brothers. Bryan is three years younger, and Christopher is nine years younger.

TS:

So, what was it like for them do you think at that time, since they were a little bit younger than you?

CB:

Well, for Brian and I—we had to become each other’s best friends, because that was the only person you knew that you were going to see year after year. And so—

TS:

With all of the traveling, you mean?

CB:

Yeah, traveling and all the moving around and stuff.  So if you didn’t know anybody new, you always had a kid brother to play with—or beat up as the case may be—depending on the day. Christopher is nine years younger.  So I would say that we picked him up in Birmingham.

TS:

Picked him up? [chuckle]

CB:

Picked him up. It was a brief stop, because we only lived in Alabama—Birmingham—for about a year. So he was much younger. So, he was kind of our dress up doll. Brian and I, we used to put him into costumes and teach him a sentence when he was just a little kid, and then we would send him off to amuse our parents. So, he was like a little living doll. I’m sure he appreciates those memories. But, yeah.

TS:

Now, did you mom work also at this time?

CB:

Periodically. When we were real little she was kind of a stay at home mom. But, by the time I was ten, she was working full time, because I was babysitting both of the boys and I’d make dinner and stuff. She worked as a secretary sometimes. She worked at a jewelry store, for example, in Atlanta and eventually became assistant to the head of human resources at Dames and Warren in Atlanta. That was her last job before she got really sick.

TS:

Now, do you remember—when you were growing up—now, so you’re moving around a little bit—where you like in the city or the suburbs, or did it change a lot?

CB:

Oh, we were ‘burb kids.

TS:

The suburbs?

CB:

Absolutely. I guess the closest that we lived to in-town was the second house in Birmingham. That was pretty—it was tough, more inner-city neighborhood. We couldn’t afford much. So it was near the airport, it was a real mixed ethnic group, which was pretty unheard of in 1967. But other than that, we were pretty much suburban kids with gangs of bicyclers all over the place and walking to school. Those are my memories.     

TS:       So besides dressing up Christopher, what other kind of games did you play?

CB:

[laughs] Well, I was—we were always really active kids, so football when it was cool and baseball when it was hot. So after we moved to Atlanta, it was actually the same year that the Braves [professional baseball team] got to Atlanta.

TS:

The baseball team?

CB:

The baseball team.

TS:

Where did they come from?

CB:

Gosh, somewhere in a cold clime up north, where their delicatenesses had to come down south. [The Braves are one of two teams dating from the original franchise charters of the National League. They have been located in many cities, but were based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, prior to Atlanta.] So, every year my dad would take us to ball day, bat day, and helmet day. So, the dads would rotate. And they would take this gaggle of kids. So we would have ten bats and we’d have ten batting helmets, so they would outfit us for the summer.

TS:

[chuckle] That’s kind of a good idea.

CB:

Yeah, so we also had our bikes. In suburbia you had lots of places to ride. Everyone was kind of keeping an eye on you. We grew up near a lake at one house, so we would go fishing and wading, and that kind of stuff.   

TS:

Now, did you like school as a young girl?   

CB:

I did. It was funny, my parents always talked about when I was first learning to read that I was not very good at it, and so I didn’t like it. They just sort of like pounded me to read, and then I got addicted. I’ve always been a big reader. I actually had a stutter when I was a kid, so my first couple of years of school, I also spent in speech class. So if I get really tired or angry I’ll still do a little stuttering. But, I can’t say I really liked school, because I changed school so much. So to me, they weren’t a place of comfort, it was more like, “Oh god, I have to learn    a whole new class of people and new teachers and new ways of doing things and stuff.” So I liked to learn, but I wasn’t that big into school, until we settled down in Atlanta. Then, I definitely got better grades because we stayed in one place.

TS:

Do you have a favorite subject, or teacher, or anything like that looking back?

CB:

Not really. I really—probably science, because we could do that everywhere. I still have the microscope that I got from my eighth birthday or something like that. I was like, “Hey, Brian I need blood!” and sticking him with a needle. We could do experiments anywhere. My parents really worked hard to make us aware of the world. My dad traveled a lot, so he would read books every week and then come back and give us book reports over Friday night dinner. But he would never tell us how the book ended. So if they were appropriate for kids, he would then let us read them.  If they weren’t appropriate for kids he would say, “You can see this when you’re eighteen.” So I actually had a list of books that when I turned eighteen I went out and bought, so I could read the ends of them.

TS:

You had to wait a little while on them, huh?

CB:

I did have to, on some of them.

TS:

Did you have a sense as a girl in this time—we can go back to the sixties time in a little bit—but, did you have a sense of what you wanted to do when you grew up or anything?

CB:      I wanted to be an astronaut.

TS:

Why?

CB:

Well, I was born at the beginning of the space race. And so—but it was interesting, back then there wasn’t the—well, girls couldn’t be astronauts. My brother had an astronaut suit—I didn’t. And as I was kind of thinking, “Well, what is that I want to do?” I actually then probably settled on oceanography, and looked at that for a very long time. I wanted to design under water habitats. I remember as a kid sitting there by the hour and designing different things. I would go read up about sea creatures and, you know, tidal forces. So yeah, it was probably my first real dream of what I wanted to do.

TS:

You said for a really long time, was there anything that changed that?

CB:

Actually, in high school, I think I took chemistry and realized that I was never going to get organic chemistry down that I probably needed to have a PhD in oceanography. I think, unconsciously, I was probably picking up on some of the issues about women being in science and math. I remember taking algebra two-trig[onometry] and it was taught by a coach. There was twenty guys and two women in a class. He was like, “Well, I don’t know why you girls are in here. It’s not like you need higher math.”

TS:

He actually said that?

CB:

Oh, yeah, absolutely! This would have been ’74, maybe. Thinking, “Oh yeah, I’m going to do fine in this class. I’m going to beat you boys.” But then, I think after awhile—if you just hear that over and over and over—I remember my advisor in ninth grade had signed me up for home ec[onomics]. I didn’t want home ec. She says, “Well, I’m not going to change it until your mother comes in here.”

Well, my mother blew in there and she’s like, “What the hell? My daughter can cook. She can sew. She doesn’t need this. She wants journalism.”

So Mom fought for me to be in the journalism class, which two years later I was the editor of the school paper—so, good for her. And so, in my senior year of high school I actually took my first sociology class. That was it. I knew at 17 that I was going to go into sociology.

TS:

Why?

CB:

It clicked with me. It answered those questions—or, started to answer those questions that I had had since watching the dogs in Birmingham, and asking about the white and black water fountains in Jackson, Mississippi, as a kid. So for the first time I thought, “Oh, okay, this is why people do what they do. And this how—if you want to make changes, you have to understand how things work.” So—

TS:

When you were talking about growing up in turbulent times, what—didn’t Birmingham have [the burning of] churches?

CB:

Well, those were back in the early sixties. We were in Birmingham in ‘67—‘68—at the height of the—Bull Conner was the police chief then. He was the one who was turning the fire houses and letting the dogs loose on the black marchers, who were peaceful. Those were the images that we saw over and over again. That was the ’68 Democratic [National] Convention. By that time—late in that year we moved to Atlanta. You know, and that was just—the world was going up in flames it seemed at that time.

TS:

Well, do you remember when Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated?

CB:

I do. It’s interesting I think probably more people—how do I say this? We were actually living in Tennessee. We were in Knoxville when he was shot in Memphis. And not to say that there was a news blackout, but it wasn’t that covered that I remember, or we weren’t exposed to it. I don’t know what the deal is. He is not one of my big memories— of his assassination. We knew who he was. I, at the time had not studied his philosophy or anything like that. I mean, most people that you talked to in the South [thought] he was a trouble maker. So I didn’t get the whole thing about non-violent change until I got into college and looking back on it. I remember Bobby Kennedy’s [Robert F. Kennedy] assignation much clearer.

TS:

I was going to ask you about that. How did that come about for you?

CB:

Well, it’s funny. My dad was always a registered Republican, my mom was always a registered Democrat when I was growing up. She later became a Republican. We were always, as little kids, expected to read the paper, watch the news, and be involved in events in the world. So we were aware of the conventions and the election and how vital it was. So I tended to lean—as my mother was—for Kennedy. So I remember thinking as a little kid, “Oh my god, here were two people—very quickly—who had stood up to do the right thing and got killed. Then, how do you work on changing the world, when it seems like the world is going to put a bullet in your head if you stand up and point out the problems of the world.”

Yeah that definitely had—one of the—

TS:

Did you think that—you were nine years old then, right?

CB:

Yeah. Yeah. I remember thinking, “If you’re smart and you’re good and you’re trying to do the right thing, people will kill you.” My other overwhelming memory was thinking, “Well, at least they were old and had lived long lives.” [laughs] Because at nine and ten, thirty-nine, forty-one, or forty-three, or whatever they were at that age, seemed much older. Now I look at them and think, “Oh my god, they were both babies.” They both died much younger than I am now. So it’s kind of a freaky thought.

TS:

Now, you also had a little bit of the—well, the counter-culture was going on. Is that something that you were exposed to at all?

CB:

Not so much. I remember by the time that I was in middle school—well, we didn’t have middle in Georgia—you know, eighth, ninth grade, and you weren’t quite under the thumb of your parents so much—The Great Speckled Bird was the underground newspaper.  

TS:

What was it called?

CB:

The Great Speckled Bird in Atlanta. We would sneak off and we would get copies of it. And, it was the radical counter-culture newspaper. So we thought that we were very cool. My parents always said, “Thank god you were slightly too young to participate in that.” Because, they knew if I had been any older that I would have been off on the road and living in hippie-dom land somewhere.

TS:

What did you think about some of the music?

CB:

Oh, loved it. I was definitely a rocker.

TS:

Anything in particular?

CB:

Actually I was a big Janis Joplin fan from the get-go. So she’s still on my iPod now.

TS:

Is she?

CB:

Oh yeah.

TS:

What else do you have on there?

CB:

The Beatles. They were probably kind of my—then I liked some of the bubble gummy stuff.

TS:

Bubble gum?

CB:

Yeah, would have been like "Dizzy"[song by Tommy Roe] and some of the stuff by The Archies. I always remember my mother yelling, “Turn that down! It’s driving me crazy!” So, when students have music loud I’m like, “Why the hell do they listen to—oh shut up, you’re becoming your mother.”

TS:

Well, so okay, you’re going through school—you have a little bit of—you’re in Atlanta still, right, for a while? Now, when you were in high school did you have the same sense of not being quite as interested in school as you were in earlier years?

CB:

No, I really settled down. We moved to Atlanta—I was in fifth grade—part way through fifth grade, so sixth and seventh I was in the same school. I started to do better and better. I started eighth grade at Clarkston High School, which was an integrated high school. That would have been in ’71. And got really involved and I did really well. Was nominated for like DeKalb honors, and stuff like that.

TS:

DeKalb, what’s that?

CB:

DeKalb County, the county in Atlanta that we lived in. So, for the first time started realizing that I could do some stuff. My grades improved until I hit geometry, which still I have no idea what that is. I spent the first two years at Clarkston and then we moved, and I ended up my last three years of high school at Henderson High School.

TS:

Now, was Henderson also integrated?

CB:

No, actually Henderson was very different. Clarkston was totally integrated. Which in 1971, hey, that was cool, that was hip. We were seeing stuff and learning stuff.

TS:

Like what stuff?

CB:

Well, I think music, dress, literature, the way of looking at the world. I think at that pivotal time in my life I got to see how the world was impacting people that I cared about who were friends, who were different from me. And then I went to Henderson, which was an incredibly white school. There was[sic] a few students of color, but not very many. But they had a golf team—probably 95% of Henderson graduates go on to college. So I lost something when I left Clarkston, but I gained something in being pushed academically that I might not have gotten in Clarkston.

TS:

Did you have any black friends when you were at Clarkston?

CB:

Yes. We lived in an apartment complex that was also integrated.

TS:

And how were your folks about that?

CB:

Oh, they were fine.

TS:

Did you have any—was there any resistance from the people in your circle at all?

CB:

Not really, because everybody that I hung out with lived in the same place and went to the same school. I found more resistance at Henderson, where the lines I think were drawn a little differently, but not at Clarkston.

TS:

Now, did you do any kind of extracurricular activities?

CB:

I know that this will be a surprise, but theatre was where I got started—actually, at Clarkston. I was in the play Up the Down Staircase [A played base on the humorous novel of the same name].

TS:

Up the Down Staircase?

CB:

Up the Down Staircase, which was a movie later on. But by the time I got to Henderson I got involved in journalism and became the editor of the newspaper. And I got involved with student council. So, I did that for a couple of years.

TS:

What was it that you liked about those two areas?                                

CB:

Well, I think the newspaper helped me hone those skills of asking good questions and looking behind the curtain. I always tease and say, “You know, there’s a sociologist in The Wizard of Oz, my favorite movie.”

And my students are like “well, is it so and so, and so and so”, and they finally realize that it’s Toto [a dog].

Because in that one scene where the wizard is like “Ignore the man behind the” —and Toto is pulling the curtain open.

I said, “That’s what sociologists do. If somebody goes ‘oh, don’t worry about that’, that’s the first place that I’m going to go look.”  Journalism helped me understand that in some real profound ways.

I remember my dad also saying, “You know Cheryl, you just keep butting your head up against these systems. You want to make change, but you can’t do it from the outside. You’ve got to get involved in the system if there is something that you want changed,” which I still debate with myself. Can you make more change from inside, or are you co-opted and can only make minimal changes? Or, do you have to stay outside the system?  So I think that’s the balancing act that I learned. As a journalist editor I could be the outside insider, but if I was on student council I could learn how the system worked and make incremental changes for what I wanted to do.               

TS:       What kinds of things did you want to change?

CB:

Oh, you know, stuff like fourteen year olds want to change: having open campus more often, and that kind of stuff. But, I think it was a chance for me to understand how important communication is with folks, and how they really need to get involved in the system. I also joined [The National] Beta club at that time, and they did a lot of service stuff. That was kind of my outlet for working on projects in the community to make a difference.

TS:

Now, at what point did you make—you traveled, I know, to a different country for a little while I know. When was that?

CB:

I did. When I was sixteen a couple of friends and I—Christie and David heard about this group coming to campus for a talk. It’s called Amigos de las Americas: Friends of the Americas. And we went to this meeting and heard these amazing stories about this group who was revolutionizing medical care through Latin America. You trained for a year and then you went down for five weeks, and it could be anywhere from Honduras, Nicaragua—down through Ecuador, Columbia, Bolivia, which was the southernmost country at that time. I think they were in a couple dozen countries. Each country would have Amigos volunteers concentrate on a particular issue during that summer.

So, Christie and David and I all went to our homes that night. We were fired up. We wanted to do this so much. Christie and my parents went, “This will be an excellent chance for you.”

David’s parents were like, “Oh no, it’s too dangerous. You can’t go.”

I think it’s interesting that, out of the three of us, it was the two women who were allowed to go on and do this. So we trained for a year in medicine, culture, Spanish. We ran fundraisers. You had to kick in—I think it was like a thousand dollars for your time. And so you had to pay five hundred, and then the group raised five hundred.

So, Christie and I were the youngest people. We were the two high schoolers, and there were ten folks in Atlanta who were involved in this—most were college students. So, for the first time—at sixteen and seventeen—I’m hanging out with college kids, looking at how they lived their lives. Again, it’s 1974 so it’s still a pretty radical transformation time.

