A time to tell: JBA couple shares their journey

The Enquire-Gazette - - News - By SE­NIOR AIR­MAN JOSHUA R. M. DEWBERRY 11th Wing Pub­lic Af­fairs

Be­fore 2011, the “don’t ask, don’t tell” law kept many in the dark. If a ser­vice mem­ber was gay, they held on to that se­cret tighter than a tourni­quet on the bat­tle­field or risked dis­charge.

Ac­cord­ing to a De­fense De­part­ment di­rec­tive is­sued in late 1993, mil­i­tary per­son­nel were pro­hib­ited from dis­crim­i­nat­ing against or ha­rass­ing clos­eted ho­mo­sex­ual or bi­sex­ual ser­vice mem­bers or ap­pli­cants. At the same time, it barred openly gay, les­bian or bi­sex­ual per­sons from mil­i­tary ser­vice.

Shayna En­gle, an Air Force in­ac­tive re­servist and Penn­syl­va­nia na­tive, joined the Air Force in 2008 and knows first­hand how much this pol­icy af­fected those in the mi­nor­ity.

“When I joined the Air Force, ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ was still very strongly in ef­fect,” Shayna En­gle said. “My first real re­la­tion­ship with a woman was in tech school. It was hard be­cause you’re con­stantly be­ing mon­i­tored and if some­one caught you, your ca­reer would be over and you’d be ousted.”

Staff Sgt. Jamie En­gle, a 744th Com­mu­ni­ca­tion Squadron cy­ber trans­port sys­tems crafts­man, was al­ready as­signed to then-An­drews Air Force Base in 2009 when she as­sisted Shayna En­gle through her pro­cess­ing to her new as­sign­ment. The first time they spoke over the phone, Jamie En­gle had re­cently pro­moted to se­nior air­man.

“What should’ve been a 15-minute call be­came a two and a half hour con­ver­sa­tion,” Jamie En­gle said. “It felt like I was talk­ing to a friend I hadn’t seen in months.”

Shayna En­gle said the couple went on to be­come closer and they fell in love.

Jamie En­gle, who en­listed in the Air Force in 2004, ad­mits to feel­ing very anx­ious about hav­ing her sex­u­al­ity dis­cov­ered. And dur­ing the course of their re­la­tion­ship, hid­ing their feel­ings for each other be­came a daily rou­tine.

“We couldn’t be our­selves un­less we were be­hind closed doors,” Shayna En­gle said. “We hardly even looked at each other at work be­cause a lot of our co­work­ers also lived in the same area as us. We were afraid we weren’t al­ways go­ing to be able to sep­a­rate our pri­vate and pro­fes­sional lives.”

Telling their par­ents about their re­la­tion­ship took a year be­fore both women were will­ing to open up to other peo­ple – out of fear of telling their fam­i­lies and their re­ac­tions.

Af­ter a year and a half of dat­ing in se­cret, Jamie En­gle pro­posed to Shayna En­gle, tak­ing the next step in their covert re­la­tion­ship. Soon af­ter this, Shayna En­gle re­ceived or­ders for Kun­san Air Base, South Korea.

“I knew im­me­di­ately our re­la­tion­ship wasn’t go­ing to last,” Jamie En­gle said. “I knew I would get or­ders for an­other base and Shayna would get or­ders for a fol­low-on base af­ter Korea.”

Shayna En­gle was ini­tially more op­ti­mistic about this change in their re­la­tion­ship, but long-dis­tance and hid­ing the en­gage­ment took it’s toll. The en­gage­ment was called off and Jaimie En­gle de­ployed to Afghanistan while Shayna En­gle made new friends.

Af­ter a brief re­la­tion­ship with an­other Air­man who died af­ter be­ing struck by a car, Shayna En­gle re­al­ized she still loved Jamie En­gle and wrote to her in Afghanistan. The re­la­tion­ship re­sumed.

Dur­ing their time apart, the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Re­peal Act of 2010 was en­acted, end­ing the pol­icy on Sept. 20, 2011. Gay and bi­sex­ual ser­vice mem­bers could now openly serve with­out fear of pun­ish­ment.

“When ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ was re­pealed, for every­one else it was just an­other day, like ‘Oh, it’s OK now.’ For me, it was like a weight had been lifted off my shoul­ders and I could com­pletely be my­self,” Shayna En­gle said.

Their re­la­tion­ship came full cir­cle as Shayna En­gle pro- posed to Jamie En­gle.

“It was like she re­turned the fa­vor. It felt more pre­cious to me when I thought back on how there was a time when we weren’t sure if we were meant to be a couple,” Jamie En­gle said. “In the end, we saw what was most im­por­tant to us and spend­ing time apart forced us to ma­ture and gain per­spec­tive.”

Af­ter Shayna En­gle’s as­sign­ment ended at Tyn­dall AFB in May 2013, she be­came a re­servist sta­tioned out of Dover AFB, Del., and moved back to Mary­land to be with Jamie En­gle. They fi­nally wed May 24, 2014.

“Be­ing able to get mar­ried legally, af­ter ev­ery­thing we’d been through, was one of the great­est feel­ings of my life,” Shayna En­gle said. “With the laws changed, the cul­ture shifted more to sup­port­ing our de­ci­sions to love who we love and a sup­port group of friends and fam­ily that was there for us. The only thing that stopped us from mak­ing our re­la­tion­ship of­fi­cial was our­selves. We couldn’t wait for the wed­ding.”

It was a small cer­e­mony with friends and fam­ily.They have yet to take their hon­ey­moon; they are pre­par­ing them­selves fi­nan­cially as Jamie En­gle works to get pro­moted to tech­ni­cal sergeant. Shayna En­gle is try­ing to get a re­servist po­si­tion at JBA and they hope to have a child to­gether in the next year.

“I mar­ried my best friend,” Jamie En­gle said. “Our re­la­tion­ship now is like any other couple. We like stay­ing in on week­ends, try­ing new restau­rants, play­ing with our dogs, we visit each other’s fam­i­lies when we’re not too busy with work and talk about our day when we get home.”

Courtesy Photo

For­mer Staff Sgt. Shayna En­gle (left) and Staff Sgt. Jamie En­gle, 744th Com­mu­ni­ca­tion Squadron cy­ber trans­port sys­tems crafts­man (right,) pose for a photo.

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