Retired Major Dana Delgardo

I Served 30 Years in the Military. Trump’s Transgender Ban Calls Me Unfit
Dana Delgardo in Time Ideas

Being transgender had no impact on my ability to safely and efficiently transport injured service members to life-saving medical care. As most anyone who has served will tell you, it’s the ability to do the job that counts.

dana-with-familyWhen the Pentagon officially lifted the prohibition on transgender service members in June 2016, Air Force Reserve Major Dana Delgardo and a group of his transgender colleagues were joyful as they digested the announcement together from different locations via Skype.

They could continue to wear the uniform of the U.S. military, doing the work they love, without the hiding, silence, anxiety, and fear of losing their careers that had needlessly complicated their lives in military service for so long.

“It felt like someone had taken a huge weight off of us,” says Delgardo.
Delgardo joined the Air Force Reserve in 1987 and served until 1992, achieving the rank of Technical Sergeant. He re-enlisted in 1994 and rose to become a commissioned officer—a Captain—around 2012. Delgardo was promoted to Major before retiring in September 2018. He served in the Gulf and Bosnian wars.

He initially worked in Air-Evac, transporting patients injured in battle or during other duties. He deployed and lead medical evacuations in places like Germany, Iceland, Portugal, and Iraq. Later, Delgardo moved into Flight Medicine Operations, an administrative position coordinating Air-Evac flights from an Air Command Center, in order to spend more time with his two children. “I wanted to be close to home because their lives were changing, they were growing up, and I just wanted to be a part of that.”

Delgardo transitioned in 2014, having finally embraced publicly his lifelong sense of himself as male. At the time, transgender people were still expressly banned from military service. Delgardo, however, said he was accepted by colleagues that he did come out to; others simply saw him as a woman who was very masculine. Though he knew he was risking his career even by transitioning “under the radar,” more than anything, Delgardo wanted to serve his country as his authentic self.

With the ban lifted, he could do so openly and honestly. Delgardo said he encountered no negative reactions from his colleagues while serving as an openly transgender man.

“It felt great,” Delgardo recalled. “I didn’t have to negotiate any anxiety of having to personally out myself to everybody in order to just be.”

That’s why he felt betrayed when President Trump unexpectedly tweeted in July 2017 that transgender service members were no longer welcome in the military.

“I felt sort of set up,” he said. “Like, oh yeah, we got you guys all to admit who you are. Now we can just go after you and get you out.”

Moreover, the president’s stated concerns that transgender service members undercut unit cohesion, military readiness, and lethality are unfounded, said Delgardo.

“I had no problems with cohesion,” he said. “In my job nobody cared about my personal life as long as I showed up and did my work.”

As for readiness, Delgardo said he passed the annual physicals he did under the Air Force’s male standards with near-perfect scores. Being transgender had no impact on my ability to safely and efficiently transport injured service members to life-saving medical care. As most anyone who has served will tell you, it’s the ability to do the job that counts.”

Despite his qualifications and commitment to the Air Force, Delgardo decided in 2018 to retire, partly out of fear about how he would be treated as the Trump administration moved to implement the ban. His only regret is that he’ll never know what he could have achieved as an openly transgender lieutenant colonel.

Delgardo joined the service at age 24, after the death of his father, who was a stabilizing influence and a supportive presence in his life.

“I felt like I was on a path of recklessness,” Delgardo said. “I had no direction.”

He decided to follow the lead of his brother, who joined the Army at 18, and enter the military. Delgardo credits the Air Force Reserve for providing him “experiences I never would have had as a civilian,” along with a sense of belonging, family, and structure.

Delgardo believes the military is losing valuable human resources by prohibiting transgender service members, who he said tend to be overachievers in an effort to compensate for the negative stereotypes that people have about them—and that is the real threat to military readiness. Removing transgender pilots, intelligence specialists, medical professionals (Delgardo is a nurse practitioner), and others with specialized skills, he said, means “we’re losing our ability to be a top fighting machine.”

More Stories of Service