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SA shares trans-journey to inspire others

  • Published
  • By Thomas Brading
  • OSI Public Affairs

Growing up, Logan Ireland always felt different.

On the surface, the Flower Mound, Texas, native seemed to have a standard childhood. He played sports, made friends and spent his summers outside. “It was the typical suburban Texas life,” he said, but deep down, something didn’t click.

Logan was born a female. At 12, he came out as a lesbian to his mother, believing that would explain how he felt inside, but it didn't explain him fully.

“Being from a suburb of Dallas [in those days], coming out as a lesbian was very much frowned upon,” he said. “I got bullied and picked on. My mom even entertained the idea of moving to get me out of certain situations.”

Logan’s journey to self-realization included many trials and tribulations on the frontlines of transgender rights in the military. But before all that, his Air Force story began with a visit to his local recruiter’s office.

Serving in silence

In 2010, Logan signed on the dotted line and was sent 270 miles south from the Dallas suburbs to Joint Base San Antonio, Lackland, for basic training. Logan knew before he got off the bus that part of him would serve in silence, he said. 

It was a year before the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” a federal law that banned lesbian, gay and bisexual individuals in the military from disclosing their sexual orientation or discussing their same-sex relationships.

“I thought, what if I’m discovered?” Logan said, thinking to the early days of his military career. “I figured I have to just suppress that and hide my identity.”

For Logan, hiding his identity was part of his job. He felt as if it fit the “service before self” philosophy the training instructors drilled into him.

Fortunately, that changed on Sept. 20 2011, when the DADT was repealed.  Although it was a step in the right direction, Logan still felt that something was off in his life, he said.

‘A good Airman’

Despite his military career taking off, the Security Forces Airman had a difficult time still fitting into his lesbian identity, he said. In search of the answers to life’s biggest questions, he turned to the internet.

With the click of a mouse, a whole new world opened to Logan. The term “transgender” popped up over and over. With each search, he felt more understood. For the first time in his life, from the kid looking for an identity to the young Airman serving in silence, there was a word to describe how he felt.

Logan was transgender.

“Boom that was it,” he said. “That’s who I am. That’s my identity. That fits perfectly.”

Despite realizing his true self, some professional obstacles remained. Although DADT was repealed, the fight for trans rights continued. Logan knew if he had tried to come out as transgender, he would likely face a discharge from military service.

“I figured, let me try to make this work because I’m a good Airman,” he said. “My thought process was I would medically transition while also serving in uniform.”

The bottom line was that Logan knew that finishing his enlistment was the right thing to do. However, Logan felt that he was comprising the Air Force’s core value of “Integrity First” by not living his authentic self. So, in Feb. 2012, the Defender began his medical transition with the aid of an off-base medical facility.”

Living authentically

This wasn’t the end of Logan’s story. Rather than quietly finishing his enlistment, the Airman got tapped for deployment to Kandahar, Afghanistan, in late 2014. He was assigned to the Office of Special Investigations, an agency he would later call home.

“Things changed when I was put up for my first deployment,” Logan said. “I was well into hormones at this point. Looking very male, but still operating under female regulations and standards.”

Being deployed helped Logan live his truth in a new world. For the first time, Logan felt like “one of the guys,” he said. Even in the sweltering heat of Kandahar, it felt like a breath of fresh air for the Senior Airman.

“It was liberating to be treated like everyone else,” he said. Suddenly, Logan’s professional and inner selves became one.

“When we looked at him, we didn’t know anything different – at least I didn’t,” said Lt. Col. Victoria Mayo, Joint Interagency Task Force West – Programs Division chief and his commander during the deployment.

“Logan came into my office and said, ‘Can I talk to you for a minute? I’m transgender. I’m female going through the process of transitioning’ and he explained everything to me,” she added.

In addition to Mayo's support, Logan also received support from those who knew his identity.

“When I deployed, they all only saw me as male,” he said. “They did not know I was transgender. I think that helped me kind of discover who I was. That was the first time in my life that I was seen authentically as a male, I don’t have to explain myself.”

“Logan was one of the best members we had on the team,” Mayo said. “He was our alpha truck driver. He was leading the convoys every day outside the wire. I trust this man with my life every single day.”

