Proud journeys in serving

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Josephine Pepin
  • 28th Bomb Wing Public Affairs

If you call the office of Senior Airman Maeve Campbell, 28th Operations Support Squadron journeyman at Ellsworth Air Force Base, South Dakota, you’ll be greeted on the phone by her warm lilting voice with an upbeat attitude. You may not realize that the polite kindness she relays over the phone comes from a well of confidence she’s been newly able to tap into and a type of radiance that has been grown and nourished for years.

With a crown of auburn curls she’s been growing out into a ponytail, Campbell is currently on her journey to becoming her true self as a transgender woman in the U.S. Air Force.

“I think it’s important to know it’s not just a single realization, but that it can be a lot of tiny things that build into each other that lead into an understanding of yourself that you didn’t have,” said Campbell.

Campbell has identified as LGBTQ+ for many years and the realization of her trans identity was part of that journey. She first identified as pansexual, a sexual orientation where a person’s sex or gender is not a determining factor in romantic or sexual attraction. A year later while deployed, Campbell reflected further on her identity and had the freedom to explore feminity, beginning the groundwork of her gender identity.

Campbell attributes the progress she has made in finding herself over the past few years to the ability to make daily self-discoveries in an inclusive workplace at Ellsworth AFB.

“I'm in a caring shop,” said Campbell. “I've been privileged in that regard. My leadership and the people around me are pretty supportive of me.”

Campbell serving as an LGBTQ+ member is not a new phenomenon. The Department of Defense has a longstanding history of LGBTQ+ service and there are now many generations of service members that paved the way for today’s military members to serve openly as themselves.

One such person is Campbell’s co-worker and friend, Lauren Wiggins, 28th Bomb Wing government special access program security officer, and a bisexual woman. Wiggins entered service as a United States Marine shortly after the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) policy was repealed in 2010.

Some history about DADT: In November 1993, the Defense Authorization Act put “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” into effect, allowing gay and lesbian citizens to serve in the military if they did not make their sexual orientation public. Commanders were prohibited from inquiring about a service member’s orientation provided that they adhered to this condition, and the policy forbade military personnel from discriminating against or harassing closeted homosexual service members and applicants.

Before that, during World War II the DoD prohibited LGBTQ+ military members from serving in its ranks with a policy that stated, “Homosexuality is incompatible with military service.”

The fight for equality lasted many years, and even after the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Repeal Act of 2010 was signed into law, some service members were unsure whether it was acceptable to be openly gay. A monumental step in recognition of military members serving openly came in July of 2012 when the DoD granted permission for military personnel to wear their uniforms while participating in the San Diego Pride Parade.

Wiggins was in boot camp at the time to be a U.S. Marine.

“My senior drill instructor came out with a newspaper article that she had printed off and showed everyone,” Wiggins reminisced. “She went to one girl that we all knew was lesbian and had a girlfriend, but until Senior handed her that article, she didn’t know if she could officially tell anyone. She cried; we were all so happy for her.”

Wiggins left the Marines after five years of service and now works as a civilian employee at Ellsworth, drawing from her experiences to offer guidance and kindness to anyone who needs it. She wears a blue, purple, and pink pin in the pattern of the bisexual flag on her work lanyard to show that she is a supportive person to approach. To Campbell, it was powerful to have someone safe to talk to.

“Being a prior Marine, if I see something's wrong, I'm going to try to fix it, " reflected Wiggins. “I think that set the tone for Campbell to understand that she could talk to me.”

For trans military members like Campbell, transitioning is a long process guided by the Defense Health Agency and DoD Instruction 1300.28, “In-Service Transition for Transgender Service Members.” It involves receiving a gender dysphoria diagnosis, after which members will be put on a months-long waitlist to go to the Transgender Health Medical Unit at the 59th Medical Wing in Joint Base San Antonio, Texas. Once there, the service members receive a lot of information about what options are available to them and build an encompassing healthcare plan moving forward that is brought back with them to their home base to discuss with their commander.

Campbell was able to start hormone therapy in 2024 and carries an Exception to Policy waiver for facility use, dress, and fitness standards that appropriately reflect her gender. The waiver is part of squadron and base commander approved measures based on the operational necessity or if some military requirements would result in an injustice, a severe inequity, or a personal hardship significantly greater than what other Airmen encounter in similar circumstances.

The freedom to understand and discover herself is the product of generations existing and working towards equal rights and equal recognition in society. The work extends well beyond other branches of the military–even beyond Wiggins’ experiences–yet has been nurtured by the kindness, drive, and open-mindedness of others like her.

Reflecting on the years past and personal growth, Campbell has hope for herself and others who might travel her same path.

“It took me a long time to start finding out who I am,” said Campbell. “It is a constant journey. Along the way I have learned so much; I have healed so much. More than anything, it feels like a part of me that had to hide itself for so long can now shine and there is so much power in that freedom. Exploring or learning about yourself isn’t a threat to others, even if who you are is not who everyone wants you to be. You are exactly who you need to be to face today, you will be exactly who you need to be to face tomorrow, and you will be exactly who you will need to be the day after.

For more information on the resources available to transgender military members, please visit https://wilfordhall.tricare.mil/