So, summer of ’75 I find myself in Ecuador for five weeks schlepping up and down the Andes Mountains with buckets of vaccine. Our task that year was to do BCG [Bacillus Calmette-Guérin], which is an anti-tuberculin drug [sic, vaccine].  So, it’s given just under the skin, so you have to slide the needle just under the skin. When you inject it it makes a bubble. Within a couple of weeks it causes a scab and all that kind of stuff. Kind of like when we all got our little shot scar on our arms, it leaves a little one of those. But BCG—Tuberculosis was the number one killer of Ecuador at that time. And so because they can’t get people in to get tested and treated, it was much better to try to stop the infection. So that’s what I did. So, I turned 17 in Ecuador.

TS:

Excuse me, how long were you there?  

CB:

Five weeks.

TS:

What else did you gain from that experience?

CB:

Wow, I think that was one of those pivotal moments. To be able to go to another culture, to learn the language—I’ve learned the language. I wasn’t really good at Spanish, but I could get my way around. That small groups can make a change I think was really important for me to know. I was with two girls who were—one was from California and one was from Boston. They were both in college, so they kind of thought of themselves as my big sisters.

So that was really cool. To be able to live with an Ecuadorian family, it was so important. Even now, the way I teach classes—when I teach cultural anthropology I think about when I learned how to use a squat toilet in Ecuador and take bucket baths. I talk about my partner Bunny freaking out with culture shock. She came to the clinic one day with her suitcase. I was like, “Bunny, where are you going?”

She said, “Home.”

I was like, “Bunny, the buses don’t run today”.

She goes, “That’s okay, I’ll walk”.

I mean, she was so far out of it that she was, like, delusional.

I was like, “You can’t leave.” And she started screaming and hollering. She was the first person that I ever hit, because I hauled off and just knocked the crap out of her. Because, I remember thinking, “Oh, in all the movies when people become hysterical you slap them and” —it really did, it caught her attention. It calmed her down and it got her focused enough for us to take her suitcase away and take her back and spend the day quietly with her. And the next day she was fine.

TS:

So, she stayed the rest of the time?

CB:

Yeah, she stayed the rest of the time, [she] did great. So I always think when I take students down I have to pay attention to this idea of so much shock to your system. 

TS:

Yeah, so that was a good experience for you on a lot of different levels?

CB:

Absolutely. When I came back I—and I didn’t—they weren’t teaching about reverse culture shock at that point, where you get so much into the culture that you come back, and when you re-enter ours, you freak out. That’s where I freaked out, because, we had too much stuff. And I felt like I was in a bubble. In Ecuador, you walk arm and arm with friends, you know, there’s a very small personal space. You’re always in contact with people. And I came here, and I came back to the US, and I just felt like I was – you weren’t allowed to touch, you weren’t allowed to visit, you weren’t allowed to do anything. I really, really struggled with that to the point where my parents were figuring out how to send me back to Ecuador to finish high school.

TS:

How long did that last?

CB:

Maybe a month.

TS:

That’s a long time.

CB:

My dad still refers to those as the “the dark day of Cheryl’s communist change”.

TS:

[laughs]

CB:

I was like, “We have too much stuff. People in Ecuador don’t have anything in their hut. Why do we have stuff?”

They’d just go, “Oh my god.”

TS:

So you had a lot of service work, you were on the paper, and you were enjoying school. So what did you see as your future at this point?

CB:

Well, I knew I was going to go into sociology. I discovered that my senior year of high school. Other than that, I didn’t really have plans. I really didn’t know what I wanted to be. Other than, I was going to major in this and I figured it would show me the way.

TS:

So, you knew that you were going to go to college?

CB:

Yeah, that wasn’t even a debate in my family. Every day we would—every Sunday—it is kind of funny, because I had no sense of direction. So I actually have no idea what the correct route was from my house to my church, but every Sunday we would pass Agnes Scott College. And, my mom would go, “Look, there’s Agnes Scott. Isn’t it beautiful?” “Oh look” —every time it was in the paper she would circle it and put it on my bed. So, by the time that I was a senior in high school I only applied to one school. I was actually at the end of my junior year—you could apply early decision. I applied to Agnes Scott and got accepted.

TS:

What kind of school was Agnes Scott?

CB:

It was a women’s college, liberal arts tradition. I think Presbyterian in nature, but I didn’t get the—it wasn’t religiously based. You had to take two religion courses, and that was the only time I remember thinking, “Oh yeah, this is a church school.” But very conservative, I mean, I started in 1976. We had curfews. I think it was nine or ten on the weekdays, and midnight on the weekends. You had to sign in and out. They had to know where you were 24/7.

TS:

Were you comfortable with all that?

CB:

Well, having grown up in my household it wasn’t really different than what I had grown up with. I think most of us had grown up in that environment. Freshmen weren’t allowed cars. They had just gotten away from white gloves in the previous few years. So, in a way I appreciated the structure, but after you were there a while you start kind of chaffing under what seemed to be arbitrary rules created during the dark ages, and here you were hip and cool in 1976. And so I pretty much then set out to break every rule that I could—testing those boundaries.

TS:

And did you?

CB:

Yes, I did!

CB:

Did you live on the campus or at home, or what?

CB:

I did live on campus—my mother thought that that was a really important part of the college experience—was to live away. It was only twenty minutes from home, but I lived on campus.

TS:

Was that a good experience for you, too?

CB:

It was. My—I only had a roommate my freshman year: a young woman from Panama. She was Greek, a bit spoiled, and we clashed a lot. And her mother would send her boxes of food and she was afraid that people would steal her Feta cheese, so she would keep it on the air conditioning unit. So, it was the only dorm on campus that had air conditioning: Winship Hall. She would crank that bad boy to like 60 degrees and have the cheese sitting right there. I was like, “No, no, you can’t be doing this all the time.”

So anyway, we had a little personality clash and they finally—when I tried to chase her down the hall to beat her to death—decided we should be separated and I got my own room. I kept that for the next three and a half years.  

TS:

So now, here at Agnes Scott College did you have any role models—teachers or some things like that? I know you were interested, still, in sociology.

CB:

Absolutely, my hero during that time is Connie Jones, who was my professor. Even though I thought she was much older at the time—she was thirty-five—and so, yes, I just adored her.  She got married when we were there and we were all invited to the wedding and the reception. She really kind of showed me how you can take students through your journey as well. That yes, there are boundaries, but when I think about it, some of the most important lessons I learned weren’t in the classroom, but they were life lessons from my professors.

TS:

Can you share one of those?

CB:

Well, I think it was when she had gotten sick at one point, and they were afraid that it was cancer. This happened with a mentor in my graduate program as well. With them saying, “I’ve got to go to the doctor. This is what we’re going to do” —and really laying out how you do that. Then she broke up with her husband—they had been married for a couple of years and ended up separating—how you do that with class and can separate lives and compartmentalize, and maybe that’s not a good lesson, but it’s certainly a lesson that I’ve used a lot as a sociologist.

I think it was those kind of lessons that were really important to me, that meant the most. It was having a philosophy class on Plato with only two of us, and we met in the professor’s office and sipped tea. I remember thinking, “Oh my god, is life better than this—to talk about these wonderful ideas while sipping tea in your professor’s office?” So, when I have independent studies, we meet in my office and I make tea.

TS:

You have tea?

CB:

Yeah, absolutely. In other departments, they would let you drink port.

TS:

Oh, you mean at Agnes Scott?

[phone rings]

CB:

Yeah.

TS:

Really?

CB:

They would share port.

TS:

Let me pause this for a second.

CB:      Sure.

[recording paused]

TS:       Okay, so you’re sipping tea in the professor’s office. You’re going through your program of sociology. Again now, we talked a little bit earlier about your restrictions that you  kind of felt—maybe the limitations—the young girl—not in the sciences—now, you’re at a women’s college, how did this dynamic feel to you?

CB:

Well, it was empowering, because at Agnes Scott every position was filled by women. So, they were the class presidents, they were the student body presidents, they were editors of the paper. So, everywhere you looked there were really strong role models. However, women can be total bitches. And that’s the downside of being in a women’s college, is that if you get out of line, your compatriots can be very cruel in getting you back into line.

TS:

Do you have an example?

CB:

Well, I did—with my disregarding of the rules—you weren’t allowed to drink at Agnes Scott, my first couple of years. We all drank quite regularly on campus. As a matter of fact, I remember going to the liquor store to pick up a bottle of pure grain alcohol and the guy said to me, “Would you like a straw with that?”

“Thanks.”

But, we would take pitchers of juice out of the dining hall and mix it and lay out in the sun and get totally trashed. And, actually one day, somebody had fixed me a drink and I just, you know, didn’t think about it. That night, I started my period, and that used to make me throw up. I used to get really incredibly sick for the first couple of days. I went in the bathroom and I threw up, and it was at a friend’s dorm, it wasn’t in my dorm. The dorm person wrote me up that I smelled of alcohol. She thought I had gotten drunk and threw up. And I had not been off campus—ergo, I had been drinking on campus. It had nothing—I was not drunk. I had that one drink.

The next morning I get hauled into the dean’s office. And I’m told that I’m being charged with drinking on campus, that they had heard that there was a wild party going on, and that I needed to tell everybody’s names. I said, “No, I’m not going to give you anybody’s names.” They literally made me go over to this friend’s room while they searched her room. And I knew where the liquor was. It was in a Clinique bottle, which was usually where we all hid our liquor. They didn’t find it. I’m just standing there. They’re like, “Tell us”.

I’m like, “No, I’m not telling you.”

And so I got charged, the friend whose room it was got charged, and anybody else who had been in the general vicinity. We all got charged. I ended up in honor court, because it wasn’t just a social violation, but because I refused to tell. They considered it an infraction of the honor code. I said, “I don’t agree with you honor code. I’m going to keep my own damn honor code, which is not to tell you people anything.” So, my sophomore year I’m in the attic of one of the dorms, which is where honor court met like at ten o’clock at night. They all wore their academic robes and you were escorted up one at a time to sit at the end of this table. And basically I said, “I’m not telling you. I will cop to drinking on campus.” And so, I was found guilty of an honor court violation and could have gotten thrown out of campus.

I showed up—so that night I went home to my parents’ house and fell asleep on the couch. And my dad gets up in the morning and goes, “Why are you here?”

I said, “Well Dad, I might get thrown out of Agnes Scott.”

He said, “Well, did you do it?”

I said, “Well, what does that got to do with it?”

He says, “Cheryl, if you did it, take your punishment.” He said, “If you didn’t do it, I will fight up to the supreme court for you.”

I went home and I thought a lot about it and I took my punishment, which was to be stripped of offices and all sorts of stuff. I learned a valuable lesson that maybe morality is not as situational as I would like to believe sometimes.  I would do the same thing, but I took my medicine and actually came back two years later and was elected dorm president, and all sorts of stuff. But at that time, I guess I have a different—I’m still not a rule follower. I want to know why, and if you can’t give me a good reason, I still don’t have a problem breaking it. But, I understand the mentality now of always going by rules, and how important they are to some people.

TS:

Some people?

CB:

Some people.

TS:

So in this structure that you had, and that you’re chaffing at a little bit, you’re still on target to—what did you think you were going to be able to do as a sociologist major?

CB:

I had no idea. Not only—I planned on going to graduate school, actually. And then I had such a bad grade point average, because of the partying during my first couple of years. I actually had a negative grade point average one semester. They were on a three point system. “A’s” were three, “B”s 2, and “C”s 1, and “D”s 0, and “F”s were -2. And I had a negative grade point average. Now, to dig yourself out of that hole academically and think any graduate school is going to touch you in the near future? You know, I finally realized that was not going to happen.

So my senior year, I was—My brother joined the army, and I had gotten more into the criminal justice aspect of sociology. I remember sitting in the dining hall and flipping a coin, and saying, “Heads, I go into the army, and tails, I go into the police academy.” That’s how I decided to join the army.

TS:

Why did you pick just the army?

CB:

Well, because Brian was in it. I knew that I needed a job after graduation, and I knew myself well enough that I thought if I started a career I would never stop and go back to graduate school. So I wanted a job that would last a specific amount of time, where I could set money aside, get my head together and then go to graduate school. So, the army was perfect, and it was going to let me go to a foreign country and learn a language, I found out. So Brian was like, “Oh, yeah, you can see the world. There are posts all over, blah, blah, blah, blah.”

TS:

So you brother was positive about it?

CB:

Oh yeah. Well, we knew he was going to join the army since he was like two. He was always playing army and loved GI Joe’s and any movie. When he was probably seven or eight—I always called Brian an idiot savant—I mean, anything about military, he is a genius about, although he has no social skills. So, when he was like seven, eight years old he was checking books out of the library on World War II aces and military strategy used at this battle, to the point where the librarians refused to let him check anymore books out until he read stuff on other topics.

TS:

How old was he then?

CB:

I guess ten, eleven, twelve by the time that he is—by the time they put their foot down. Then he got involved in astronomy and then everything was about that. He joined right out of high school. My parents signed a waiver. He went into basic when he was seventeen.

TS:

Now, do you come from a history of anybody in the military besides your brother?

CB:

Oh god no. My father was a total—he got drafted and hauled in, you know, shackles practically.

TS:

When did he get drafted?

CB:

Early fifties? He spent two years in the army. It was interesting, because the night before he left for basic training—his name was Larry, and his best friends’ names were Barry and Harry. I know, isn’t that scary? So Harry, Larry, and Barry went out for one last drunk in South Florida and ended up in a car accident, and all three got ejected. And my father broke his leg really badly, so had to defer for six months or a year—I can’t remember—while it healed up. Thank god that happened! They rolled over in a pineapple patch, and my father had that newspaper forever where he was sitting in the middle of the three guys in the front seat, and the roof had caved in and he would have died if they hadn’t been ejected. But he took a job at Woolworth’s while he healed and that’s where he met my mom. So, my parents actually got together before he went off to military service.

So, he was a cryptographer in the army. He was talking about that he was on duty when the [1958] Hungarian Revolution happened. He was in Germany—no, he was in France. And he went home after his shift and started packing his bags, because he knew that they were going to be shipped out to help the Hungarians for the revolution. He said, “Then we never got sent and the rest is history.” But he was there when that message came through to the NATO offices.

So, yes, my uncle had also been drafted, but nobody was a lifetime military in my family. So my father would go, “I don’t understand where the hell you two got this from. Why did you join the army? You didn’t have to!”

TS:

What did your mother think about it?

CB:

I think she was okay. She was a little concerned sending a daughter off to the military, but Mom always pretty much backed what I wanted to do, and was basically an early feminist, even if she never put that label on herself. She was like, “You know, if the boys can do it, then you can do it too. Get out there! You’ll do fine.”

TS:

Can you tell me a little bit then about when you—now, you had a college education.

CB:

Absolutely.

TS:

So you could have gone in as an officer.

CB:

Yes.

TS:

Was there a particular reason why you didn’t do that?

CB:

Well, I actually talked to Brian and he was saying, “You know, you really ought to think about the army.” As I started talking to recruiters and stuff, if you went in as an officer, you could not pick your job. You went in for the—the army could put you anywhere. I knew I wanted to—after I started talking to the recruiter—I know I wanted to become a linguist, because as a little sociologist I could think, “Oh my gosh, I could learn a language and then go to that country and participate.” So when I found out that I couldn’t go in as an officer and be guaranteed language school, I opted out of the officer corps.

TS:

So did you sign up to go into language school originally when you enlisted?

CB:

I did. We actually get tested before you go in. So my recruiter took me down. You take the ASVABs [Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery], remember those? I remember that day, we were driving in and it was myself and this guy in the backseat who wanted to be a mechanic. He was married, lived in a trailer, you know, was eighteen, and thought that the military was going to be the end all, be all, for him. That’s what he wanted to do. He was going to be able to take care of his family and it was going to work out great. All he had to do was go and pass these tests. So we took the ASVABS and on the way back the recruiter is like “Well, how did you guys do?”