Logan was straightforward and honest about his identity, aware of what would follow.

“I left it up to them and that changed my entire path,” he said. “I attribute this to being upfront and saying, ‘Hey, I’m female, but I’m on hormones. However, my job performance speaks for itself and then I left it up to my leadership to decide where they would like me to, you know, room and board.”

While in Kandahar, then-Secretary of State Ash Carter held a town hall meeting in February 2015. Logan sat in the crowd as Navy physician Jesse Ehrenfeld, with Logan in mind, asked the DOD’s top leader, “What are your thoughts on transgender service members serving in an austere environment like this here in Kandahar?”

According to the transcript, Carter replied with a question of his own: “Are they going to be excellent service members? I think nothing but their suitability for service should prevent them.”

Out in a big way

Following his deployment, he became one of the most recognizable trans individuals after coming out publicly in The New York Times Op-Doc “Transgender, At War and in Love” before the policy changed. It was a move inspired by his deployment service.

“The deployment was amazing, but after that, I knew I had to do something -- whatever it was,” he said. “I just deployed to Afghanistan in an austere environment with hormones authentically transgender.”

According to Logan, he doesn’t see himself as a landmark figure, but simply as an Airman doing his job. While being the first transgender male to deploy as his authentic self, he felt compelled to speak out since transgender rights remained a hot-button issue back home.

“At that point, a lot of my friends were getting discharged,” he said. “I thought, how am I so lucky? Policy-wise, this can happen, we can change this policy.”

For transgender people in the armed forces, particularly after his story made the headlines, this was a difficult time. It was a time when Logan was unsure if coming out would endanger his military career, a career he took great pride in.

Still, putting his career and livelihood on the line was the right decision, he said. But, Logan’s story wasn’t the only one to be shared publicly.

Around this time, Laila Ireland, his wife and then-fiancée, experienced a similar situation coming out as trans, but with a different outcome in the Army. She did not receive the same support as Logan.

The Irelands met in Service Members Partners and Ally’s for the Respect and Tolerance for All, SPARTA, an online social media support group for transgender service members. In those days, her name was Laila Villanueva, an Army brat and combat medic with over 12 years of service and two combat deployments to Iraq under her belt.

“We met in person a couple of months after we started dating online, [I thought] this was the person I was I was looking for,” Logan said. “We came from such so different lives. She was raised male; I was raised female and now we’re transgender.

“She’s Army, I’m Air Force,” Logan continued. “She’s from this big Hawaiian family; I’m from a small Texas family. Although opposites, that’s what makes us work. We want to share this life with someone.”

The couple came out together to The New York Times. Although they dreamed of serving in the military until retirement, building a home, creating a family and everything else young couples strive for, it was all at risk for a cause they believed in.

“As a [Diversity, Equity and Inclusion] ambassador and advocate, it is important that we afford ourselves the ability and opportunity to have every representation at the round table when planning, looking and moving forward together,” Laila said.

Now retired from military service, Laila has remained a vocal advocate for transgender equality and being a military spouse within her community. In 2017, she was named the Military Spouse of the Year at Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado.

Changing times

Just as with Carter’s town hall, Logan said much of his military career was because of luck and serendipity. Although the military’s trans policy experienced difficulties in the years that followed, Logan’s career was filled with success.

For example, Mayo, who fought for him in Afghanistan, was also instrumental in Logan’s arrival at OSI. She later served as commander of the 5th Field Investigations Squadron at Osan Air Base, South Korea, where he currently serves with Detachment 611.  

Logan plans to spend the rest of his career at OSI.

“Ever since accepting his role as a Special Agent, it seems Logan has found his purpose and mission in the Air Force most fulfilling,” Laila said. “Although the work can be tedious and at long length at times, he takes pride in every single thing he does and puts his absolute best efforts forward.”

Although Logan’s story is uniquely his, he said he hopes others will hear it and be inspired to live their truths, he said, because everybody deserves dignity and respect.

“Respect and dignity will be extended to all Airmen, Guardians and Department of the Air Force civilians regardless of their gender identity,” said Under Secretary of the Air Force Gina Ortiz Jones, who recently met Ireland.

In the end, “I want you to see me. You don’t have to agree with me, but I just want you to see me,” Logan said.