By Brian Alvarado, 2018 Armed Forces Insurance Navy Spouse of the Year
Right around two weeks before we were to travel to our nation’s Capitol for the week of Military Spouse Appreciation events after being named the 2018 Armed Forces Insurance Navy Spouse of the Year, I got an email.
An email that I would have never expected to receive. As branch winners of this program, we got a lot of emails. Invitations to events, instructions for our aggressive itinerary, dress codes, and so much more. But this email, this email was a surprise. It was an invitation to a lunch reception in the ceremonial office of the Vice President of the United States at the Eisenhower Building with Vice President Mike Pence and Mrs. Pence.
Being the husband of an active duty, United States Navy Sailor in a same-sex marriage is something that is quite new in our nation. With the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell in 2011 and nationwide marriage equality in 2015, we are still a brand new type of military couple in the legal sense.
To be the first LGBT Military Spouse named a branch winner in the Military Spouse of the Year Program was history making, and we had several months to own that. No matter how much I wanted to be coined as a military spouse, and not a gay military spouse, I have had to find the place in my heart to realize that I can be both.
After receiving the invitation, I reached out to some trusted advisors, both gay and straight. And believe it or not, I got the same advice from both. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity. Not only to be able to meet and speak with a sitting Vice President of our nation, but to be in the company of my fellow military spouses and our service members during a week celebrating the work we are doing to improve the lives of our fellow military families.
It isn’t hard to find out why I was apprehensive. A simple Google search and you will find that Vice President Pence has a long time political career that includes anti-LGBT policies, and even being quoted in 2009 as saying “Homosexuality is incompatible with military service because the presence of homosexuals in the ranks weakens unit cohesion.” So, you can imagine, why we had our reservations. I mean, who would want to put themselves in that kind of line of fire? At one point I even questioned if the administration really knew who they were inviting to this reception.
— Karen Pence (@SecondLady) May 11, 2018
In the end, Matthew and I decided together that it would be an opportunity not to be missed. We had the opportunity to represent a segment of our military community that would not normally have a seat at the table, and we needed to appreciate that. I can see how it may be easy to dismiss this opportunity in our case, but I chose to see the benefits that may come of it. We were not sitting down to talk policy; We were there to be recognized as the 2018 AFI Navy Spouse of the Year and his active duty military spouse.
My husband is a patriot among patriots. One has to be to serve in our military for 19 years. He has served under Republican and Democrat administrations. He served under Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. During his first deployment, his ship, the USS Tarawa LHA-1 was among the first responders to the terrorist attack on the USS Cole were he volunteered to personally assist in rescue and damage control assistances. He has deployed 7 times to 7th and 5th fleets in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom, and Operation New Dawn. He currently serves in his retirement tour as a Naval Instructor training future crews of the Littoral Combat Ships (LCS) fleet in Deck operations. He deserved this opportunity and I was not going to stand in the way. Ultimately, he works for the Commander in Chief of the United States of America and he is taught to respect the office, and therefore I respect that.
So, we went. I was sweating bullets as we climbed the beautiful stairs in what used the be the War Department Building. We were in awe as we had just finished our first tour of the White House and being moved in a private group to the Eisenhower Building. And it wasn’t a secret that I was nervous. A few of my friends around us were asking if I was okay. I said yes, adverting to the fact that it was ridiculously hot and humid, but it was my nerves. I didn’t know what to expect. And then the big reveal, the Vice President and The Second Lady entered the room. They both gave a heartfelt brief on military spouses and the work being done in our community and congratulated those of us in the room that had been recognized as 2017 and 2018 Branch Winners of this program.
Then it happened, the meeting. Matthew and I were the first in line to meet and shake hands with them. Maybe it was because our last name starts with A, or maybe it was the universe ruling in my favor to get on with it. Here is the surprise. It was perfectly awesome. I got coined with a Vice Presidential Coin. It was the same exact thing that the eleven other spouses and their service members experienced following us. We shook hands, took pictures, and moved on. We then watched our peers go through the welcome line and go through the same thing. Then, at the end, the Vice President and Mrs. Pence stayed in the room for a few minutes to talk to us individually and then we had the chance to really talk to them.
We were not going to miss this opportunity. We boldly went up to them like they were just regular people and reintroduced ourselves and the first thing that happened was something that I will never forget. The Vice President of the United States of America reached passed me to shake the hand of my husband and thank him for his 19 years of service. It took every ounce of ability in me to not have a break down right in that moment. For a couple of regular guys like us, to have that happen is incredible. The Vice President knew how many years Matthew had served. They knew the details about the work I do with Hiring our Heroes and that I had been apart of the Military Spouse of the Year program twice. We then chatted for a few minutes about service, about the history of the building we were standing in, and about the work being done to improve the lives of our American military families.
And then it was over in a flash.
Some folks have asked us how we could do what we did while knowing his policies are historically against our way of life. And to those people, I say, I don’t know. All I do know is that we had what very well may have been the first time the Vice President was in a one-on-one situation with a same-sex military couple and they treated us with the upmost respect and humility. The Vice President and Mrs. Pence were both gracious and thankful for my husband’s service and my work within our community.
While servicemembers enlist, it’s families that reenlist. We have the finest & strongest military in the history of the world because we have the strongest military families in the history of the world. Today is about honoring all of them. https://t.co/9rXVyhMO3D
— Vice President Mike Pence (@VP) May 11, 2018
Did we erase decades of policies and decisions of a politician? Probably not, but did we have the opportunity to put a face to those policies? YES! Did we have an opportunity to join other diverse military families and show this administration that our military community is stronger together? You’re absolutely right we did. We joined eleven other unique couples from each branch of our military, from active duty to reserves. Military spouses who are working on military spouse programs to special warfare active duty service members fighting for our freedom. We joined Marines, Coast Guardsmen, Airmen, Sailors, Soldiers, and their spouses as a united front. We showed up together and we showed everyone that we are stronger together.
Watch the Vice President’s speech to us here: