Cre­at­ing a co­zier mil­i­tary

The Love Ar­mor Project

Pasatiempo - - ON THE COVER - Jen­nifer Levin

Steve Loomis didn’t fully un­der­stand that he was gay when he joined the Army and fought in Viet­nam. His fa­ther, grand­fa­ther, and great-grand­fa­ther had all served in the mil­i­tary in times of war. En­list­ing was his fam­ily and civic duty, a way of life. “I knew there was some­thing dif­fer­ent about me, per­haps, but that came grad­u­ally over sev­eral years,” he said.

Loomis, an Albuquerque res­i­dent who earned a Pur­ple Heart and two Bronze Stars for his time in com­bat, rose to the rank of lieu­tenant colonel in the Army Re­serves and served as the chief of mil­i­tary ed­u­ca­tion for the U.S. Army Re­serve Per­son­nel Cen­ter. And then, in 1997, days be­fore he reached his 20-year re­tire­ment, he was drummed out of the Army un­der “don’t ask, don’t tell” (DADT), a pol­icy in­sti­tuted un­der the Clin­ton ad­min­is­tra­tion in 1994 to dis­suade mil­i­tary mem­bers from be­ing openly gay. The ex­pul­sion came after a man with whom he’d had a brief re­la­tion­ship set his house on fire. Dur­ing the ar­son in­ves­ti­ga­tion, the fire mar­shal found video ev­i­dence that Loomis had en­gaged in same-sex re­la­tion­ships — and things snow­balled from there. It took more than nine years, but Loomis suc­cess­fully sued the govern­ment for his re­tire­ment ben­e­fits. Now, he is pres­i­dent of Amer­i­can Vet­er­ans for Equal Rights (AVER) and a found­ing mem­ber of New Mex­ico’s Bataan chap­ter of the or­ga­ni­za­tion.

Loomis tells his story and talks about his ad­vo­cacy work on Sun­day, Sept. 30, at a panel dis­cus­sion by mem­bers of AVER as part of the 10th an­niver­sary of the Love Ar­mor Project at the Cen­ter for Con­tem­po­rary Arts. Love Ar­mor be­gan with the am­bi­tion of sup­port­ing mil­i­tary men and women serv­ing in Iraq and Afghanistan — where their Humvees were not ap­pro­pri­ately ar­mored for the dan­gers they faced in these war zones. Shirley Klinghof­fer, a lo­cal sculp­tor, re­cruited knit­ters around the coun­try to cre­ate the Humvee Cozy, a large-scale blan­ket that cov­ered a Humvee M1026 driven by the New Mex­ico Na­tional Guard and which was then trans­ferred to an ar­ma­ture. Humvee Cozy is dis­played again at the an­niver­sary ex­hi­bi­tion, which in­cludes an open­ing re­cep­tion on Fri­day, Sept. 28, and panel dis­cus­sions and ac­tiv­i­ties through­out the week­end.

When DADT was passed in 1993, Loomis thought it might be an im­prove­ment over the pre­vi­ous all-out ban on LGTBQ ser­vice­mem­bers. “In the long run,” he said, “that was not true, be­cause more dis­charges were made dur­ing ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ than were made un­der the to­tal ban. About 13,000 peo­ple were dis­charged un­der ‘don’t ask, don’t tell.’ ” Un­der DADT, gay sol­diers could re­sign if they were dis­cov­ered rather than be­ing kicked out, but Loomis re­fused. He’d promised him­self back in 1994 that if he were ever caught, he’d fight what­ever pun­ish­ment came his way. He was lucky enough to have friends and fam­ily who stuck by him dur­ing his lengthy court bat­tle. “Some peo­ple who face that are out in the cold with very lit­tle sup­port, and with no money or in­come.” When DADT was re­pealed in 2011, the idea that gay men and les­bians could serve their coun­try ef­fec­tively in war went a long way to le­git­imiz­ing the fight for gay mar­riage. “If they can’t ar­gue that we’re a detri­ment to the mil­i­tary, then they can’t ar­gue that we’re a detri­ment to so­ci­ety in gen­eral.”