The guy in the back says, “Oh man, I aced that test. It was simple blah, blah.”

He goes, “How about you, Cheryl?”

“Well, I missed this question and I missed this question and I missed this question.” I said, “I don’t know how I did,” I said, “I don’t think I did very well”.

So a few days later he called back laughing. He said—and I don’t know how the score are—is—but I had scored enough that any job in the army was mine. It was some outrageously high score. And so he said, “I want you to come in and we’ll look at all your options.”

I said, “How did the dude in the backseat do?”

He goes, “Well, he scored like a 63 and he needed a 61 to get in”.

So he was already signed up and on his way, so I was like “Well, good for him.” I knew that that was going to be a good place for him. Then I went down to get a battery of other tests and stuff, and I scored fine on the language. But I talked to Brian, and he was in already. He was an image interpreter.

TS:

Image?

CB:

Image interpreter—you know guys who do the spy satellite photos and could tell you, “Oh look, here’s a radio antenna in a stand of trees.” He was really pushing me to go into that.

He said, “You have to go into military intelligence.” He said, “You don’t want to go anywhere else.”

“So what are my options?”

Well, you can be an image interpreter like him. He suggested a reporter, an analyst, and said, “Yeah, there’s languages, but you don’t want to become a linguist.”

I said, “Why not?”     

He goes, “Oh, a bunch of queers.”

I said, “Oh, okay.”

So the next day when I go down to talk to the recruiter, he said, “What jobs are you thinking of?”

I said, “Well, linguist seems real interesting to me!”

He said, “Well, let’s give you the test.”

I ended up doing really well on it. He said, “What language do you want?” So we went through the list. He said, “There’s Spanish, German, Russian, Serbo-Croatian, and Korean.”

I was like, “Well, I already speak Spanish and German”. I had taken those in high school and college. I said, “I don’t want Russian, because I can’t go there. I really want to be able to go to the country.” I said, “I don’t even know where they speak Serbo-Croatian”. I said, “Korean, yeah, I’ve watched M*A*S*H. That’d be cool. Sign me up for Korean.” So that’s how another life decision—

TS:

You picked Korean as a language?

CB:

I picked Korean as a language. So I signed my paperwork in, I think, it’s February for a differed enlistment? Nobody at school believed it. They were like “Hey, what are you doing after graduation?”

“Oh, I’m joining the army.”

“Oh yeah, right!”

I literally had to carry my contract around, because they were like, “Cheryl, you can’t follow the rules here. They’re going to eat you alive in the army.”

I was like, “Nope, I think that’s what I’m going to do it.” Shortly after that the dean of students offered me a job as her assistant.

She said, “Because you know what? The best deans are those that have broken all the rules and know how students think.” She goes “I want you on my staff.”

I said, “I’ve already joined the army.”

So interestingly, if she had gotten to me a month earlier, I wouldn’t—I probably wouldn’t have joined the army.

TS:

You never would’ve went?

CB:

Yeah.

TS:

Can you explain a little bit more about your brother’s statement, about the queer statement? Why was that so—

CB:

It’s interesting, because at the time I did not identify as lesbian. I was twenty-one. I was a senior in college. I had done reports—I vividly remember them—on lesbian mothers. It’s not until afterwards, when we start looking back on our life, and I know a lot of psychologists talk about, “Well, is it reconstructing reality? Blah, blah, blah.”  But, I was probably had my first major crush—that I loved somebody—when I was at Agnes Scott, but it still—I was untouched. When he said that I remember thinking, “Well, it must be pretty cool then”. So, it wasn’t a place where I was going to seek safety. I thought it would just be a cool group of people to hang out with. I thought, “Well, if they’ve got that many people who are cool, then that’s where I want to go.” So I actually did not start to self identify in any way until I was already in the army.

TS:

All right, so let’s talk about—you’re signing up and you did that where? You did that in Atlanta?

CB:

Yes.             

TS:

So that was when you did delayed enlistment, so when did you actually enter the active duty?

CB:

I graduated from Agnes Scott June 1st. I reported for active duty June 11th, 1980.

TS:

Then you went to basic training?

CB:

Fort Leonard Wood, C-1-3 was the number of my company.

TS:

C-1-3. And how was that for you, Cheryl?

CB:

Brian—

TS:

Actually, we have to pause for a second. I’m sorry.  We know where you were. [recording paused] Okay, we had a little short break there. Cheryl was just getting to basic training. Sorry about that, let’s go ahead Cheryl.

CB:

No problem. Well, it turns out that my brother—of all the basic training companies in the world—Brian had been in the same one the year before. He knew my cadre of drill sergeants. Of course, he was mister super soldier. He got soldier of the cycle and all this kind of stuff. I was not a super soldier. But it was kind of nice, because our parents were going through a divorce at that point, and my basic training company was such a bunch of screw-ups that we were on total control for virtually the whole basic training. I didn’t get a lot of word from outside. Brian would call at like 2 or 3 in the morning and find out what drill sergeant was on duty, and they’d come and get me to allow me to talk to Brian; because he was wonderful.

So that was a mixed blessing. I remember we were at the light anti-tank weapon—learning how to fire the LAW [M72 Light Anti-tank Weapon]. I thought it was kind of scary. It’s this metal tube that shoots a rocket. As I was firing it, I would close my eyes. It rests on your shoulder and you squeeze this rubber thing. Then they say, be careful, because you have to collapse it to reload it. But, if you leave your fingers into too long—you have to be there to release the safety, but if you leave them in too long it will cut your fingers off. So, I’m like totally paranoid. So when I close my eyes one of the drill sergeants hit me in the back of the head with a clipboard. He was like, “Are you sure you’re Brian Brown’s sister?”

I said, “Yes, I am, and I’m going to kick his ass next time I see him for making my life miserable.”

So the female drill sergeant—Sergeant Davolos[?]—she was in charge of one of the two for our platoon—I guess had kind of taken a liking to me.  I was one of the only—there was three of us, I think, that had college degrees. They had already picked the squad leaders before I got there. I got there a day later, so I think I would have been a squad leader just by virtue. But, I wasn’t. And so she expected me I think to pick up the slack in different ways. I remember one time she was up late, and I was on guard duty. We had a conversation. She said, “What do you want out of basic training? Why are you here?”

I said, “You know what? I’ve never lived in my body. Everything that I’ve accomplished in my life,” to that point at twenty-one—twenty-two— “—has been using my brain. So my biggest hurdle is going to be getting in shape and doing all this physical activity stuff, because I’ve never, ever, done it.”

She said, “Well, we’ll see how it goes”.

And I said, “I would love to” —Brian had won—all the top soldiers in each platoon got to do was a trip to Lake of the Ozarks. It was kind of like a little resort. You got to overnight there. You got great food, you know. If you went there it meant that you did something really, really good. I said, “Actually, I want to win a trip to Lake of the Ozarks”.

She said, “Well, I will keep my eye on you and we will see how it goes.”

And I busted my hump, not just for the trip but just for basic pride, which as a Leo I have a lot of, and got picked. It’s interesting because I ended up not going, because my closest friend Tammy Hargroves had cracked her ankle just before then. And it was a down day and I could either go Lake of the Ozarks or take care of Hargroves. So I opted to stay back and help her out. But just knowing that I could have gone was really important for me.

But yeah, it was hard. I learned that I could use my brain to help other people train me in different ways. So we were one of the first army basic training companies to be both genders. So out of the four platoons, the first platoon was female and the rest were guys. The guys were much better at all the physical activity for the most part, but were not stellar students. So the women would often say, “I’ll help you study and learn this. You help me do this.” So there was a lot of teamwork and camaraderie.

I think that particular generation of soldiers gained so much out of it, because I never got crap from guys who trained with women. Because, they knew we might not be as fast as they were, but we were as every bit qualified. Where sometimes the older sergeants thought of you more as fluff, the younger guys had absolutely no problem handing you an M16 and feeling very safe that you were there.

TS:

Of course, this was around the time that Private Benjamin came out, right?

CB:

My dad actually—I called him at the end of basic training. He goes, “Has there been a film crew following you around?”

I said, “What are you talking about?”

He said, “They’ve just released a movie of your life in basic training.”

I said, “What are you talking about?”

Of course, I hadn’t seen any of the advertisements for it. So I came home on leave and he took me to see that movie. I just remember I was laughing so hard. Stripes also came out right at that time.

TS:

What was that one about?

CB:

That was the Bill Murray—kind of a slacker, teaching English to folks. He ends up in the military and his adventures in basic training and then afterwards. He was stationed in Germany, actually.

TS:

I remember with Private Benjamin it was at Fort Ord, so that would have been right by Monterey.

CB:

Absolutely. And here’s our post at Fort Ord. Look at the beautiful condos. My family always has used movies to teach and discuss and learn life lessons from. Before Brian went into basic training, my dad took him on a movie jag. They went to see—oh gosh—what was it about—the guys who were—

[extraneous comments about dog redacted]

CB:

But he wouldn’t—the one with Jon Voight, where he’s paralyzed.  They went to see the movie set—where the guys are playing Russian roulette—The Deer Hunter. And so my father used those movies to my brother to basically say, “Don’t be a hero. Be smart in the military.” When I joined, we went and saw M*A*S*H and The Boys from Company C. He put his arm around me and he goes, “Honey, only your sense of humor is going to get you through. You know, try not to mess up too badly.”

I was like, “Okay Dad, thanks!”

I so I remembered that a lot while I was in the military. It’s like, “Try to see the humor in the situation.” That helped me a lot in basic. Yes, Private Benjamin was one of my kind of markers for my time in the army.

TS:

Well, what did it feel like Cheryl, to put on the uniform for the first time?

CB:

You know, I think the first time I put it on I was so frigging tired. Because, I assume they do the same thing to you guys, where you travel all night, you get there at three o’clock in the morning, you get an hour of sleep, and then they start screaming at you right away. I remember being overwhelmed and thinking, “Wow, uh-oh, what have I done? “

I was standing there in my little green uniform that, of course, doesn’t fit. I still had to lose a few pounds to get under the regs [regulations]. And so, I wasn’t comfortable in it. I just remember thinking, “Oh no, oh no, oh no.” Then I got in really good shape over basic training. I lost three sizes or something. Then it was a little loose on me, so it felt differently.

I do remember the first time that our unit showed up for reveille and did the honor guard for that day. And really kind of standing there with tears in my eyes thinking, “This is so much bigger than I thought it was going to be.”

TS:

In what way?

CB:

Well, when you realize that now you’re the line between good and evil, which, of course, at that time was epitomized by the Russians. But it was like, “This is serious. I’ve really got to have my head in this and understand and do a good job, because America is depending on me.”

TS:

So you felt that weight?

CB:

I did feel that weight. I still remember to this day listening to taps at night, and I’m still moved every time I hear taps. Everyone is like, “Oh my gosh, there she goes again.” But yeah, I think I took it more seriously. Usually, I used my nighttime, too, to think back on what were my core values, because I wasn’t going to let them change me. That was a battle that I would have with myself. “I’m hearing this message during the day. Does it fit in with what I really believe the world should do like.” Of course I got changed, but hopefully not in some of the more key ways.

TS:

We can come back to that later, in the ways that you feel that you’ve been changed. What about—so you made it through basic training. You’re talking about—maybe the physical was the most difficult—

CB:      Yes.

TS:

How about--you said a little bit about the—I always want to say TI, but it’s DI for you.

CB:

Drill sergeant.

TS:

The drill sergeant yelling at you, you said that was something that kind of bothered you at first?

CB:

Well, a little bit, until I realized that it was a kind of game. Because, I would pay more attention to when they yelled at other people. I realized that sometimes it’s because you screwed up, but sometimes because they were trying to make a larger point to everybody else. So I learned not to take it really personally. I think that helped me a lot, because so many people do take it personally, because they can’t stand back and remove themselves from the situation. But I don’t think I screwed up enough times to get really yelled at a whole lot. And that helped a lot.

I had some really great friends developed during basic training, as everyone does. It was the summer of 1980, which was a terrible heat wave. People were dying all over. More people died in Missouri that year than anywhere else, and that’s where I had to do basic. So they would literally wake us up at two o’clock in the morning to have PE, because that was the only time that wet bulb dipped below 95. So we didn’t do—so a lot of times in basic during the day, we would have our pants unbloused at the bottom and would walk places, instead of marching. Because you are not allowed to march your troops if it’s more than 95 degrees. Ah, the perks. So those were kind of some hard days, but it certainly made me appreciate the professionalism of the drill sergeants.

These friends who would go on and—well, Hargrove, I kept in touch with for a long time. There were four of us. It was so hot that year that they told us to sleep wherever we could get cool, and so women were actually sleeping on the bathroom floor.

TS:       So you didn’t have any air conditioning?

CB:

No air conditioning whatsoever. We were on the third floor of the three floor barracks, so of course heat rises. It was just some of the most miserable times. Well, the big bays were on one end of the building, and then they had private rooms, because they also, you know, depending on the needs of the place, would have NCOs there sometimes. So our little group of four took over one of the smaller bedrooms. Hargroves and I each got a bed, because we claimed seniority. We called them Bip and Bop: two of the young women who slept on the floor on their sheets. They were incredibly athletic and they were the super jocks, actually. So we kind of formed the elite. We were like the brains and the brawn of the platoon were in that room. You would smuggle food out of the dining hall. And you would stay up late and talk by flashlight and all that kind of stuff.

Little did I realize, number one, that it was going to be the beginning of my painful coming out process, because I really had fallen in love with Hargroves—although I did not have that language for it at the time. But it was obviously fairly apparent. But when Hargroves first came out to me she said, “Well, there is something I need to tell you.”

I was like, “Okay.”

Well, the night before I had had a dream. It turns out that she was from Savanna [Georgia] and she knew some people I had gone to college with from Savanna. I dreamed that I was in this taxi with Helen and Mary-Anne Hill. And they were asking me about basic training. I said, “Hey, I met a friend of yours there—Hargroves.”

They said, “Well, you know that she’s gay.”

I said, “Oh, interesting.”

I filed it away and did not think anything about it. The next day Hargrove said, “I’ve got something to tell you.” She goes, “I’m gay.”

I said, “I know that.”

She totally freaks out. She said, “Is it because I carry my wallet in my back pocket? Is it how my hair is cut?”

I said, “No, Helen and Mary-Anne Hill told me last night in my dream.”

And she’s like, “Okay, you’re weird.”

TS:

Who are Helen and Mary-Anne Hill?

CB:

They’re—actually Helen was actually in the class ahead of me and Marian was in my class at Agnes Scott.

TS:

I see.

CB:

And they were from Savannah and actually did know Hargroves. We talked afterwards.

TS:

Did they know that she was gay? [laughs]

CB:

I have no idea. I haven’t talked to them after basic training. Our sergeant, I think, thought something was going on between us. She would come in some nights when she was on duty and Hargroves and I would be sitting on the bed talking and whatever. She would go, “Okay you two, break it up. Go back to sleep.”

And I remember thinking, “That’s kind of weird.”

Hargroves started  laughing. She goes, “You’re such an idiot sometimes.”

I said, “What?”

She says, “She thinks we’re together.”

I said, “What are you talking about?”

She was like, “Oh my god Cheryl.” —or Brown as the case may be.

