2023 LGBTQI+ Pride Month

Sgt. 1st Class Laila Barnes

101 Expeditionary Signal Battalion, New York National Guard

Since joining the Guard in 2010, Barnes has deployed to Afghanistan (2012-13) and Kuwait and Iraq (2018-19). Her favorite part of serving is guiding and mentoring young adults. To her, this observance means "that young LGBT+ service-members have value to add to the military and that they can add to the growing diverse force in protecting and serving our country."

Staff Sgt. Luis G. Celeste

106th Regional Training Institute, New York National Guard

Celeste, a Guardsman since 2011, says serving in the New York Honor Guard is the highlight of his military career. He says this month's observance "solidifies that the military as a whole is modernizing. We as leaders must be accepting and open to the policy and changes within our force. We as leaders must stand up and defend the rights of our Soldiers who exercise the use of these policies when challenged by close-minded individuals that don’t want to accept change."

Maj. James P. Cole

1969th Contingency Contracting Team, Nebraska National Guard

Cole joined the Army Reserves in 2006 and the Guard in 2009. He deployed to Kosovo in 2011-12 and participates in the National Guard Marathon Program. "Pride celebrates the progress we have made, gives those who still feel ridiculed or suppressed an opportunity to find community, and shows us that we can stand up for ourselves and work towards acceptance of people being themselves. My journey has made me who I am and I don’t regret what it was but I am thankful when I see others have a safe space to be who they are and don’t have to wait until they are 30 to find their community, love, and acceptance."

Staff Sgt. Hannah Crawford

751st Troop Command, Kentucky Army National Guard

Crawford joined the Guard in 2013. She deployed to the Middle East with the 206th Engineer Battalion for Operation Inherent Resolve in 2019-20. "For me, this observance is not being afraid of who I am and serving confidently in my own skin. I joined not long after DADT ('Don't Ask, Don't Tell') was repealed, but when I was younger, I was so scared to talk about my personal life. Other Soldiers in my unit would mention their wives, their husbands, their boyfriends, their girlfriends. I realized I had just as much right to talk about my relationship as anyone else did. When my fellow Soldiers have pictures with their significant other on their desk, I am allowed to show mine as well. Thankfully, my experience in the KYARNG has been great, and I have never faced any type of retaliation about my personal relationships. I have been strongly supported my entire career in the Guard."

Master Sgt. Jim Greenhill

National Guard Bureau Public Affairs

Greenhill, an immigrant from the United Kingdom, joined the Guard in 2002. "After the Sept. 11th attacks, I felt a calling to give something back." He came out relatively late in life. "I told a heterosexual Soldier I had formed particular respect for that I thought I was gay and needed to come to terms with it. His reaction – pretty much, 'So what? Be you' – helped me take a new path, to a fulfilling, authentic life. Of all the things I imagined military service might lead to, this wasn’t one of them – and it’s been my greatest reward from serving."

Staff Sgt. Don "Jay" Jackson

233rd Regional Training Institute, Arkansas Army National Guard

Jackson, an information technology specialist, has served since 2006. He most enjoys training, developing and mentoring Soldiers. "Having served active duty during the era of 'Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,' I have seen the Army go through a lot of changes. We still have work to do, but I am proud of what our organization has done to embrace Soldiers of all backgrounds. For me, this month is about observing the things that bring us together, and the common goals we can work to achieve."

Sgt. Brenna Malone

Bravo Battery 1-206th Field Artillery Brigade, Arkansas Army National Guard

Malone joined the Guard in 2015 to do something that not everyone else could do. "Coming out was one of the scariest moments in my life, and I know that there are others out there that still have the same fear. I want to be a voice for the gay community and show them that military is a place of acceptance and brotherhood and encourage other members of the LGBTQIA+ to step up and be a part of the 1%."

Staff Sgt. Joshua Mendiola

HHC, 1st Battalion, 161st Infantry Regiment (HHC, 1-161st Infantry), Washington National Guard

Mendiola was "in a pretty dark place" when he decided to follow his sister into the Guard in 2018. "The Armed Forces has always had members of the LGBTQIA+ community in formation. In the past, these service members served their nation while at risk of being harassed, assaulted or wrongfully discharged simply because of who they love. Today, I stand proud to serve my state and nation and being a member of this community because of those who paved the way for me to serve without worrying about the repercussions they faced."

Master Sgt. Amber Monio

National Guard Bureau Public Affairs

Monio joined the Guard 20 years ago and has a family history of service in the Guard. Highlights include traveling all over the world while telling the Air National Guard story and State Partnership Program visits to Morocco, where Guardsmen set up a surgical field hospital. "Observances like Pride Month help people like me feel empowered and protected from discrimination and harassment. While there is still work to be done, the progress that has been made since the repeal of DADT is a testament to the military’s commitment to diversity and inclusion. Pride Month is now a time for celebration and reflection and I feel fortunate to serve in a unit that recognizes and values a wide range of perspectives and experiences."

Staff Sgt. Ra-Sha J. Sanford

Joint Force Headquarters, Washington National Guard

Sanford joined the Guard in 2005 and is a chief paralegal noncommissioned officer. "Pride, as we all know, is the celebration and acceptance of all queer identities, but it's more than that. It's undeniable acknowledgment that people like us exist, have always existed, and will continue to exist in perpetuity. We aren’t some abstract ideas or some hypothetical person you’ve never encountered; we are your neighbors, friends, doctors, teachers, coaches, and yes … fellow Soldiers."

1st Lt. Kamryn Sannicks

67th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade (MEB), HSC, Nebraska National Guard

Sannicks is third generation Army, joining the Guard in 2016. She deployed to the Horn of Africa in 2021-22. "I also cannot understate how empowering it has been to my career to see the Department of Defense continue to make strides to ensure every service member can serve openly and proudly. Pride Month gives all Soldiers the opportunity to learn about how the military continues to improve its culture for all service members regardless of their sexual orientation and gender identity and see how diverse the military truly is."

Capt. Abbey Wilson-Napolitani

119 Sapper Company, 1092 Engineer Battalion, 111 Engineer Brigade, West Virginia National Guard

Wilson-Napolitani, an engineer officer, has served for more than 12 years, including a Middle East deployment in 2021 for Operation Spartan Shield. "I am happy the military has come a long way since I first joined and 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' was still in place. ... It's important for today's leaders to know that you won't be getting any less of a Soldier because their family doesn't look like yours. Empower those around you so that tomorrow's Army is full of competent and passionate Soldiers who look out for each other and believe in the formations they are a part of."