An interview with Monica Fontanoza, Army Reservist
Published Thursday, 30-Sep-2010 in issue 1188
Being that she was displaced as a youth, it took her many years to find herself and realize her potential. She joined the Sheriff’s Department in 2006 and later joined the Army Reserves in 2008. Her relationship at that time had gone sour after she signed the contract because her ex did not agree with gays in the service. However Monica disagreed and felt it was an honor to represent GLBT people anyway and anywhere she could.
Monica went on to become a Civil Affairs Specialist and fell in love with it, realizing that there are people out there with integrity and compassion for others. Fortunately for her she says, they are the men and women she gladly serves with.
Monica’s partner Vanessa was a firefighter in the Navy. She felt a sense of duty and enlisted after 9/11. Shortly after “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” she was honorably discharged for homosexuality.
“I commemorated her selfless service by tattooing dog tags on my chest. Her tag is tattooed over my heart.” - Monica
GLT: How long have you been serving for and what tasks do you perform?
MF: I have been serving in the US Army Reserves for almost three years now. I am a Civil Affairs Specialist who goes on missions into ailing countries to improve the quality of life of the people, while securing the safety of my fellow brothers and sisters.
GLT: What was the drive for you joining the military and what is your rank?
MF: I had originally joined the military to help support myself after a financially draining relationship. I did not anticipate finding myself and seeing the world with new eyes. My current drive is being a leader and talking to others who are interested in joining. Due to my Criminal Justice Bachelor’s Degree I was able to enter as an E-4 Specialist. Oh, and a nice sign on bonus!
GLT: What is your take on GLBT people serving openly and DADT?
MF: It is my personal opinion that it really shouldn’t matter if I am loud and proud or serving silently. I personally would not act any different during training or deployment; even my conversations would be the same. While serving I am still myself and no one asks me about my sex life nor do they judge me based on it. They judge me on my ability to shoot, move and communicate. They look to me for answers, guidance and camaraderie. Regarding being open, there are people who join from all walks of life who hate homosexuals. I think soldiers should be mindful of who they confide in and trust -period - with any personal information because misunderstandings and hatred drive people to extremes. It is my opinion that DADT was designed to protect us while serving. It is unfortunate that it wasn’t instituted the way it was meant to be. That is in part of the superiors who find sneaky ways around not violating the policy and getting homosexuals kicked out. I do not feel harshly about DADT because I strongly believe it was a good step in the right direction.
GLT: Do you ever feel at odds with being a lesbian and being in the service under the current policies?
MF: I get a lot of protest about how I feel about serving especially from my ever political partner Vanessa. When I signed my contract, I promised not to engage in homosexual activities while serving in the US Army. I have always kept to my oath. When I am in training I need to be focused on the task at hand. I didn’t enlist in a party or to mess around, I enlisted to learn how to help and save lives. My only protest regarding the policies is not being able to list Vanessa as my spouse. I trust her above all to handle my affairs and carry out my wishes if I were to fall or not return home. She deserves that security and safety of knowing that the Army Family is there for her too. She goes through the same if not worse stress with loving someone who is serving. It’s an injustice to her and our family.
GLT: Are there times when you feel that you have to hide who you are or be careful what you say around those in your unit?
MF: I have been fortunate to have experienced very incredible people both in Boot Camp, in AIT school (where you learn your job) and in my unit. I am fortunate because I have never felt the need to hide. I am a very strong minded individual and I show it with no hesitation. It’s relieving to have fellow soldiers look at me and say Damn Fonz, I’d go downrange with you any day. I do not purposely represent dykes or lesbians; I make it a point to represent women. When we pick up weapons, I take the heaviest. When they offer optional training or classes, I go. When they need, I provide. I feel that if you show people who you are it doesn’t matter who you are sleeping with. Anyone who has ever questioned me I have told about my life. The hardship I faced and why I am the way I am. They don’t push the subject further except to tell me that they think DADT is B*S. In fact, a lot of my fellow soldiers protest that gays cannot be open and make it a point to vote against the propositions they know about.
GLT: What does serving your country mean to you and how important is it to you?