So even then I did not—“la, la, la” —totally oblivious. It was not until I was stationed at DLI [Defense Language Institute], when some pieces started falling into place. But you graduated up. I got injured a little bit. I cracked a rib on the obstacle course.

TS:

You did?

CB:

Oh yeah. I never had a lot of upper body strength, and it was swinging across a ravine on a freaking rope. So we’re sweaty, we’re muddy, I jump up, grab the rope and I’m swinging across the ravine, sliding down thinking, “Oh crap!” And I hit the wall. There is a concrete wall. And literally only my chest and neck were above this wall—I had slid so far down. I hit the wall [slapping noise] and I slid down. I’m laying on the bottom of the ravine thinking, “I’m dead. I’m dead.” Hargrove comes leaping down to take care of me. Bip and Bop come up to take care of me. The drill sergeant is standing there. She’s saying, “It’s just like in a cartoon. Did y’all see that? It was just like a cartoon”. [laughs] So that’s my visual!

TS:

[laughs] Actually, that’s the visual I had when you were describing it.

CB:

Yes. And if I replay it that’s exactly [makes sound]. Hargroves broke her ankle a few weeks later on the same obstacle course. Because mine was a cracked rib, I wasn’t going to recycle, so I said, “No, I’m fine. I’m fine.” I was a little ginger[ly] there for a while.

Hargroves had gotten a hairline fracture, I guess. They kept telling her, “Stay off of it, stay off of it, stay off of it.” Of course, she wouldn’t because she was you know, super soldier, platoon leader—driven.

I’d be complaining to her, “You need to sit down.” I said, “Years from now—if you don’t take care of yourself—this is going to plague you for the rest of your life. And years from now you’re going to bitch and moan about it, and I’m not going to give you any sympathy; because you are not taking care of yourself now.”

Well, years later we were involved and she came home one day limping from work and her ankle was—and I said, “What’s wrong?”

She says, “My ankle is fine! It’s just fine!”[laughter]

I thought, “Yeah? Good, because I was not bringing you any of your medicine.”

So yeah, that was basic training for me.

TS:

So where did you go from there Cheryl?

CB:

I went home for a week. I got to see the family. It was interesting; Dad took me out to dinner. He said, “Please wear your uniform.”

I was like, “Okay”.

So many people came up to us that night. Number one, it’s Georgia. You know, it was 1980. They would come up and say, “Thank you, it’s so nice to see a young person in uniform.”

And Dad said, “I wanted you to have that experience.”

So I’ll always remember that. So I stuffed my duffel bag and reported for duty in Monterey. I took my beach towel and my bathing suit, because I had grown up on Frankie and Annette [stars of “beach movies” of the 1960s]—the flicks on the beaches of California. So I thought I was going to, you know, paradise.

TS:

Were you?

CB:

Not in that sense of the word. I remember landing in San Francisco to catch the little flight over to Monterey and thinking, “Oh my god, it is freezing here and it’s August.” Was it Samuel Clemmons who said that the coldest winter he ever spent was the summer in San Francisco? I had to go the PX [Post Exchange] the next day and buy a sweater, because I didn’t think that—it’s California! And it was foggy and it was cold and it was miserable and I thought, “Oh my god, I’m in the wrong—is there another California that I am not aware of?” And so, yeah, I spent the next year in Monterey at the Defense Language Institute [Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center] studying Korean.

TS:

So up through basic training and you’re getting into Monterey, did you have certain expectations of what you though the military was going to be like, compared to maybe what you experienced—or was it pretty much what you thought?

CB:

I think it was pretty much what I thought, because both Dad and Brian had prepared me pretty well. So there were really no surprises. When my recruiter had said something, that was pretty much true. I kind of appreciated it. I had a pretty clear; I didn’t realize how difficult, in some ways, it would be, you know, intellectually and physically and emotionally, but I was pretty—I felt very comfortable.

TS:

So how was language school?

CB:

Much harder than I thought it was going to be. It was funny, when I was in Spanish class in college and I was pulling Cs, I just figured it was because I was lazy. And then in the Army has—“Oh my god look what you scored on this test. You’re going to be an excellent linguist!”

I’m thinking, “Oh well, how hard could it be?”

Oh my god, you talk about hitting an intellectual wall. So, I had work kind of hard at DLI. I remember that first—  

TS:

What was it like? What kind of schedule were you on?

CB:

Well, we were up early. Most of the time we had a brief formation, and then we were released for breakfast and school. And then we did our PTs most of the time in the afternoon. You’d go to school—what was it—from 8 [a.m.] to 3:30 [p.m.]—3 or 3:30—something like that. Then we would go change clothes and run up and down the mountains. I always remember running past the air force barracks where y’all were playing freaking volleyball and thinking, “Can I go with them, because this running up and down mountains is killing me.”  And so, yeah, most evenings were preparing for classes the next day.

I remember that first day where they gave you a tape on Ashunika[?]. They gave you a book that was written in Korean and said, “Memorize this for tomorrow”.

And thinking, “Oh my gosh, how do I—I can’t even write this down. How am I—I can’t read Korean!” Which again, has been a valuable skill as a teacher, thinking, how do you lay puzzles out—

[comments about dog redacted]

CB:

So that helped me a lot in retrospect. It was a struggle. There were a lot of southerners in Korean, which I thought was always interesting to me. Which—it helped me a lot. Then I got to meet people who were in other languages. So folks that I went to basic training with were in Russian, Arabic, and Spanish. So I got to see how life was for them as I maintained those relationships early at my time at DLI.

TS:

Was there anything about it being, ‘cause it was an army base that was mixed with all the services, did that add any kind of value to it?

CB:

It did for me. It gave me chance to see what other forces were like and make friends across forces, which I think most folks never get a chance to do. It then made me second guess should I have gone in the army, because life was definitely much nicer if you were in the navy or the air force. But I picked the army because I figured they had more posts around the world and I did want to travel. It would be easier to see the world from the army perspective for me.

So, I enjoyed that. And then when we would, the softball teams were mixed and you could be competitive against each other on field days, where you had the army team versus the air force team versus the navy team.

TS:

Were you involved with any sports then?

CB:

Well, I was actually supposed to play softball there. I had played softball in college. Just before the season started, what did I break first? My arm.

TS:

How did that happen?

CB:

Well, at DLI the language course was 48 weeks long. You got to take a week off. Your class would vote when they wanted it. One of the things they tried to do was not only teach you the language, but the culture of the place. One of the best ways to learn the culture of the place is through the food of the country, which is why I use that exercise in my cultural anthropology class now. One or two days during the year we would go to the kitchen and we would learn how to make the food of our country. I remember some of the Russian linguists would talk about that they would get there for “cook day” and the Russian teachers would hand them each a bottle of vodka to start the day off. Vic[?] told me about that. You would walk in and they would say, “Here’s a bottle of vodka, you know, use it sparingly throughout the day.”

TS:

They each got a bottle?

CB:

Yeah, they each got a bottle.

TS:

Oh my.

CB:

And so we had just done our cooking day, and then you were also allowed to do a picnic day. We did our picnic day the day before our week break started. So we were having this picnic with the food and liquor and stuff. We had been drinking a little bit. One of my teachers—Ku Sun Sang[?]—Mr. Ku, came up to me, “Hey Pu, you want to wrestle?” Because, Pu Chang Sang was my Korean name.

I was like, “No, I’m a lover and not a fighter.”

He started laughing and did a sweep kick, knocked my feet right out from underneath me. I put my arms out to stop myself and I broke my wrist. And he kind of laughed and walked off. We didn’t realize I was hurt at the time. I literally had to pick my arm up with my other hand. I walked over—Sharon was there and Vic, some friends of mine, and I said, “I think we have a problem.” We look down and my wrist was already swelling. It was already turning colors.

Sharon said, “Get in the car.”  And she ran me over to Fort Ord.

It turns out that I had broken my wrist. And they started—the guy started wrapping gauze on my knuckles. He got about midway up my arm and I said, “Are you kidding me?”

He said, “Oh babe, you haven’t seen anything yet.”

And the cast ended at the top of my arm, because the bone I had broken, they had to immobilize the wrist and the elbow. Here I was—the next day my father was flying in, and I am literally in a cast from knuckles to my arm pit.

TS:

Was it your right or left arm?

CB:

My left arm.

TS:

Are you right handed or left handed?

CB:

I’m right handed. So luckily—and so it helped. I could continue in school. That wasn’t a problem. But—

TS:

I’m sorry, you said that your dad was showing up the next day?

CB:

Oh yeah, my dad was showing up the next day. And I remember I had to raise my arm for the next twenty-four hours, because the swelling would mess up the cast before it hardened. So we had gone to see a movie that night. It was Excalibur, which I will always remember the theater sitting there with Vic holding my arm up, on painkillers. The next day dad came in and I walked up with a group of friends, and Dad looks at me and he goes, “There’s something different about you.”

I said, “Well, I got a haircut last week.”

He goes, “Yeah, that’s it!” and gave me a big hello.

Neither of us said anything about the cast. I remember my friends later going, “What in the world?”

I said, “That’s so my dad.”

He asked “How are we going to do this?” because we were traveling up to San Francisco and then down to LA. Vic was also on hold at that time and was allowed to take a week’s leave and go with us, because I couldn’t shower or dress myself or anything.

TS:

Why was she on hold?

CB:

She had lost her top secret clearance.

TS:

Now who’s Vic?

CB:

Vic was a woman I was involved with at the time. That was in—I guess in March or April that dad came out. Vic and I had started seeing each other in October, so she was the first women that I had ever been involved with. And had lost her clearance actually for drug use, not for suspicion of homosexuality at the time. So she was going to be reclassified and sent to another school. They were in the middle of doing her paperwork so she wasn’t allowed to go to classes, so she was just working around the company. Her officer told her that she could take a week off to go take care of me.

TS:

Huh.

CB:

So yeah.

TS:

So you broke your arm, and you didn’t get to play softball then, apparently.

CB:

Right. I ended up being score keeper. So, I traveled with the team. Vic was on the team. We had a great time, because we were—I think we had drawn from different services: army and air force.

TS:

I should interject here that I actually was in Monterey with Cheryl and I was on that softball team.

CB:

Yes, she was. I have the pictures to prove it.  So at the beginning of the season, I became score keeper. I got out of my cast and started rehabbing my wrist so I could join the team. Two weeks later I broke my foot.

TS:

How did you do that?

CB:

Walking out of the barracks. We had finished PT. I was walking out of the barracks with Sharon. We were actually going to go, and I was going to get a bottle of wine for a romantic evening. They had these big, black, heavy rubber mats outside of the doors so you could get the crap—yeah, knock off your shoes and your boots, and I just hit it at the wrong angle. I caught it on the side of my foot and broke the bone that runs along the outside of your foot. And we heard it snap. Sharon and I stepped, and I just looked at her and she goes, “I’ll get the truck.”

[both laugh]

CB:

So she drove me back to Fort Ord. I’m laying on the table and the guy is wrapping my ankle to start putting the cast on. He looks at me and goes, “You look very familiar.” I said—I lifted my arm and showed him the way I had to hold my cast. He started laughing and goes, “Oh yeah!” And he said, “Did you know that there is only a limited amount of cast materials that every soldier is allotted at the beginning of their career, and I think you’re now up to yours.”

TS:

Thank goodness the ribs didn’t need any cast on it.

CB:

Exactly. Well, the funny part is that I ended up breaking my hand in Texas and they wanted to put me in a cast then, but I wouldn’t let them. I didn’t go back for that, because I had used up my Plaster of Paris. [laughs]

TS:

Well, it was a physical service time for you then, in some ways.

CB:

It was. It’s funny because I had never had a broken bone before.

TS:

How about since?

CB:

No!

TS:

Just in the army?

CB:

The three bones that I broke—well, I did break my tailbone when I was in Colorado—hitting the ice. But, that was different circumstances. But yeah, there was a year there that I was incredibly breakable. It was funny because after I had broken my arm and then my foot, my Korean teachers went back to look at the characters that made up my name “Pu Chang Sung”[?]. They realized one of the interpretations was “wounded warrior”. They wanted to change my name, because they thought that they had done this to me by giving me a bad name. I think that there was a month left of class. I was like, “No, my name is Pu Chang Sung. I am not changing my name!”  

TS:

How was it that you got assigned a name in the first place?

CB:

Well, it’s kind of like Spanish classes. If your name is Michael you become Miguel, or whatever it is. In Korean they tried to find the sound closest to your name. Well, there is no “B-r” sound.

TS:

Oh, for last name—Brown.

CB:

Because Koreans write their family name first.

TS:

That’s right.

CB:

So the closest that they could come was “Pu”.

TS:

So what’s the Chang Sung?

CB:

Pu Chang Sung.

TS:

I’m sorry. It’s a little—

CB:

And you actually didn’t get your whole name until you made it to another marker in the class. I think I was Pu for the longest time. And then six weeks—eight weeks test, if you passed—because a third of the people were going to be gone by that time—then you got your whole name. So I remember that day. It was like, “Sweet. Look, I have a name now.”

TS:

You made it out of DLI apparently.

CB:

Yeah.

TS:

Is there anything else that you want to add about that period?

CB:

Well, that’s when I actually realized that I was gay. It was really funny because I didn’t even name myself first. I was at DLI and going through all sorts of changes, and I didn’t understand them. I was an emotional wreck. A friend wanted to room with me—we were going to switch roommates. She was incredibly religious. And I don’t know why that would spark some of this kind of introspection. I was getting letters from Hargroves where she was stationed now, and I still didn’t get where my feelings were coming from. I was out with a friend one night. We had gotten pretty trashed. I was like, “I don’t know what is going on in my life. I’m clueless. I do not understand.”

And Linda looked at me and she goes, “Well, Cheryl you’re gay.”

I said, “What?”

She said, “Okay, let me break this down for you. You happen to be in love with this person from basic training, and the reason you feel so bad is that you’re far away.”

I just remember thinking, “Oh my god!”

And that night—she literally held me all night. She wasn’t—she was just a good friend and she was like, “Come on, calm down.”

I’m thinking, “My whole life is going to change now. That is not a title that I think I really want.”

So I struggled with it. I didn’t—I still at that point had not been with a woman. I remember thinking, “Are you really a lesbian if you’ve not been with a woman?” You know, what’s identity, what’s action, and finally I came to the realization that I probably was, when I finally got involved with Vic. So that was a transitional period. And really the time that you want to come out and be proud is not the military. You know, you want to kind of climb up on top of a roof and yell, “Hey, by the way I just figured it out!”

TS:

So how was that for you then?

CB:

Well, it was hard. I didn’t have a plan. So I don’t know how to be gay, and I certainly don’t know how to be gay in the military. It’s not like I can check books out of the library and bring them back to figure out what’s going [on] in my life. And at that point I didn’t know anybody who was gay in the service. I just remember thinking, “Oh lord, what am I going to do?” I eventually met some people from the company who were, and they took me—like their poor idiot step-daughter, and took me under their wing, and tried to keep me out of trouble until I could stay out of trouble myself. They were probably instrumental.

That’s why I did my master’s thesis on what I did—was coming out in the military—how do women handle it? So my thesis looked at fifteen women who knew that they were lesbian going in and fifteen who didn’t. And the people who did not know, who had no plan were the hardest hit. The vast majority of them had been sexually assaulted. And the choices—plans that they made often backfired and created more trouble with them. So, I look back at that time in Monterey as a time of exploration, but also being able to do it in a very safe environment. Because I think we ended up with a group of people who kept an eye on us—who knew how to in some ways protect us from ourselves.

TS:

You’re saying “us”.

CB:

Yeah.

TS:

Who are you including in that “us”?

