At a ceremony in Arlington earlier today, Army Reserve officer Tammy Smith became the first out, active duty general in American history.
Smith was promoted to brigadier general at a private ceremony at the Women’s Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery Friday morning. Smith’s wife, Tracey Hepner, presented her with her stars.
It was a historic moment for the gay rights movement that comes nearly a year after the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and makes Smith the highest ranking gay military figure who is open about her sexuality.
The 49-year-old Smith shied away from the significance of her promotion, telling Stars and Stripes, “All those facts are irrelevant.”
“I don’t think I need to be focused on that,” Smith told the military newspaper. “What is relevant is upholding Army values and the responsibility this carries.”
“For me, the story is about the promotion and the opportunities it brings,” Smith said.
Despite her humility, advocates praised Smith’s accomplishment.
Executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN) Aubrey Sarvis said Smith’s promotion not only made history, but signaled a new era in military service.
“It is indeed a new era in America’s military when our most accomplished leaders are able to recognize who they are and serve the country they love at the same time,” Sarvis said in a statement. “Brigadier General Smith made history today – not only as an exemplary service member who renders outstanding service to our nation with integrity and honor – but as a proud lesbian acknowledging the tremendous sacrifice her family makes in order for her to serve and advance.”
Sarvis, an Army veteran himself, added that he has no doubt more senior officers will follow Smith’s lead.
Sue Fulton, a 1980 West Point graduate and member of the OutServe board of directors, also praised Smith, stating, “It is a great day for our military and for our nation when this courageous leader is finally able to recognize her wife for her support and sacrifice in the same way that all military families should be recognized for their service to our country.”
According to Stars and Stripes, Smith spent much of 2011 serving in Afghanistan and has already been assigned as deputy chief at the Office of the Chief at the Army Reserve.
Smith’s wife, who is cofounder of the Military Partners and Families Coalition, said the level of support the couple has received since acknowledging their relationship has been overwhelming.
“I wasn’t surprised that people were so accepting, but in some cases it has been even celebratory,” Hepner said. “It’s like nothing has really changed for us, and yet everything has changed.”
[Photo: Brig. Gen. Tammy Smith, right, with her wife, Tracey Hepner, left (Photo courtesy of SLDN).]