2021 LGBTQ+ Pride Month

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Staff Sgt. Michelle Aguilar-Villafuerte

118th - 247th IS, Tennessee Air National Guard

Aguilar-Villafuerte has served four years in the Guard after a four-year stint in the Marine Corps. She says the Pride Month observance "means that I am accepted fully for who I am and whomever I choose to love. It means I don't have to hide who am I due to fear."

Senior Master Sgt. Heather Anderson

Illinois National Guard, assigned to the National Guard Bureau

Anderson says joining the military in 2002 was the best decision of her life. "It wasn’t until being an instructor is when I realized my worth as an Airman but, more importantly, as a human. Ever since then I have been open and proud. And that’s why this observance is so important to me, because it shows that I am not alone and I have support. The people that did treat me different and did call me names and did discriminate against me will be outnumbered soon."

Tech. Sgt. Nicholas Baker

133 Medical Group, Minnesota Air National Guard

Baker joined the Guard out of high school and has served almost 13 years. He calls this observance a nice gesture and says that in the almost 10 years since the repeal of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell,' the culture has begun to change and people have become more accepting. When I first enlisted it was still illegal to be gay and in the military. I lived in constant fear of being discovered or dishonorably discharged because it happened to several of my friends. I had a defined line between work/military life, and home life."

Staff Sgt. Dayna Brown

232nd Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, Illinois National Guard

Brown appreciates all the relationships she has made during her nine years in the military. "This observance has significant meaning to me. Having a wife and being a woman in the Army was unheard of and unaccepted. Nowadays being yourself is more accepted."

Spc. Iankarlo Caraballo

162nd Quartermaster Water Support Company, Puerto Rico Army National Guard

Caraballo, a cook food specialist who joined the Guard in 2017, says this observance "means that we are breaking the boundaries of sexual orientation, and we are giving the importance and the respect that this should have had for years. This is a big step for us because people see in us leaders and, for some, an example to follow. No matter what your sexual orientations are, you can be wherever you wanted to be without any discrimination."

Senior Airman Madison Chadderdon

133rd Logistics Readiness Squadron, Supply, Minnesota Air National Guard

Chadderdon says joining the Air National Guard in 2018 was one of her best decisions. Asked what this observance means, she said: "It’s an honor to serve my country and I’ve come to appreciate the military more now that I am a part of it."

Sgt. 1st Class Jessica Cutler

115th Maintenance Company, Utah Army National Guard

Cutler was a nursing assistant at a veterans nursing home when she decided to join the Guard in 2004. "To me this observance means inclusion. I joined under 'Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.' For the first seven years of my career, I did not feel fully included. It was very hard always having to worry about not saying something or wording my responses to not reveal too much. This September will be the 10-year anniversary of the repeal of 'Don’t Ask, Don’t tell.' I am so grateful for how far we have come in including everyone in our ranks."

Chief Master Sgt. Jeanne E. Daigneau

103d Airlift Wing, Connecticut Air National Guard

Daigneau says a highlight of her 30-year military career has been seeing the young Airmen she mentored early in their career become NCOs or SNCOs. This observance, she says, means "acceptance for all of us based on how well we do our job and not who we are in love with. We have come a long way and will continue to strive for excellence if we keep an open mind and accept all people for what they bring to the table."

Capt. Cody I. Denson

National Guard Bureau, South Carolina National Guard

Denson joined the Guard in 2012 as his father was about to retire from the military. "To me, this observance shows just how much the military recognizes that it works best with a diverse workforce. It wasn’t too long ago that we couldn’t even be open about who we were while serving. That kept many people from joining, kept some of those who joined from ever really being able to be themselves while in the organization, and even led to some mental instability for some, contributing to a high suicide rate."

Staff Sgt. Jessica Ferre

HHB 2-222 Field Artillery Battalion, Utah Army National Guard

Ferre joined the Guard in 2012 because she "wanted to get out of my comfort zone and challenge myself physically and mentally." A highlight of her service: teaching the Basic Leader Course in Kosovo in 2018. She says the Pride Month observance "reinforces the Army’s commitment to diversity."

Spc. Daniel S. Francis

Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 237th Support Battalion, 37th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, Ohio National Guard

Francis, a history buff who joined the Guard two years ago, has been serving at a food bank during the pandemic. He said Pride Month "reminds me of how many LGBT service members my age or older who could have contributed to protecting and serving this nation never took that chance because they did not feel welcome in our armed forces, and the privilege and opportunity I have today to be able to serve openly as an LGBTQ individual if I so choose."

Capt. Theresa Gathers

125th Security Forces Squadron, Florida Air National Guard

Gathers says her favorite moment of her 15-year military career was when she took command "of the greatest Security Forces unit in the United States Air Force." It means a lot to her that the National Guard Bureau is recognizing the diversity and inclusion of all. "I hope that one day military members that are a part of the LGBTQ community will be genuinely accepted and not feel as alone as some do right now."

Spc. Jaclyn Gaulding

Recruiting and Retention Battalion, West Region, Oklahoma National Guard

Gaulding, an intelligence analyst and recruiter, has served almost five years. She says this observance "shows how far we have come in the past decade. In the beginning, I was nervous to let others know that I’m a lesbian. That was until I shipped to basic training, and met a fellow lesbian drill sergeant. Seeing an out and proud gay woman in that role was very empowering for me as a closeted 18 year old. I want to be that person for other LGBTQ+ Soldiers."