CB:

Well, you had already said that you were on my team in Monterey.

TS:

So do you feel that way about that then, because I was so young then too. I was only eighteen.

CB:

I think we were both seen as kind of—you were the baby physically, but I think in a lot of ways I was kind of seen as the baby emotionally. Or just new to exploring this part of my person. I totally look at those pictures and feel very protected—with Palmroy[?], with Vic, with Brownie, Mary—I mean they really were the line that people were going to have to get through to get to us in a lot of ways, so I’ve always appreciated—

TS:

Did you think—when you look back at it now—do you think about that as a particular type of culture that we were in?

CB:

I define that the way now—

TS:

Right, now.

CB:

—as culture. Sure, because we had our own language. We had our own verbiage. We had our own rules.

TS:

What kind of language? Do you remember some of that?

CB:

They used “the family” as a term. And it was in Korean, it was in Russia, whatever our language was, we tended to use that to indentify the group. So, I think that’s the first time that I thought about that term in a very different way.

TS:

Did you go to any gay bars or anything like that?  

CB:

I did. There was one right off of post, which I used to laugh about. It was like you walked out of the gate and down the street and there it was. And I actually—I try to remember the first time I went—if I went by myself or with somebody else, I do not recall.  So, that would have been August or September of ’80.

TS:

Oh, soon as you—pretty—

CB:

Yeah. Well, I thought “Okay, here I am, a social scientist.”

TS:

So you hadn’t come out yet then?

CB:

I hadn’t come out yet.

TS:

You went to the gay bar before you came out?

CB:

I did.

TS:

Interesting, Cheryl.

CB:

I did, just to kind of start to understand. And I remember walking through the door and seeing several members from my company there. They looked at me like, “What are you doing here? Do you know what this place is?”

I said, “Well, yeah.”

They were like, “Oh my god!” 

And it was interesting, because then it kind of extended to my company in a lot of different ways. And people who had rank above me, now, were like “We need to take care of this kid.” So for the first time I start to see this network, even though I’m not involved with anybody, taking care of me, and learning these stories of these women who had been in for years and years and years, and had gone through this struggle, and how they had adapted a way of taking care of themselves and others under their charge. But I remember that night very clearly, where people were just coming up and staring at me.

I was like, “Oh my god! What are you doing here?”

They were like “Um.”

[laughter]

So yeah, I didn’t come to be involved with Vic for quite a bit of time after that.

TS:

Now, was it—well, I know because I was there—but there was a witch hunt at the DLI, when we were there. How did that affect you?

CB:

I think it affected me more as a warning, because I didn’t initially know any of the people. I did meet them through Vic, through Pat, they knew a bunch of folks who were in that group.

TS:

The ones that were under investigation?

CB:

The ones who were under investigation and eventually kicked out, who were some of the best linguists around, oh my god! And I can’t remember the name of the guy who could speak eight, ten languages. I mean he could hear it and knew it. They had him picking up dirt off of the general’s floor by hand. Which, in retrospect, while obnoxious, it was better than taking him out and beating the crap out of him. So I have to remember, “Okay, there were worse things that people were experiencing in the military.”

So, even though it was hard watching those people, at least it was in a military intelligence unit and not with the infantry. You know, they would kill people who were gay at that point. So it affects me, in telling me “you better be careful”. It doesn’t certainly make me question who I am, it just makes me question how I’m going to get out of here safely.  And we watched friends fall by the wayside, who did not get [security] clearances.

TS:

Who was that?

CB:

Well, Vic because of drugs.

TS:

Was Vic ever investigated for being a lesbian?

CB:

Briefly, but nothing stuck.

TS:

Passed through that.

CB:

I remember Brownie was under investigation. I cannot remember—I think she finished school and went on and did her job.  At that time I got put under investigation. The policy before the heinous “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was two people could sign a form against you and you’re out. There had to be no evidence.

TS:

This is in the army?

CB:

This is in the army. I was like, “Okay”, and started hearing rumors that I was under investigation—that somebody had signed a paper against me. I was like, “What?” I found out who it was and I was like, “I don’t even know that chick! Why—what?” Vic got called in. Brownie got called in. They came back and they’re like—you know—and every member of my platoon got called in.

Every member of my platoon knew that I was gay. I would take Vic to the parties. I mean, my god, Vic stayed with me most nights. It was funny, because a friend who ended up being my roommate in Korea—or, in Texas—her boyfriend would spend the night in her room, and Vic would spend the night, and they would meet each other in the hall leaving in the morning. They called in everybody and they said, “Would you sign a statement about Cheryl Brown being a lesbian?”

They were like, “We have no idea what you’re talking about!”

So, when people say, “Oh well, straight people don’t want to serve with people who are gay and lesbian.”

I’m like, “Are you kidding? Those are the people who protected me!” You know, a lot of the time the gay and lesbian people could not stand up to protect you, and it was the straight people who knew you. They didn’t care who I slept with as long as I was doing my job. To this day, I think back on those times of being under investigation. Everybody made their call to the security office to see if they got their clearance in the mail room. There was a phone in the mail room. I don’t know if it was couple of weeks before your class graduated, you were supposed to call and check in and see if you got it. I remember going, “Hi, Cheryl Brown.” [laughs]

And they’re like, “Yup, your clearance is approved”.

And like [overjoyed screaming noise] and dancing around the mail room. And Vic’s like, “You know, nobody else is dancing. You need to calm down!”

“Oh yeah, right. [Calmer tone] Oh yeah, I got my clearance”.

TS:

“Of course I got my clearance!”

CB:

[chuckle] “Was there a question?”

TS:

And explain how this is so important to have the clearance. What difference would this have made if you didn’t have the clearance?

CB:

Well, I couldn’t have a job. To be a Korean linguist, and what we were going to be doing, and what materials that we would be listening to, and handling, required a top secret clearance. So the people who lost their clearances ended up getting reassigned to meet the needs of the army.

TS:

Like Palmer?

CB:

Yeah. What did Pat end up—did she do finance?

TS:

I actually don’t remember what she was reassigned to.

CB:

Vic was reassigned to being an “Admin Specialist”, so she was a secretary. Hardgroves loses her clearance, because she was going to be a recorder and ends up in finance and payroll. One of the young women in my company—I don’t remember why she lost her clearance—probably drugs—ended up as a medic—a field medic. So, whatever the army needed on the day you lost your clearance is what you became. So it didn’t matter if you had a college degree, or if you had a year of language, if they needed a cook in Poughkeepsie [New York], you become a cook in Poughkeepsie. So that’s why it was so vitally important.

TS:

What did you think about all this that was going on at the time? So you’ve recently come out as a lesbian to yourself—mostly in a very small circle of people—and then you’re in this environment where you could lose your job, and get it reassigned. Was there anything going through your mind at that time about “what am I doing here” —anything like that?

CB:

I think at twenty-two, you think you’re pretty invulnerable. So that’s all swirling around—absolutely. Because I’m watching friends lose their clearance. I’m watching friends being kicked out of the army. But I thought if I played the game really well it wouldn’t happen to me. I think, in a way, it got approached as a game, because, we took some incredible risks. When I look back on it now I’m like, “Oh my god, what was I thinking?”

TS:

An example perhaps?

CB:

Well, the classic example of when I thought—you know, Vic was staying over with me one night. She usually did not sleep in pajamas and about 2:30—three o’clock in the morning—we started hearing yelling out in the hallway. And there is a banging on the door. “Everybody in the hall. Everybody in the hall. Everybody in the hall.” And we jump up—and we have those big wall lockers—and I told Vic to get in the wall locker. Here she is butt naked. I close my locker and I go into the hallway.

TS:

She’s locked in the—

CB:

She’s locked naked in my wall locker. And I thought, “Oh my god, if this is a room search—which they did quite frequently—I am so in trouble!”

TS:

Because, they can open the locker?

CB:

Yeah, and how do I explain a naked woman in my locker? It turned out that it was “Golden Flow”, you know, pee in a cup that night. So we all had to go down the hall and pee in cups. I just remember thinking, “Oh thank you god!” So I got back a little bit later and I open the door and Vic is standing there. She’s got one of my uniforms in front of her. I’m like, “Whoo, we’re safe”. So those kind of adventures, you know, just stupid kid stuff, but if we had been caught it would have had some devastating—I have to think that I must have been born a very lucky person, because so many time I probably should have gotten caught and didn’t. But, that was the one—naked woman in my locker—which was the most memorable.

So yeah, that is part of that is what is happening in life. But, but I’m also having a first relationship, I’ve developed great friends, I’m working in a course that is pretty tough. So, I spent a lot of time working on my Korean, but I also had a great time exploring California. I mean, it was a different culture to me. I had never been west of the Mississippi [River].

TS:

What kind of things did you do?

CB:

Well, I remember going to up to wine country and trying different wines. We would go to San Francisco.

TS:

Anything happen there?

CB:

In wine country? Well, if you were old enough you got to go into the wineries and have drinks. If you weren’t old enough, most of the time you had friends who would bring you bottles of wine while you sat in the car. So I mean that was cool. This is a silly little thing, but the first salad bar I saw was in California, and that was just amazing to me. I mean I grew up where you put pork in your vegetables. I remember seeing a salad bar and I was like, “Oh my god, look!” I didn’t know there were that many kinds of vegetables that one would eat raw!

And so, yeah, we had a great bonding experience traveling with the team—softball—we got to travel all over the state. I got to watch you guys play, because I never did.

TS:

Because we got to play on a navy team actually—is what—the navy league.

CB:

Yeah.

TS:

Because all of the—the Presidio of—what was the—the naval—

CB:

They were all at the naval air station. 

TS:

What was that called? The Naval Graduate—

CB:

Oh yeah.

TS:

I’ll have to look that up—post-graduate studies [Naval Postgraduate School].

CB:

Okay, yeah.

TS:

So we were associated with them.

CB:

So I mean that was cool. So yeah, it was a wonderful year in most ways. I don’t remember having real problems.

TS:

Did you get used to the temperature, ever?

CB:

The cold-hot, cold-hot, cold-hot? I learned to carry a sweater. But yeah, I mean, it was lovely. Now I think, how lucky were we to spend a year in Monterey, California? I couldn’t afford that now. Now, that’s all high rent district. We were down—it seems like right after that—remember Cannery Row burned down.

But, just the time we spent even in town. I remember going down to the docks and having—you know, they’d pull those squid off, and chop them up in front of you, and you’d eat them right off the boat. I mean, it was amazing. So, it was a magical place in a lot of ways, to me.

TS:

How about your next duty assignment—was it just as magical?

CB:

In a different way. I, after Monterey, went to Texas—Good Fellow Air Force Base. That was to learn the technical part of our—so, we got the basic language skills: “Hi, how are you? The red ball went down the street.” Now, I had to learn stuff like, “Nuclear bomb”. So, there it was again top secret. We had rotating shifts. I actually spent most of my time on mid-shifts, so I started class at—I don’t know—one or two in the afternoon and go to midnight. You had a little time off for dinner. That was kind of a fun duty station in a way, because now we were on an air force base—not post—base.

TS:

Base.

CB:

And we got separate rations, so we did not have to necessarily eat in the dining hall like the zoomies [slang for United States Army personnel] did. So I got butt loads of money every month, because—so most times for dinner we would go to the snack bar and have cheese covered nachos and a Coca Cola, while watching MTV and The Muppets. Those are my best memories of that. But I busted my hump. I did not get a lot of time off. Not being a natural linguist, I had to do a lot of work. My friends were off having adventures and going places and doing really cool things, and I spent a lot of time in the class.

TS:

Did you get to go anywhere though?

CB:

We did a couple of times. We went to see the Alamo. That was a very cool trip. Right after I graduated we went to Dallas, and I got to go see where Dealey Plaza and the Book Depository [Texas School Book Depository, later Dallas County Administration building. Lee Harvey Oswald is said to have shot John F. Kennedy from the sixth floor of the building] and stuff, so we did a little traveling.

TS:

Where JFK was assassinated?

CB:

Yeah. We would sneak off a couple of times and rent rooms at a hotel and have big parties. As a matter of fact, that’s how I broke my hand—getting thrown up on a bed. So yeah, I got to do some stuff. It was interesting. The bar system in Texas is very different.

TS:

How is it different?

CB:

Well, people can’t just walk in there. You had to own a membership—and so I don’t remember how much—it was like twenty bucks for a year’s membership, or whatever it was. Well, when people would leave they’d just give you their card, so you didn’t have to buy a membership card. So, you had to remember what your name was that night if you used somebody else’s card. So, when people would have to go and apply for cards—or one night memberships—everyone would use fake names except me. I normally would sign in as Cheryl Brown. People would go, “Why are you using your name?”

“Because, everybody is going to think that this is a fake name. Who would use their own name?”

TS:

What kind of places would you need to use a fake name?

CB:

Well, there were a couple of gay bars in town.

TS:

Oh, okay, for those ones you’re using—

CB:

Yeah, for those ones. I don’t really remember using many fake names. Sometimes I’d have to use the name of the membership card that somebody had passed on to me. But yeah, those were fun nights. It was—the gay culture in Texas was certainly very different from gay culture in California and a bit scary at times, quite frankly.

TS:

How?

CB:

Well, when the women had dead animals strapped to the hoods of their cars and that kind of stuff. You were like “oh lord god”. But at that point I was still a Southern belle who had spent a year in California, but we made our own fun half of the time. But even then I laughed about being a budding sociologist. We would always say, “All lesbians wear flannel shirts and all gay men wear Hawaiian print shirts.”  So, we would have parties where we would swap clothing and things like that.

TS:

So did you have a lot of contact with gay men too, then, in the service?

CB:

A pretty good amount.

TS:

Yeah.

CB:

Again, they were mainly from other forces: mainly navy and air force. I don’t remember hanging around many gay men from the army for example—like any gay men from the army. So, I missed that. That was a very fun and unique perspective. It was pre-AIDS—’80 —so, the boys were doing outrageous things and we would have fun listening to their adventures.

After I went to Korea for a year, I came back and I will never forget driving across the country from Atlanta to Tacoma and stopping—Vic was driving and I picked up a Newsweek, and it had the title—something about AIDS. And I was like, “What is this?” I had never heard that term, having been gone that year. And driving cross-country and just realizing this new issue. By then, it had been around enough for it to start getting media attention, though still not recognition from the military or the government. I still have that magazine.

TS:

Do you really?

CB:

Yeah, I kept it. I thought “This is a pivotal moment for my community.” But in the meantime, everybody was just having too good of a time partying. 

TS:

Yeah, they didn’t understand the magnitude of what was going to break on them?

CB:

Exactly. I still think about how many of those guys made it to our age.

TS:

To where?

CB:

To our age.

TS:

Oh, to our age.

CB:

Because, they were hussies.

TS:

They were hussies? [chuckles]

CB:

You want to talk about some sleep-arounds! So, yeah.

TS:

Why don’t you tell me about—now, you’re all the way through—you went to language school. You went to Good Fellow, where you got the technical aspect, and now you’re headed to Korea.

CB:

I am.

TS:

Tell me about that.

CB:

Well, I went home on leave between Texas and Korea to see the family, because I was going to be gone for a year. The military wouldn’t let me extend my leave—even though I had it—because they had a time table for me to get to Korea. So I ended up in Korea a week before Christmas. Well, a couple of days before Christmas actually. When I was home on leave I came out to my parents, so I thought it best to leave the continent. My mother didn’t handle things very well.

TS:

How about your father?

