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LGBT: Long road to freedom and acceptance

By Senior Airman Kimberly Nagle 633rd Air Base Wing Public Affairs

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At 16, Ashley Jacobs told her mother she was gay.

"I was sort of told, to live my life, just don't bring it into her house," said Jacobs.

Their relationship continued, but the pair never discussed large part of Jacob's life.
As a child, the now-U.S. Army Bravo Company 2nd Battalion, 210th Aviation Regiment, 128th Aviation Brigade UH-60 Blackhawk mechanic instructor found relief when she looked to the sky; an escape into a different world where her only worry was spotting and identifying aircraft. The idea of making her passion a career was a dream she was determined to make come true.

Jacobs pursued her goal by searching her options within the military, talking to several branches she finally made her decision the U.S. Army.

She met with a recruiter and after a few lengthy conversations, Jacob's sexuality, which was not accepted in the military at the time under the Don't Ask, Don't Tell Act, came up.

"My recruiter had no issues with it," she said. "But she did encourage me to keep that information to myself."

Jacobs made the decision to join the military anyway, knowing she would have to hide who she really was, but she said her love and passion for aircraft and the Army made the choice worth it when she was selected as a UH-60 Blackhawk mechanic.

As she began her career, she did her best to keep herself hidden, but there were a few close friends who accepted her for who she is.

"Through the years, a few of my closer Soldiers have known about who I am," said Jacobs. "None of them seemed to even care, but I was lucky that the information never made its way any higher than that."

She said she wanted to bring her significant other to the Army's balls, picnics and other events, but knew it would end her career. This began to create issues within her relationships, as partners thought Jacobs was ashamed or wanted to hide them.

"It wasn't easy," said Jacobs. "Sometimes I would say my girlfriend was a boyfriend at work, just so I could sort of talk about her, like everyone else was able to discuss their significant others."

To keep her mind off disappointing partners and the worry of getting caught, Jacobs said she threw herself into her work, staying late, learning as much as she could and promoting quickly through the ranks.

After continuing to hide her true self, the secrecy began to take its toll, but before she let it get to her something happened; something she never imagined.

After serving for three years, the Don't Ask, Don't Tell act was finally repealed and Jacobs, along with many others, felt the burden of hiding a huge part of their lives released. 

"I am a great Soldier, and now I get to be who I am," said Jacobs. "I do not have to worry about losing the career I always wanted."

However, after a lifetime of hiding, Jacobs said it was difficult to adjust to the freedom.

"It did take me some time to feel fully comfortable with being myself," said Jacobs. "I had no issues with leadership or anyone around me rejecting me, but not everyone was ready for this sort of change in the military."

Jacobs said there are still a few who reject the change; some even use inappropriate slurs. Although not everyone has been accepting, she is grateful for those leaders who have supported her. 

"There was a time when someone said 'that's gay' out loud at a gathering," said Jacobs. "A higher-ranking lesbian Soldier stood up and asked who said it, and let them know that was an inappropriate remark."

With the acceptance from her military family, Jacobs found the love of her life whom she married in February 2015. 

Jacobs was not sure that she would even have the possibility of getting married when she joined the service, never the less become accepted by those around her.

"I was slightly worried we would not be accepted," she said. "But everyone in leadership, coworkers, everyone accepted us right away."

Jacobs said that if she had to continue hiding this side of her, possibly missing out on the love of her life, a future in the Army would have been questionable, but now she gets to live her life without hiding.

"I always thought it would never be possible for all of this, to get married while serving," said Jacobs. "But it did and I will continue to serve and be myself."