Loomis said that one of the lesser-known con­se­quences of be­ing a gay soldier un­der DADT was the preva­lence of post-trau­matic stress dis­or­der (PTSD) from liv­ing with the threat of be­ing outed — which could re­sult not only in ex­pul­sion from the mil­i­tary, but in ver­bal, phys­i­cal, and sex­ual as­sault by fel­low ser­vice­mem­bers. This PTSD is suf­fered on top of the bat­tle-re­lated trauma all com­bat vet­er­ans face. Dr. Deb­o­rah Good is a cer­ti­fied art ther­a­pist, clin­i­cal coun­selor, and mod­er­a­tor of a panel dis­cus­sion on Satur­day, Sept. 29, “Ad­vances in Neu­ro­science and Art Ther­apy in the Treat­ment of PTS Since 2008.” She said that all com­bat vets deal with some de­gree of post-trau­matic stress (PTS) but not ev­ery­one fits the di­ag­nos­tic cri­te­ria re­quired to la­bel it as a full-blown dis­or­der. Both PTS and PTSD are in­fin­itely nu­anced and in­di­vid­u­al­is­tic; what one per­son might shake off can up­end an­other per­son’s psy­che.

“You can have PTS from a car ac­ci­dent, or from be­ing in the mil­i­tary, or be­ing raped, or be­ing raped in the mil­i­tary,” Good said. “There are many ways that our brains re­spond to each kind of trauma. Say some­one grew up in an al­co­holic fam­ily and there was a lot of ver­bal and emo­tional abuse. That might then set them up to re­spond to a sit­u­a­tion in a dif­fer­ent way than some­one who grew up in a health­ier home. The brain re­acts dif­fer­ently de­pend­ing on the his­tory of the per­son as well as the sit­u­a­tion that they’re go­ing through.”

“When you go through a se­vere trauma, the phys­i­cal wiring of your brain changes. It is a real, phys­i­cal thing — and you can’t fix that with neu­ro­surgery.” neu­ro­science pro­fes­sor Bill Shut­tle­worth

Art ther­apy, with its fo­cus on vis­ual rather than ver­bal com­mu­ni­ca­tion, can be ef­fec­tive with trauma sur­vivors who find it dif­fi­cult to talk about their ex­pe­ri­ences. “The image lan­guage is very strong and very pri­mal,” Dr. Good said. The art-mak­ing is used as a di­ag­nos­tic tool for the ther­a­pist, who is trained to an­a­lyze a num­ber of as­pects of cre­ative ex­pres­sion — but cre­at­ing art can also be ther­a­peu­tic for the client, whether in the fin­ished prod­uct that helps a suf­ferer un­der­stand his or her own story or in the phys­i­cal act of work­ing with paint, clay, or other ma­te­ri­als. Vet­er­ans and their fam­i­lies are wel­come to try out some of these tech­niques at the panel, where sup­plies will be pro­vided.

An­other mem­ber of the panel on post-trau­matic stress is Dr. Bill Shut­tle­worth, a pro­fes­sor of neu­ro­science at the Univer­sity of New Mex­ico. In his work, he looks at the ef­fects of trauma on the brain at a cel­lu­lar level. At the panel, he hopes to dis­pel the idea that the so-called in­vis­i­ble in­jury of trauma is some­thing one should just power through sim­ply be­cause it can­not be fixed in the man­ner of a bro­ken bone. “Folks usu­ally think of the brain as a plug-and-play de­vice rather than a dy­nam­i­cally chang­ing in­tri­cate in­stru­ment,” he said. “When you go through a se­vere trauma, the phys­i­cal wiring of your brain changes. It is a real, phys­i­cal thing — and you can’t fix that with neu­ro­surgery. You can’t go in there with a scalpel and change those cir­cuits. You can’t re­ally get in there with medicines, ei­ther. Medicines can help you get to where you want to go, but you need schooled be­hav­ioral ther­a­pists. They are the rock stars of PTSD ther­apy. They are ac­tu­ally rewiring your brain, tin­ker­ing with synapses and cir­cuits in a way that no other physi­cian can do.”

With the United States en­gaged in pro­tracted war, ever-in­creas­ing num­bers of vet­er­ans are likely to need treat­ment for PTS. Re­search and treat­ment is a mov­ing fron­tier. As for LGTBQ rights, the con­tem­po­rary bat­tle is over whether trans­gen­der sol­diers can serve openly in the mil­i­tary. Though the cur­rent pres­i­den­tial ad­min­is­tra­tion has is­sued or­ders to the con­trary and the fi­nal le­gal sta­tus is still up in the air, trans­gen­der ser­vice­mem­bers re­main in the mil­i­tary at this time. “In the long run, trans­gen­der [sol­diers] will be al­lowed to serve,” Loomis said. “They’ve al­ways been with us. They’ve served clear back to the Civil War.”

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