CB:

Oh, my dad knew. He was so funny because when—I told my students this story, actually, last week—I thought the time had come. I was still under investigation—that had reared its ugly head again. I did not know if—when I got to Korea, I’d be thrown out of the army, and then I’d have to explain two big reasons—two big things—to my parents. I thought, “Well, let me just go ahead and tell them.”

Well, my dad, his girlfriend, his best friend and I went out for dinner. I got totally trashed. He dropped off his friend and his date. And I’m at Denny’s at two o’clock in the morning, sobbing. My dad’s like, “What’s going on, Cheryl?” I’m just crying. “Is it about you and Vic?”

And I go “Yes.”

“Is it about the army?”

“Yes.”

He goes, “I love you no matter what and that’s all you need to remember.”

So, by the time I finally calmed down, he said that he had realized that Vic and I were together in California. I was like, “Oh, I thought we were so cool!” [laughter]

“Yeah, right, you’re twenty-two and in love—everybody is cool then.”

“Yeah, thanks.”

So, he had actually come back and read a lot about—

TS:

Oh, after he saw?

CB:

Yeah, after that vacation.

My father died believing I had been molested in Ecuador, and that’s why I was gay.

TS:

From what he had read?

CB:

Yes. And I was like, “Dad, I’ve never been molested!”

“Well, Cheryl, you know, you can tell me anything. It’s okay.”

“Dad, I am not gay because I was molested!”

Well, I think some part of him still thought this even after he passed away—until the time he passed away. So he was fine. He was like, “Yeah, I came back. I read about it. I talked to people. [Dismissive noise] Whatever.”

TS:

My mother—it turns out—had read a letter from Vic that day and called my father. After my parents divorced, they would meet if they were issues dealing with the children, and you could tell how important they were. If it wasn’t that important then they would have a dinner meeting or whatever. If it was a little more important it would be lunch. My mother actually woke my father up and told him to get his ass to the restaurant, and they had breakfast together. She says, “I read this letter. I believe Cheryl is involved with a woman. What do you have to say?”

My father is like, “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

Taking the coward’s way out, because he knew exactly what was going on!

CB:

This is before you had talked to him?

TS:

This is before I talked to him. It was the same day. I mean, just by the by, so that night when I told Dad he said, “Oh, by the way, your mom knows.”

I’m like, “What?”

He goes, “Yeah. She read a letter from Vic and talked to me today.”

I was like, “Oh crap!”

So I went home and, you know, talked to Mom. She was like, “Is this true?”

I said, “Yes.”

She said, “Pack your bags and get out of my house.”

I was like, “What?”

She’s like, “You heard me! I’m tired of this. Pack your bags and leave!”

So I went to my room and started packing. She came in a little bit and she said, “Okay, stop packing. I have to go to work. You be here when I get back from work and we’ll talk about this.”

I was like, “Okay.”

So, all day long I’m waiting and waiting and waiting. She gets home from work and I’m like, “Hey, Mom!”

She’s like, “Well, are you hungry?”

I said, “Yes.”

She said, “Well, let’s go out and get a bite”, and I was like “Okay,” and she never mentioned anything again. And coward that I was, I wasn’t going to bring it up.

I left for Korea a few days later. So I would tell my class that I would get these letters from her, “Sincerely, G. Marie Brown”. And then after a few months it was, “Affectionately, your mother”. And several months after that it was like, “Love, Mom”.

So I thought, “Okay, it’s now safe to go home.”

What I did not realize at the time is that parents need time to process the information, just like I needed time to process the information when I was coming out. So to smack them in the face with something and expect immediate—I mean, if my father had not known I don’t know how that conversation would have gone that night.

TS:

Because he had had that experience in California when he came out and saw you and Vic together?

CB:

Yes, yes.

TS:

I see.

CB:

So he had a year to digest it. So I would like to think that he would have been cool, but I don’t know, quite frankly. Because, I don’t think it has anything to do with how cool your parents are. I think it has to do with their preconceived notions and them having to dig and figure out what it is—what parenthood means to them. So I know friends even to this day who still struggle with telling their parents, because they’re afraid of rejection. So, I learned a lot from that experience, and then I spent the next year in Korea doing my job.

It turns out that I was under investigation. And so the duty assignment that I had originally been given—with Marcy and Tammy and all those people from my class—which was an air based recon mission—I don’t know if you guys had it—but they would take a plane and fly it close to the DMZ [Korean Demilitarized Zone]—that had all the bells and whistles on it—and could get deeper into the territory. They didn’t have set shifts, because you were on duty whenever the plane was up. I got bumped off of that because there was a concern that—it was such a small elite group—that if I lost my clearance I would be sitting in a chair—I would have taken a chair that they needed desperately.

So they shifted me over to the Three Three Deuce [332nd Military Intelligence Group], which was actually—we were detached to the field station in Anjung-ri. And that was ground antenna. So that was twenty-four hour coverage, so we rotated shifts. So, that was—it was interesting. I was glad that I was a Korean linguist in Korea, because I watched a lot of people struggle with language and culture that they didn’t understand. I thought the Army prepared us pretty well. I think having been a sociology/anthropology major helped me a lot, because that was my dream—was to speak a language and go to that country.

So I felt like I was in my element, so I would get on the bus and I would go tool around. I, you know, I had my dictionary if I didn’t know the word, and I was off and having great adventures. I lived in the village in a house with Koreans and participated on the local market, had a great time in ways that other people were totally overwhelmed. So, I know military personnel who never left base for a year. They only wanted to eat American food; they only wanted to speak English. And if they went down to the Vill[age], it would be at night maybe, to get drunk at the bars.

TS:

So could you describe the village a little bit?

CB:

Well, if you think about a large military post. Think about a circle. On the north part of that circle—separated by a little piece of land—was the field station where I was. That was where all the antennas were, that was where the military compound was. It was still—in a way—on the military base, but a separate entity. Just outside of the main gates was a small village—Anjung-ri. I don’t know—ten—five thousand people, maybe? It was kind of small—poorish. The main source of industry was the American military. Lots of bars, a goodly number of restaurants, and that was kind of its main claim to fame. There was a huge number of actually deaf- mute prostitutes in Anjung-ri.

In Korea, a lot of military guys would go over there, you know, fall in love with a woman, and kind of set up housekeeping. So we used to call them rent-a-wives. They would support these women for a year. You know, live in the village—sometimes they would get married and have kids. So I actually had a sergeant of mine who had been, I don’t know, five or six or eight tours over there. He had married a Korean woman and they actually had four kids by the time I got there. And a couple of Korean linguists were married to local women. But, by and large, it was a rough way to go to be a prostitute in Anjung-ri, because we had such a huge presence of infantry as well and those guys are pigs. So by speaking Korean, I actually got to know several of the prostitutes. Although we never had any business transactions—I would like to clarify that—I did have friends who were women who were sharing quarters with the women—the business girls.

TS:

So, some lesbian relationships?

CB:

Yes. Which I think the young women—I don’t know how they would have seen their sexuality, quite frankly, but I have a feeling they were much happier to be shacking up with a woman for a year, than they were the men.      

TS:

Why?

CB:

Because, I think they were better treated. So when we were out partying together, we always had a lot of women hanging out with us. Because we had no problem buying drinks or doing whatever—giving them tips under the table. But in a way, we felt like we were the safe way for them to spend the night. And if they had to be with guys in the meantime, we’d find them and they’d be, you know, beat and bit and cut—and all sorts of stuff that these guys would do to these women—because there were very few consequences.

TS:

From the military?

CB:

From the military.

TS:

For the men?

CB:

Yeah. I mean, I would hear these horrendous stories from these women.

TS:

Did you ever want to do anything?

CB:

I did not see a way of doing anything, because of the way the system was set up. Once a guy hit you and disappeared onto post that was US territory. They were golden. They never had to leave that post again. And so the military—being as patriarchal as it was—was not going to take the word of a hooker that she got beat up by this guy, or robbed, or whatever. So, the military did nothing about it. And the bar system itself over there would try to minimize the impact, because they would lose customers. So if a guy goes in and beats up a woman and she presses charges, that bar would be off limits to military personnel.  So really, the whole system worked hard to keep these women in their place. And while I could talk to them and sympathize with them and do whatever, at that point—even at this point in my life—I do not know where you would have started to attack that system. Because I think of myself as a pretty good systems analyst, but that would have been a really tough one. It certainly would not have not been for a twenty-three year old spec four [rank Specialist Four] to do anything.                   

TS:

You had really no leverage?

CB:

Absolutely not! So yeah, it was a hard life for a lot of those women.

TS:

How was your experience—like, your treatment as a woman in the military? We really haven’t talked about this yet.

CB:

Well, it depended on who you were with at a particular time, right? If I was with guys who had trained with women of my generation, they were fine. They felt that I was just as competent and capable as they were. If I was with military intelligence people—who I spent most of my time with—I also didn’t have a problem.

TS:

Regardless of their—

CB:

Regardless of their age and rank, because I think most of them thought, “Okay, well you’re here. You’re military intelligence. I’ve seen you do your job. I don’t care.” If I was concerned, it was mainly when I was involved with—not involved with, but—I had classes, let’s say with a lot of infantry when I was at Fort Lewis [Washington]. I would not have been comfortable being out to guys who were in the infantry, quite frankly. So, for the most part, I think having been in military intelligence protected me in a lot of ways from the discrimination that friends were getting in other parts.

Like a good pal of mine in Korea was police—MP [Military Police officer]. She got a lot of crap, but it was mainly guys—more traditional in its approach to promotions and the role of women in the military. So I know she suffered a lot more than I did because of her gender, in the military. But I think a lot of MI women, not so much.

TS:

MI is Military Intelligence.  

CB:

Military Intelligence, yeah.

TS:

Did you know or hear of any sexual harassment that did occur?

CB:

Some, again, not usually with military intelligence guys. It was in places where—like, in Fort Devens [Massachusetts] where I was in school. I was in school with people from all the different fields. There you would see more sexual harassment. There—usually and interestingly I only had probably one incident that could of escalated badly, but didn’t, because of my gender. It was a sexual harassment situation, but I didn’t file any kind of charges.

TS:

What happened?

CB:

One of the guys at Fort Devens, was in my class, I don’t remember—infantry or whatever—and we were doing some homework and he got a little physical. And I said, “Stop it,” and he didn’t. I said, “No really, this is not why I’m over here.” And, he didn’t. I said, “Okay, if you continue doing this” —I remember saying this—“If you don’t stop, you better kill me at the end, because I will come back and kill you.”

And he said, “Oh, I’m sorry, you must have misinterpreted. I didn’t mean anything by it.”

I said, “Okay, fair enough.”

TS:

You went back to studying?

CB:

And we went back to studying. But, I think I was very lucky in knowing how to handle that situation, because some people would not have known. I was serious as a heart attack, and he knew it. And—but it’s odd, because even when I think about that I wasn’t scared. I was more angry, so I never felt—when people say—“Have you ever been” —

“No”, because it never got to the point where any boundaries were crossed that I would have felt bad with for the rest of my life, because I was able to stop it way ahead of time. But some friends were not so lucky.

TS:

How about for things like promotions? Do you feel like you were treated equally for that?

CB:

[laugh] My promotion, or lack thereof, was not based on my sexual orientation or my gender, let me assure you.

TS:

What do you mean by that, Cheryl?

[Conversation about fan speed redacted]

TS:

Go ahead, talk about that.

CB:

My lack of promotion was totally based on my attitude toward the military, and what I was willing to do and not do.

TS:

Okay.

CB:

When we were in Korea, for example, my real parent company was the Three Three Deuce. Part of us were in Anjung-ri, but the other part were up in the mountains. And I was told, “If you will leave the field station and come up and be a linguist over here, we will—you can be E-5. It’s an automatic promotion.”

I was like, “What do you guys do up there?”

“Well, we do a lot of field stuff, and we’re—”

I was like, “Oh, sleeping in the mud? Um, no!”

So I turned down a promotion, because I didn’t want to sleep in the mud. Then the other problem is that you have to be some place for a year before you can be boarded [brought before the promotion board]. So after I turned down the promotion in Korea, I wasn’t any place else a year to get boarded. Not to mention that probably they could have fast tracked me, but I had a bad tendency to point out problems in a way that they did not appreciate my sense of insight.

TS:

And an example of that?

CB:

When I first got to Fort Lewis, which is in Tacoma, Washington—which, is a lovely area—huge military area. I spent a lot of time out in the field. I was assigned a jamming team, which means I had a jeep and a portable jammer. I was the primary driver and one of the guys was assigned as my assistant. So, I’m new to the field—having gotten out of that duty in Korea. So we’re told, “Have all of your gear and be here at six o’clock tomorrow morning.”

So I show up and my jeep is all loaded and the top is on. The officer in charge comes over and he goes, “Take your top off of the jeep.”

I look around and nobody else has got their tops on, and it’s freaking raining! I was like, “Excuse me?”

He said, “Here, we take the tops off our jeeps.”

And I said, “And why is that?”

And he said, “So your assistant driver can spot enemy aircraft.”

I said, “Has that been a big problem here at Fort Lewis?”[chuckles]

He looked at me and he goes, ‘Get that fucking top off of your jeep!”

I said, “Okie dokie.”

So, it was that kind of questioning that did not really endear me to the powers that be.

TS:

I see.

CB:

Yeah. So I never really regretted not making it to E-5, because I felt in my own way I was true to myself.

TS:

Now, did you do—you went up on the DMZ, though, didn’t you, when—

CB:

I did.

TS:

Tell me about that experience.

CB:

My brother was actually stationed at the second D[?]. He rotated into Korea in February. I got there in December, so we overlapped by a couple of months. It was really nice. I got to do Christmas with him that year, which is still one of my fondest memories. When he went into the DMZ—which his unit did a lot—they were given a service medal to show that they had spent time in a war zone. Women in the military—or, in the army at that time—were not allowed—were not authorized to receive that medal. So, even—so, the time that I had to go spend up at the DMZ—which would have netted me that freaking medal—we were up within—I don’t know—several thousand yards of the line itself, because our forward antennas were up there. So I spent—I don’t know, ten days or something. We were camped on one mountainside, and you had to walk down and then up the other mountain. I was like, “Really, could I not just put my tent over there next to the big antenna?”

They were like “No.”

The site where we were staying—a month or so before—republic of army—the Republic of Korea unit—a South Korean unit had been killed by infiltrators over the line. They were doing that all the time. People died all the time in Korea, so we had to do guard duty in the middle of the night. I was like, “Well, okay, crap!” And they don’t give you bullets in the middle of the night—by the way—rounds—I know the right term. When I pulled guard duty during the day, they would give me ammunition.

You know, “Here’s your ammunition.”

I would put it in my M16 [rifle] and I would stand there, right, walking back and forth. At night, they don’t give you rounds! I was like, “Don’t I need it at night, because chances are that is when they’re infiltrating—not when I can see them in the middle of the day, clear as a bell?”

I think they were afraid that we would shoot each other—that we would panic and somebody going to the bathroom would be shot by our own troops, which is probably so true. So the night guard times that I had, I remember standing there thinking, “Should I stand quiet as a mouse in one space so that the infiltrator knows and can go around me. Or, should I walk loudly, whistling so that they know exactly where I am, so they can go around me.”

So what I normally did was I did both.

TS:

[chuckles]

CB:

I would stand quietly in the shadows for part of the time, and then I would whistle loudly and walk around the rest of the time.

TS:

Were you nervous?

CB:

Oh, I think scared crapless is the more appropriate term. Absolutely! Not so much during the day, because then I felt like, okay, I had a better grasp of what was happening, but at nighttime especially.

TS:

Were you by yourself?

