Battleland

Officer X: Behind the Mask

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1st LT Karl Johnson, USAF (Photograph by Eric Ogden for TIME)

What a fascinating time to be a gay man in the U.S. military. This time last year, I was sure the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) policy was here to stay for the next 2 to 3 years.

These initial words from my first post on Battleland are as true today as they were when I first Photoshopped a hastily-taken picture from my iPad, and created an iconic silhouette. As of today, Officer X is no more. With a Velcro riiiip I can now remove that name tape from the chest of my proverbial blogger flight suit and replace it with one that says “Karl Johnson”.

A 25 year old — who flies U.S. Air Force C-17 cargo jets and has a degree in mechanical engineering from Syracuse University — may seem like an unlikely candidate to blog for TIME, or wear the hat of an activist. At first the idea of writing for Battleland was nothing short of intimidating, but the decision of whether or not to accept was easy: the opportunity to give a voice to those of us who have been voiceless for years, as a matter of federal law, was too good to pass up.

Officer X

Being the mind behind the OX silhouette has been an eye-opening experience. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading every comment, every email, every tweet, and trying my best to keep up with the responses. My only regret in this whole process is that I didn’t start sooner.

At the moment this blog goes live I will be walking out my front door to start my first day at the squadron out of the closet. Around that same time the article I wrote in this week’s print edition of TIME magazine will hit the stands. I don’t know how long it will take for this tale to get back to me, or how I will react when finally confronted. That uncertainty doesn’t scare me any more. It’s time to man up and do as I had promised myself in May when I started blogging: lead from the front. Yup, it’s still a fascinating time to be a gay man in the U.S. military.

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