Staff Sgt. Mark Hall-Walker

118th Communication Flight, Tennessee Air National Guard

Hall-Walker, who joined the military in 2009, comes from a long line of family members who have served. "For me the observance of Pride Month is a recognition of love and celebration of life, from a community that has a history of suffering to now be able to openly serve and be who I freely am without hiding or shame of judgment. It’s a feeling I never though would happen in my lifetime when I raised my hand and took the oath to join the military."

Sgt. Jacob Lowry

Ohio Army National Guard Element - Joint Force Headquarters

Lowry, who joined in 2013, loves the adrenaline fix of cliff jump parasailing. This observance "means quite a bit. I have friends that are fellow or past service members that paved the way for my/our ability to serve openly and proudly. They faced intense discrimination in the times of 'Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,' yet they continued to serve and fulfill their duties."

Sgt. Tracy Magouirk

D company 1-141 Infantry, Texas National Guard

Magouirk, who has served almost 12 years, is transgender female to male. This observance "means a lot to me because the more the LGBTQ+ community is seen and heard, the more accepted we will become over time."

Tech. Sgt. Jennifer Marshall

125th Fighter Wing, Florida National Guard

Marshall says serving in the military since 2007 "has allowed me to challenge myself in ways I never thought possible." This observance "means we are being seen and heard as our authentic selves. It means honoring the diverse perspectives and experiences that each of us brings with us to the team."

Staff Sgt. Sarah M. McClanahan

175th Wing Public Affairs, Maryland National Guard

McClanahan joined in 2015 and, as a public affairs specialist/photojournalist, loves telling the stories of service members who would otherwise be overlooked. "Diversity is our greatest strength and there’s no greater strength than boldly living as your authentic self. I hope that through greater representation, more people will know that if they stand apart, they don’t stand alone."

Spc. Caroline A. Morrison

Headquarters and Headquarters Detachment, 69th Troop Command, Kansas Army National Guard

Morrison, who joined in 1999, says her favorite moment in the military "was the first day I was able to finally serve openly outside of my closet." This observance, she says, "is a tremendous way to highlight that the diversity of the U.S. military is greater than skin deep. We truly are a force of unique experiences, which values authenticity and the force multiplier that is."

Staff Sgt. Alex Olesen

133rd Airlift Wing, Minnesota Air National Guard

Olesen has served since 2016. A highlight of her service was a mission to provide free medical care in Puerto Rico that culminated with a huge meal cooked by local residents. Asked about this month's observance, she said: "Visibility is so important, especially in the workplace. It gives people like me an opportunity to express their true selves, which in turn helps other people who might be struggling to share all of themselves with the people around them."

Tech. Sgt. Sheria Ostoff

148th Fighter Wing, Communications Flight, Minnesota Air National Guard

Since joining the Guard in 2009, Ostoff has traveled to Kuwait and South Korea. "It is incredible knowing that I don’t have to hide who I am day in and day out because of who I love. ... Today I say with confidence that I am openly gay. I am happily married to my wife and we have two beautiful children."

Staff Sgt. Christopher Allen Perez

124th Fuels Management Flight, Idaho Air National Guard

Allen Perez has served almost 11 years. "Pride Month has a very large place in my heart for many reasons. Having served through the tail-end of 'Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,' I remember having to create a separate scripted life. At the time, I didn’t know how tight-knit POL was, so I had a list of lines to say whenever I was asked about relationships or any personal questions."

Staff Sgt. Marimar Rivera-Medina

113th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment, Puerto Rico National Guard

Rivera-Medina, the youngest daughter of a twice-wounded Vietnam vet, joined in 2010. "For years, the month of June has meant that I can be free to be myself, without fear of persecution or discrimination. Pride Month is a celebration of life, love and freedom; as a nation we are growing and moving forward."

Spc. Jocellyn Rosado-Landrón

225th Military Police Co., Puerto Rico Army National Guard

Rosado-Landrón joined in 2018 after Hurricane Maria hit the island and she lost her job. This observance "means that as a society, we are growing, and we keep moving forward with a mindset of inclusion and unity where we see our differences as strengths and something to be celebrated, not an abomination or illness that we need to eradicate. It means that we are building a better future than the one we had, calling out what is wrong and fixing it, so our future generations feel safe, loved, and accepted no matter who they choose to love."

Sgt. Morgan L. Sayler

Joint Force Headquarters, G1, Nebraska Army National Guard

Sayler joined seven years ago, a week after talking to a recruiter at school. "I have always viewed Pride Month on recognizing the struggles LGBTQIA+ community constantly faces and recognize the contributions that have been made to make it possible to have equal opportunity. Education, respect and representation. These categories play an important role for this observance to give opportunity to pause, reflect and advocate for what it means to be accepting or accepted from all walks of life."

Capt. Melissa Stenquist

65th Field Artillery Brigade, Utah Army National Guard

Since joining in 2007, Stenquist has served in the Florida and Utah National Guard. Her father was a Marine and her grandfather an Army officer and her son and daughter are in the Marine Corps. "To me, observance means to formally celebrate and respect a special occasion. Observing my heritage helps me recognize my personal accomplishments and the accomplishments of my family and culture. I value my heritage and the traditions of those who have come before me in the service and those who will serve long after I am gone."