CB:

Yeah. We were a small contingent, so we rotated. I only did it every few nights for a couple of hours. But, those were really scary times.            

TS:

So, women, though, weren’t allowed in combat during this time.

CB:

Right, so my time up there was not recognized. It may not even be part of my file.

TS:

I see. What kind of duty would you call that?

CB:

Well, it was a detachment.

TS:

Detachment, okay.

CB:

Yeah. Yeah. So, but yeah, we weren’t authorized to be there. So all those pictures of me standing there with weapons and stuff on the DMZ.

TS:

Well, we do have some pictures. We’ll have to get those in your file.

CB:

Absolutely. Absolutely. She looks like a killing machine. No, not really.

So I had a great time in Korea. I had the language skills. I got to travel and see the world. I liked the people that I worked with. Then I came back to the US, went home for a short break, and then was stationed at Fort Devens in Massachusetts from January—and I think I left there in late July.

TS:

Did you have any more issues with your lesbianism at this time?

CB:

Not in the military—not in Korea—even though it had kept me from that job that I wanted—I never heard anything else.

TS:

So your investigation just—did they call you in or anything?

CB:

Nope. I was never, ever talked to.

TS:

No? But, did you know that—did someone tell you that you were under investigation?

CB:

Yes. There was a sergeant—who was not a big fan of mine—who basically told me that he was going to “nail me”, because I should not be in the service.

TS:

Why?

CB:

Oh, because I was gay.

TS:

Oh, that’s the reason?

CB:

He didn’t think that “you people” should be in the service.

TS:

It didn’t have anything to do with your gender?

CB:

No, I’m sure he would have said the same thing if it had been a gay man. So I smiled and said, “Well bring it on. Do your best.” He ended up being in my same company at Fort Lewis. I remember thinking, “Oh shit, there’s a happy face I’m looking forward to spending the next year with.” But, you know, he—nothing ever stuck.

[Dog barks]

TS:

So how was—you went to Fort Devens after Korea. That assignment, what were you doing there?

CB:

It was for school, actually I was supposed to be in basic military training. However, when I got there, the Korean personnel department had used the wrong calendar. So, when they cut my orders they had me reporting after the school had started, and the military will not let you start late. So, I went in and handed them my orders. They were like, “Oh, this class started yesterday—or—two days ago.”

I was like [exasperated sound]

“Well, sorry you’re going to have to go on to your new duty station.”

I said, “No, I can’t.”

They said, “Well, you’re going to have to.”

I said, “No, no, I just came back from Korea. My new duty station is Fort Lewis. They are leaving in two weeks for Arctic training in Alaska. I cannot go there!”

I must have had a crazy enough look in my eye for this civilian woman to say, “Let me see what else we can do for you.”

I said “I would so appreciate that.”

So I ended up being on hold for, like, a month until another school started.

TS:

Then the second class began?

CB:

Yeah. Then I actually got a bump up, because it was the school that E5s and above should have attended. So I’m the only E4 in the class. I guess that lasted for about a month or so. It was great. It was a great transitional period. Again, I’m on separate rats [rations] for the month that I was on hold and the school. I was getting TDY pay—Temporary Duty Assignment. And I used to fly home on the weekends to Atlanta. I was actually seeing Hargroves at the time. She was in Alabama and I had so much extra money I’d go, “Hey, I’m going to fly down”. And then she broke up with me, and I spent the extra money staying drunk for the next several weeks—listening to sad music.

Then found out that you cannot move duty stations if you have personnel actions pending in the military. So when you apply for a school that’s a personnel action pending. And I thought, “Well, hey, there’s got to be some other schools around here.” So I found a book on the courses being offered at Fort Devens, and I would just keep applying for schools. By the time I had been there a while, I was the only Korean linguist in the military who had this kind of training. So I trained on the jammers—there was this particular jammer and there were only three of them in the world, and one of them was at the school that I attended. And then I signed up for—gosh, I would have to get out the paperwork—something else.

But, there was always a gap between the former school and the one pending.  So I was hanging out, hanging out, and hanging out. So word got around that if you wanted to stay you came and talked to me. I would sit down and we would fill out paperwork. You know, “To meet the needs of the military and the frontline battles using technology around the world”. Ching! So I was so well known in the research department that they actually wanted me to have my—they tried to get my orders changed so I could stay there and work in research and development.

TS:

Instead of going to Fort Lewis?

CB:

Instead of going to Fort Lewis.

TS:

But that didn’t work out?

CB:

Well, here’s the—for every step forward, you know. My commander at Fort Lewis gets my paperwork from this unit trying to steal me away. Where they’re like, “Oh my god, she’s been in this school and this school, and she’s trained in this and this and this.”

The commander said, “Well, if she’s that well trained, I want her here.”

TS:

[chuckles] So, a double edged sword?

CB:

Exactly! So I bought time.

TS:

And then you became highly valuable.

CB:

Exactly. So I was like, “I can’t believe it”. I finished my last school, went home, bought a car, drove out to Fort Lewis, where I then spent the next several months in the motor pool.

TS:

Because?

CB:

There was no high tech crap for me to work on. There was no development. My job was maintaining my jeep and my jammer and going out in the field, which you know I absolutely adore. So it was five guys and me on the jamming team—C-rats. [C Rations were issued during field exercises when prepared food for field kitchens is unavailable. They were notoriously unappetizing]

TS:

Without the roof?

CB:

Without the roof. C-rations absolutely destroy my intestinal track. The guys—but you’re not allowed to bring other kinds of food out with you. The guys would smuggle food out to take care of me. And so, in a way, I learned a lot from that experience as well.

TS:

And that lesson was?

CB:

Well, that the people who you don’t at first think are going to end up being your friends and taking care of you, are the ones who might. So, here was this group of guys—it was funny, in the army they give you half of a tent; three pegs, and one rope; because, you would have to have a partner, who has the other half of the frigging tent, the other three poles. Well, if you’re a female you’re not allowed to share a tent with a guy. So it was me and five guys. I was like, “What the hell am I supposed to do?” So I ended up sleeping under my jeep a lot at first.

Then as the guys got to know me—and as they got to realize that I was gay—their wives actually wanted me to tent with the guys, because I would make them clean up. Because I would go, “I’m not sharing a tent with your little stinky butt. Go take a shower!” So, their guys actually came in nicer.

TS:

From the field?

CB:

From the field, by rooming with me. So yes, that was my adventure. It points out some of the absurdities of the military—that we spend a lot of time training in the dark—which I understand, but a lot of people got hurt and a lot of machinery got destroyed. So you know when they talk about the massive casualties—it’s often not in war for the military— it’s these training exercises. So, I enjoyed looking at the absurdity of military life during that particular time.

I was also supposed to be working on my Korean skills. Now, at that point, I hadn’t been to Korea in a year and I hadn’t heard any Korean. And I was not that good to begin with. I remember one time we were in the language lab. They had so many hours a week set aside for us, where we were supposed to be listening to tapes. And between my ADD [Attention Deficit Disorder], not speaking Korean and not really caring, because I was getting out in a few months, I would just doodle and read or whatever. One day I was actually writing out Christmas cards, and the sergeant came around and just started screaming at me. “This was the time where I was supposed to be doing Korean, blah, blah, blah.”

Well, thank god, the one I happened to have be working on at the times was Kennedy’s so it was in Korean, and I was writing her card in Korean. And I said, “But I am practicing, look!”

And I held up the card full of Korean, and he goes, “Oh, okay.”           

TS:

And Kennedy was a woman that was in the air force—Kathy, right? Kathy.

CB:

Yes, and who was also a Korean linguist. So that one saved my tail.

TS:

Handy.

CB:

But yeah, it was kind of funny, because at the end of the year we had these tests—I assume you have the same test in the air force, right—where you were a 1-1 or a 2-2. What was it, speaking and listening?

TS:

Yes, up to three.

CB:

Yeah, three plus.

TS:

Maybe four if you were really awesome, native speaker or something.

CB:

Yeah, I think when I got out of DLI was a 1-2 or something. When they retested me, as I was getting out, I was a 0-0+.

TS:

[laughs]

CB:

He goes, “My god, look at these scores!”

I was like, “Look, I got a plus!”

I said, “You know this would be really terrible if I planned on staying in, but I’m not!”

TS:

So you never planned on making it a career?

CB:

No, I did not.

TS:

Ever cross your mind?

CB:

No, I knew it was going to be a limited time. It’s funny, at Fort Lewis at the time resigning bonuses for Korean linguist were twenty—twenty-five thousand dollars, which was a lot of money in 1984. And every Korean linguist would go, “I’m getting out, I’m getting out, I’m getting out,” and then they would all sign. So we would have a pool of how long they will go before they would go ahead and reenlist. And everybody would throw in a couple of bucks, and you’d win the pool if they resigned on your date.

As the time got closer and closer for me I was like, “What are the odds?”

They were like, “Cheryl, we didn’t set up a pool for you, because we knew you weren’t reenlisting under any circumstances.”

So, I was probably the only Korean linguist who did not have a re-signing pool, because everyone knew I was getting out. I had saved up my leave time. My date of getting out was June 10th and I had thirty days leave—which, thank god—because on May 9th—May 8th—my company deployed for a six week field experience in the Yakima desert. And they were like, “Why aren’t you packing?”

“Because, I’m not going!”

They were like, “Well, you don’t get out until June 10th”.

I was like, “I’ve got thirty days of terminal leave saved up”.

So the last few of my company and all of my friends went two days before I went on terminal leave with them pulling out in the morning and me going, “Bye!” —sitting there waving.

TS:

You had that all planned. Actually, it was probably fortunately because you really didn’t know—

CB:

I didn’t.

TS:

You didn’t know that you were going to have those orders?

CB:

If I had had a week’s left, they were going to make me go to the field.

TS:

You would have had to stay for the whole deployment?

CB:

No, but I tell you what, they would not have hurried me back. I’m sure I would have spent a lot of time in desert training. So it just worked out that I missed arctic training the year before, and I missed our desert training that year—just through sheer stupid luck.

TS:

So, if you’re looking back at your—at the time—okay—what were you thinking about this experience that you were having in the army that you were so anxious to get out?

CB:

I wasn’t running away from the army, in wanting to get out, I was running towards something else. I knew the army wasn’t going to be my future. I knew once I came out to myself that it was not going to be a healthy environment to be a lesbian in, quite frankly. I watched too many friends and colleagues and acquaintances abuse way too much alcohol and themselves to know that that’s where I wanted to stay—that I would have real issues down the road. So it was better for me to just go on and get on with my life, and that’s why I wanted to get out.

So it’s not like I—I absolutely say that part of the highlight of my life is my years in the military. I learned so many lessons about myself. I learned discipline that I probably would not have gotten as far in my academic career as I did, because god knows  I had no discipline walking in there. Not that I got a lot now. But they taught me how to observe a structure, how to understand its parts, how it works. It made me feel way more capable about myself in areas that I would never have dreamed that I would have been capable in. So, I say absolutely. So when students come to me now—or their parents come to me now and say, “Talk me kid into being in the army.”

I say, “Absolutely not.”

And I’ve told—I had a student a couple of weeks ago who called about joining the military. I said, “I will hit you with a baseball bat, because until we’re out of these war situations, it is not a healthy environment to be in.” We were lucky that we happened to be in during a time of peace, because who knows what the ramifications would have been if I’d spent time in Vietnam or in the Gulf. I think I was just one of those very lucky people who got that window where we got a lot of the benefits of the military: financially, in who we became, and did not have to pay the same price as a lot of folks who have served before and after us. So that’s what I take away from it, is that I was just incredibly lucky.

So when I see young soldiers in uniform today—when I have students who are in uniform—I thank them. I thank them for their service.

TS:

Just like you were thanked when you sat with your dad?

CB:

Absolutely.

TS:

Would you recommend it to anyone—the service—especially women? I mean, I’m asking if you would recommend it to women in particular.

CB:

Yes. If— when I have students—female students who are interested—and I go, “Here’s the pluses and minuses”. Because, absolutely, you come out with a very different view of what you can do as a woman, than what society has put in your head all these years.

TS:

In the military—in the army?

CB:

In the military, I think so, absolutely.

TS:

Why do you think that?

CB:

Well, because we’re taught to be polite and passive. Most women don’t know how to defend themselves. If that guy had been trying moves on different people they couldn’t draw the line, but I could. I think that’s because I was confident in my abilities and I had skills to bear—bring to bear. I don’t encourage them right now, like I said because—if we’re out of Afghanistan and Iraq, I would have them all frigging signed up tomorrow, because I do think it’s a good way of becoming who you could be—to take a horrible slogan and turn it to good.

But, it teaches you about lots of different kinds of people. And we’ve been talking a lot about health care reform and people spitting on each other, and all that kind of stuff— and first amendment rights. I said, you know, when I was at Fort Lewis it’s one of the chemical, biological, and nuclear sites in the country—at least back in the day. And more stuff is stored at Fort Lewis, Washington, than you’d even want to know about. And every day when I’d come into work and people were chained to the gate protesting all the crap there. A lot of the soldiers would get really mad. They’d go, “Man, we need to go stomp those hippies and get them out of here.”

I said, “You know what? I’m wearing this uniform so they can do that. We’re the ones who are supposed to be defending our liberties. I’m not going to take them away from anybody.”

The guys would go, “Oh, I hadn’t thought about it that way.”

And I still believe that.

TS:

Well, let me have you clarify something, then. When you said that about—because of the wars going on right now—is it just because of these particular wars, or war in general, that you wouldn’t want people to be in for?

CB:

Wow, that’s a good question.

TS:

Because the military is kind of around for—

CB:

I guess I have a problem with these wars. I actually don’t have a problem with the Afghanistan War. I remember the day after it happened—after 9/11 happened—I was walking down the hall and one of my colleagues came up who is a Quaker.  She said, “Are we going to go to war, Cheryl?”

I said, “Yes, we are Ann, but this will be a just war. And we have the backing of the world. And, if we do it right, it will be okay.”

I was also asked to be on a panel before we got in Iraq, as a sociologist and as a veteran. And I stood up on and I said, “This is a bad war. We should not be going here. They did nothing against us. This whole idea of preemptive strike is wrong. It’s never been our philosophy before. People are going to die and we’re going to pay a cost that the American public is not going to be willing to pay, because we will not get out of there for years and years and years and years.” I said, “When I was stationed in Korea—thirty years after the end of that war—or cessation of hostilities as they say—we are still there.” I said, “We will be in those places for thirty years. It will not be fast.”

They said, “Oh no, it’ll be blah, blah, blah.”

Well okay, who was right?

I have students yell at me, because I was some kind of communist because, “It is a just war and those people attacked us!”

I was like, “There is not one freaking Iraqi on those planes. They did not attack us.”

So what I’m concerned about is the previous administration’s lack of respect in sending our troops into harm’s way. If there was something like World War II, absolutely, I would understand the necessity for people to go out and fight for what is right. But that’s not what we put our young men and women in front of.

Afghanistan, maybe if we did of kind of like a blitzkrieg war like we should have—if the troops had stayed there, we could have mopped up in a couple of years, maybe. But, the terrain has kicked—if Russia couldn’t do it, and they’re going to fight way uglier than we are, what made us think that we’re going to be able to do it? So, we did not pay attention to the lessons of history number one. But, we could have made some kind of regime change and walked out with dignity in the sense that the people who attacked us are no longer there.

So that’s why I would tell my—unless you can go into some area and specialization that your happy ass is not going into the Middle East, like, oh, be a Spanish linguist. And I will give them job suggestions if they just have to feel like they have to go, that would keep them out of the Middle East.