MF: I grew up an Army brat and knew that my father had bad experiences while deployed. Because of that I felt that serving my country always meant sacrifice- and I still feel that way today. It is not easy to sacrifice your life and who you are, straight or gay. You give up your time, your body and your heart. You lose friends due to difference in opinions, family with your time spent away and your heart when you lose a fellow soldier.
It is important to me to try. To try to show others that there are better ways of living; being a soldier is a vessel to convey that positive message as well as being a Sheriff. A soldier’s values are: Loyalty-Duty-Respect-Selfless service-Honor-Integrity and Personal courage. I believe in these values and Vanessa and I live our lives representing them as best we can. Having her solid support, no matter the aching it causes sometimes, gives me the strength to represent my sense of right.
GLT: Do you think that someone who is heterosexual has it easier when serving our country?
MF: I would say yes. The military provides generous resources for soldiers and as a heterosexual one could experience resources and benefits to no end.
GLT: Would you like to make a career out of the military? If so what would you like to do and how does the current DADT policy affect that?
MF: Essentially I would love to make a career out of the military in active duty. However I hesitate because it is not fair for Vanessa to have to live in the shadows and be afraid that our commitment to each other could cost me my military career. She wants what’s best for me as well as me for her. The DADT policy personally has not affected me at all. I faced the fact when I signed my contract that I would have to persevere through resistance and crude remarks. I even accepted that I may get discharged. Fortunately I have not been put into a position in which someone with authority has questioned me. If anything, they make remarks about how stupid DADT is and how they are cool with gays. Now that DADT is under the microscope, I imagine those with authority do not want to get caught up on the wrong side. Out of concern for troops the Army has a DADT survey online for soldiers to participate in. I know a handful of folks that will not re-enlist because they want to live openly. I commend them for sacrificing so much of their time as well as their life just to serve and do what they loved. I feel that we put ourselves aside when we serve in the hope that we are representing the greater good.
GLT: Do you feel isolated or disconnected from others who you are serving with due to your sexuality and DADT?
MF: In my whole short career, I have not felt that way. Visually I represent both sexes and find that because of my personality and appearance, both males and females feel comfortable confiding in me. Mostly it is heterosexuals that verbalize their protest about Proposition 8 and DADT. I just smile and let them talk!
GLT: For you what is the best thing about being in the military?
MF: My guns. I mean my drive to keep my body in shape. I really think law enforcement ought to have such stringent criteria. I am just kidding; the absolute best thing would be the people that I serve with and the people that I meet. I learn so much and share so much that it has enhanced my quality of life.
GLT: What has been the hardest thing about serving?
MF: I would say having really poor internet or cell phone service while away. Luckily for me it has prompted us to get really personal and romantic by writing letters and mailing them to each other. You would be surprised how many people wished they would get a letter during training.
GLT: Have you been faced with any type of discrimination?
MF: Yes, in boot camp a group of males were making boy remarks about how they wanted more chicks like the Barbie doll girl sitting next to me. I replied when you go down range and get hit by a sniper just remember that I can lift your fat 200 pound body to safety while returning gunfire. Barbie can’t even do one push-up. Think about that. Discrimination –0 Fonz-1.
GLT: What would you want the readers to know about the military and DADT?
MF: Joining the military was the single greatest moment I have ever experienced in my life. I found myself and live my life in appreciation. I will never regret the time I gave and the experiences I have had. I look to a bright future with my unit and will always do my best to represent the service and myself well. It will truly be a momentous occasion when I am able to list Vanessa as my spouse (say yes!). We as a community should recognize DADT as just a step we had to take in order to get where we should be.
GLT: What advice would you give to those who are GLBT and wanting to join a branch of the military?
MF: Confide in someone you trust that supports you and your interests. Find someone knowledgeable about the process and who will guide you to making a good decision for yourself. Recruiters really do lie and feed you BS. I would be happy to meet with anyone and answer any questions.
“I am proud to go to war and I understand the sacrifice. It is my belief that we can empower people through compassion and guidance. I am a lover, I am a teacher, I am a soldier and I am a friend.” -Monica
GLT: Monica represents honor, commitment, selfless service and doing what is right and we at The Gay & Lesbian Times commend her for that.