TS:

Keep them out of harm’s way, in that sense.

CB:

Yes.

TS:

Because you never know where the next trigger spot is going to be either.

CB:

That’s right, or be a member of the Coast Guard. Then you get to wear a fancy uniform, but they don’t get shipped abroad, and you’re doing a service to your country. So—in and of itself I think it’s a great opportunity. I’m just sad that that power has been misused—the way I see it.

TS:

So if someone were to say to you, Cheryl, “What do you think about the word patriotism and how people embrace it in this country?” What do you think about that?

CB:

To me patriotism is standing up and doing the right thing. After 9/11, everybody had flags on their car. And my mom was actually down here. She bought us a flag. She said, “Y’all need to put your flag out.”

I said, “No.” I said, “Patriotism isn’t waiving a flag. Patriotism is the actions.”

So if people stop me and they don’t think I’m patriotic because I don’t have a flag on my car, I’m going to tell them to get the hell out of my face, because I spent years in the military and the police and teaching, and I can’t think of three more patriotic jobs. So, I guess that is how I see patriotism, is actually, words are easy, actions are hard.

And patriotism also has to do with speaking truth to power to me. So, if I’m an anti-war protester, I’m being patriotic in a way that I think is appropriate. But I understand why people who are supporting the war are doing that too. So I think patriotism is in the eye of the beholder, and one definition wouldn’t fit everybody.

TS:

There’s a broad spectrum, so to speak?

CB:

Absolutely, because for some people being patriotic is singing the songs and waving the flags, but maybe they don’t understand that for many people it’s a deeper commitment to action and behavior.

TS:

Do you think—at the beginning you talked a little bit about how you were changed by the military and maybe you changed the military a little bit yourself. Do you want to talk about that a little bit?

CB:

Well, it’s funny. When I went into the military, I was a good Republican kid. My dad was management, small government—the first person I ever voted for was Ford, against Jimmy Carter—a fellow Georgian. When I would sit down at night, I would think, “Okay, I believe in this idea of liberty. I believe in this idea of democracy. I don’t believe in this idea that—the washing away of individualism, I guess, in the military.” I understand why. You don’t want to know the name of the person that you have to send into machine gun fire. I understand why you have to become robot-like. I understand all those things. I also wanted to remind myself that I served with individuals, so that’s what I think about.

So, when I think about what was important to me at that time, it was that kind of stuff. It was—I believe in—I’m pro-choice. Okay, still pro-choice tonight. Those are some of the things that—I think I was changed in the way—and you can’t not be changed when you go from happy civilian to trained killer. Even if you don’t kill anybody, you have to come to terms with the realization that you may have to. That was really hard for me. Before I joined the military I talked to Brian and I was senior in college debating what I was going to do. And he said, “What about the army?”

I said, “I don’t know if I could kill anybody.” And that’s what I told the recruiter. I said, “I’ve got to work this out, because if I put this uniform on I’m going to kill somebody if told to.”

I remember there was quite a couple of weeks there between talking to the recruiter, I was out with a good friend and she was having a really, really bad night, and I didn’t quite understand it. And we started talking; well it turns out that she had been raped a year or so before and something had kind of flashed her back to that period. And it was a pretty horrific attack. I remember thinking, “If I had been there, I could have killed that person.” And I called the recruiter the next day and I said “Sign me up.” I realized I can kill. And that may not be a comfortable insight for many people, but that was something really important that I had to understand about myself.

I do have a .38 [caliber handgun] here. I tell Lynn, “Don’t touch it. Don’t pull it out if I’m not here, because you won’t kill somebody. And they will take that away and they will kill you.” But there is no doubt in my mind that if somebody comes through that door to hurt Lynn or myself that I could kill them.           

TS:

Do you think most sociologists feel that way?

CB:

Oh god no! [TS laughs] No, I think really in some ways people just see me as this total contradiction. I’m a Unitarian who doesn’t like war, but I will kill your ass if you walk into my house to hurt me or my family. So yeah, I am this—I think a lot of that comes from my military career, is that I am a complete set of contradictions sometimes.

TS:

Well, I remember you mentioning that you were in Ecuador that you actually slapped somebody, before the military.  

CB:

Yeah. But, that was taking my cues from movies.

TS:

I see.

CB:

In which you slap somebody back to reality. But, I think that’s a profound change in the way you see things.

TS:

So you think that – go ahead.

CB:

I think I told you about that dream that I had about having to kill somebody—didn’t I? Because you were in that dream.

TS:

Well, let’s hear it. I don’t recall.

CB:

I was new to Korea, which heightens everything.

TS:

Why?

CB:

It is a warzone.  We never signed a peace treaty. It’s just a ceasefire, really. And Seoul—this is thirty years ago now—but Seoul is a town at war. When you drive down the road, all the major highways are designed for military planes to land. You look behind billboards and there are tanks and antiaircraft. Seoul is ringed by mountains, and they have a network of tunnels and defensive positions that not only aim out, but aim in. So you are acutely aware. You are on high level all the time. There’s a lot of alerts where at two or three o’clock in the morning you’re suddenly out guarding the airfield or whatever and you don’t know—people tried to kill us in Korea. They were constantly trying to blow up the field station, and I happened to be on duty on the night when the bomb didn’t go off. So, it makes it very real.

So for the first month or so, everybody sleeps with their steel pot [helmet] there right next to their bed right. So I was in that period of time and I had a dream that we were at war. And I was like running though this maze of offices and I knew there were North Koreans around, and you were there. And I’m thinking, “What is Therese doing over here?” And somebody came around the corner and was going to hurt you, and I killed them—in the dream, I shot them. And I cried and I puked and I said, “Okay, we have to get going.” And something else came up and I had to shoot somebody else. And I remember thinking, “Oh, it’s much easier the second time.”

And I woke up totally freaked out, because I thought, “Oh gosh, there is a line I hope I never have to cross.” But it gave me great insight to the people that I served with who had crossed that line, and how they would feel about stuff.

TS:

Interesting, so you would probably answer in the affirmative to the question, “Do you feel like the military changed you in any way?”

CB:

Absolutely, in good ways—I don’t know if that was a bad way, necessarily.

TS:

Well, I appreciate that you would shoot somebody to protect me, Cheryl, thank you! [laughs]

CB:

I did, Therese, I would do it again! But I think it would be knowing the consequences of my actions in a way that maybe I would not have thought of before.

TS:

You think that is what you are trying to filter in your mind?

CB:

Yeah, I think that is exactly what that dream was. It was that you make the mind up to say, “Yes, this is something that I can do.” Then, you have to think about, “Well, what would my real reaction be?” So I think that was—I always talk about that they planted land mines in my head.

TS:

The army?

CB:

The army—that—less so now—absolutely less so now, but I know there are things that I step on in my past in my head that will trigger responses that I didn’t even know that I had. When I was home right after Korea, I remember sitting in my dad’s living room and an alarm went off out in the parking lot, and it sounded like our alert system in Korea. And I was up and half way across the room looking for my gear before I even—I stopped and I was looking around and Dad was like, “All right, down killer.”

I remember thinking, “Oh my god, that’s exactly right.”

So little things will set me off and little things will—that I know is because of that training. And also, I kick into action at those times. If I see a car accident I’m immediately ready to say, “Okay.” I go through my head, “This is triage and this is basic first aid that I learned thirty years ago.”  Now, I do make sure that I stay up with my training and certifications, because I take students to Mexico and I work with people who are older and I feel like I owe it to them that if I need to go get that little zap your heart thing, then I need to be trained in it.

TS:

Yeah, do you mind if I talk for a little bit for your history on when you started out. You said you knew you wanted to go somewhere for a certain period of time, so you could go back to graduate school. You had talked about how you’re a sociology professor, so you did go back. Did you take this with you—this experience with you?

CB:

Oh absolutely. I think probably it comes up every day of my life in some way or another. I got out of the army in ’84. I was thinking about—I had applied to start at the University of Washington for graduate school. I had actually taken a couple of master’s courses at a university near Tacoma—Pacific Lutheran. But I never could finish them, because I was always in the freaking field.

Oh, here’s the chance for me to go back to graduate school, but then I was so homesick by that time. So, I left Washington and moved back to Atlanta. I had to get a job. I had my own business for a while. Well, I worked at Toys R Us one year. I did inventory for awhile. I started a company for awhile, and then I started working in law enforcement which had been the other side of the coin that I had flipped as a kid. But instead of going in as an officer, I went in as a forensics expert—an ID tech. I did that for several years, and went back to school to mainly augment my career there. I really didn’t have any intention of leaving it. I just thought, “Oh well, if I get my master’s, I’m more likely to get promoted.”

Then I fell back in love with sociology again. So I quit my job and became a poor graduate student, then took my first position out in Colorado. But, it also goes back to that idea of discipline. The army paid for my master’s program. I had put off long enough that a lot of my benefits went unused. I think you have ten years to use them, or whatever. But, it did pay for the master’s and it enabled me to do that work. So it was funny, because my master’s thesis was about lesbian identities. At the bottom of my dissertation—of my thesis—I wrote “Paid for by the United States Military” —just as a way of saying— “I owe you this. This is what I learned. But this is what you’re doing to people.”

TS:

What they’re doing to people.

CB:

Yeah. So sure, I talked about being in the military. I tease about being a trained killer, but I also say that part of what I learned is contingency planning. You know, how do you look at a situation and see all the different things that could go wrong or right, and plan for that as much as possible. I think the army gave me that a lot. So, now I’m working on our handbook for safety at our college. And a lot of that military training bubbles back up in how to look at things, how to analyze things, and how to respond to things.

TS:

Well, you and I both got out of the military in the mid-eighties—so twenty—twenty-five plus years ago. And the role of women in the military has since changed, so we have jet fighter pilots—I can’t even think of—what are some the things in the army that are different today?

CB:

Well, women are leading different units that are deployed more in the field. Interestingly, I don’t know if they ever lifted that ban on women in combat. It’s technically still there, so, but—really now what it is is a hindrance to a lot of young women, who—really, you can’t become a general—really—in most branches—if you haven’t spent time in combat.

TS:

Like not getting that badge that you didn’t get.

CB:

That’s right, that’s right. So yeah, things have improved. Certainly women are doing more, you know, warrant officers flying choppers all over the freaking place. But part of me says deep down, “Are our women really as well trained and [pause] ready for what they’re coming across as they could be?” I remember when we were first going to Korea. And women—we actually learned a little hand to hand combat in basic, but because of Davolos[?] [drill sergeant from Brown’s basic training, mentioned earlier]—it wasn’t because the army required it.  

TS:

Because you were MI?

CB:

Yeah. She was like, “I want y’all to be ready for this.”

And so in Korea we’re being told, “Don’t worry, if anything happens, if the balloon goes up” —which, I don’t know why that’s the  phrase for a war starting—but, “If the balloon goes up, we’ll be evacuating you women.”

And I was like, “Oh let’s get real, do you think you can teach me how to do something that’s gonna help prolong my life, because I know you’re not going to take my happy butt over to Japan. You’re not going to have time!”

So when that convoy where the young woman who ends up getting rescued over in the Middle East [Private First Class Jessica Lynch]—I just wonder how many of those truck drivers should have had better training—should of, would of, could of—to respond differently in that situation. But, “Oh don’t worry, they’re just mechanics or drivers, and they’re not really going to get involved in it in any way.” So I hope this current war is telling the guys up at the big house that they really need to rethink this whole idea of women in combat, because we’re there and we just don’t get the kudos and the extra pay—or the little medal on our chest that guys would get.

TS:

That would go on your record, when you come up for promotions and stuff?

CB:

Exactly.

TS:

And different things like that.

CB:

Exactly.

TS:

Now, what about the recent debate on lifting the—what did you call—I forget how you explained that ban earlier—horrendous—“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”.

CB:

Well, our allies don’t have it. It’s not going to hurt the readiness of the units. It’s one of those carryovers that because gay people are the only people not protected by civil rights legislation—that they can continue to hold up as these straw enemies. So, when those guys get on there and say, “Oh, well I don’t know how it would help,” how “It would  hurt unit cohesion.” They know it’s not going to hurt unit cohesion, because number one either the guys know already, or those gay people are not coming out in the infantry.

It’s not like—we used to laugh at DLI that if all the gay people turned purple they would be amazed at how many were in the service. Gay people are still a product of our culture, and they’re not all out and all loud and all proud, you know, what I mean? So when they’re like, “We’re going to lift the ban on Don’t ask, Don’t tell”, most of those people are not running out of the closet. They’re going to stay firmly entrenched, because until their parents still love them, and until they can get married, and until they’re not going to get killed outside of the military, there’s still a heavy price to pay. So, I don’t think there’s going to be a flocking to the door of gays and lesbians occurring when that when that comes.

TS:

Shouting, “here I am” aloud?

CB:

Exactly. They’re either already known or they’re not coming out, so why not lift that bad boy? “Well, because”—really, Israel? The biggest, baddest mothers around, and they can be openly gay? I’m thinking if they can hold their own, then it should not be a problem for our soldiers.

TS:

We’ve talked for a little while, Cheryl.

CB:

We have, Therese. My voice is going out.

TS:

Is there anything that you’d like to add that we haven’t discussed? I’m sure there are many things that we haven’t discussed, but—

CB:

No, I know that this is always—I tell my students that this has got to be a wrap-up question, because everything is going to go through people’s minds. No, I think—what do I want people to know about my military career?

I would not change anything. I would not have changed my attitude, I would not have changed what I took away from it. I think it’s a great option for young people, but I don’t want it to be the only option for poor people. You know, so many of our volunteer troops are still those people who don’t have an option to make it any other way. It should be seen as a viable alternative for everybody, because they do an important job. And I don’t think the army has done a good job of telling people that. You know, it’s easy to be comfortably middle class with your kids safely in school and wave your flag to be patriotic. It’s another thing to realize that the only way that I can pay my bills for my family is to join the army.

So I wish the army would do a better job of including more groups of people. And until that happens, it’s going to always be seen as different by middle class America. Because, they’re getting further and further away from it. Their fathers and grandfathers were drafted—and talk about patriotism and saving American—but they’re safe from it. I’m big believer in the draft. I would bring that bad boy back in a heartbeat. I think there should be national service. I think you take a test and a random number of people go into the military and a random number of people go over here—

[sound of phone]

TS:

[unclear]

CB:

Oh yeah.

[tape paused]

TS:

Okay, we had to stop for the phone there for a second. But, you were wrapping up about believing in national service for everybody.

CB:

Yeah, I’d love to see a national service initiative. So many of our students—especially in a time when unemployment rates are so high among the recent graduates—why not give the average eighteen or nineteen year old a year or two of networking, of learning some skills—of really starting to understand what it takes to keep a democracy going. If they become—they can go into the military, they can go into EMSing, they can work in our national parks, they can teach our students—there are so many tasks that I think will teach this newer generation to understand the costs involved in keeping a country like this going. They learn better by doing. This is a generation of doers. I think we get away from that whole idea that you are only defended by people who volunteer because they need the money; then, it will become that you’re defended by everybody. Then, maybe we’d pay more attention to where we send our troops.

So, my students always worry when I tell them that—that I’d be just happy to see all of them in uniform. Are they like, “Are you kidding?”

I was like “Absolutely not. It gave me some of the great opportunities in my life. I would love to see you have that too, but you’re not going to.”

TS:

That was your last bit of words for this?

CB:

I think so.

TS:

Well, thank you very much Cheryl.

CB:

My pleasure.

TS:

All right, I’ll turn it off.

[end of interview]