Sometimes breaking a barrier can be as simple as making breakfast.
The Washington National Guard last weekend said thank you to an Army spouse who takes time to watch out for military families and feed hungry troops month after month at the Puyallup Armory.
It’s an ordinary award, but unusual in this case because the recipient is a gay man married to a male soldier.
Just four years ago, Derrick Monroy of Tacoma and his husband, Sgt. Pablo Monroy, could not have been so open about their relationship in front of a military command. Now, it’s a sign of how quickly the military has moved on from the official discrimination of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell since the policy was repealed in September 2011.
In fact, no one mentioned the significance of Derrick Monroy’s recognition last weekend. His husband’s cavalry troop just wanted to say thanks.
“We all know how great Derrick is, but guess what, the state of Washington knows how great he is now, too,” said 1st Sgt. Jeffrey Grice of A Troop, 1st Squadron, 303rd Cavalry Regiment.
This month, the Defense Department is recognizing gay and lesbian troops at events around the country. Joint Base Lewis-McChord is hosting a pride event Wednesday at McChord Air Field, where a two-star general is scheduled to give keynote remarks.
Earlier this month, Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced a new policy explicitly prohibiting discrimination against gay and lesbian troops. It banned military personnel from investigating a military service member’s sexuality, or using that information to hold back someone’s career. That would have been standard practice during the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell era, when gay troops could serve in the military but not if they discussed their relationships.
“We have to focus relentlessly on the mission, which means the thing that matters most about a person is what they can contribute to it,” Carter said.
The update, he said, “ensures that the department, like the rest of the federal government, treats sexual-orientation-based discrimination the same way it treats discrimination based on race, religion, color, sex, age and national origin.”
Derrick Monroy’s recognition happened to fall amid the military’s Pride Month celebrations, but it had nothing to do with them.
His path to an award that recognizes military family members began a little more than a year ago when he started showing up at the Puyallup Armory on drill weekends.
A captain who used to lead Pablo Monroy’s cavalry troop pulled Derrick aside and asked if he’d like to take a greater role in the unit’s family readiness group. The responsibility would call on him to open communication between soldier spouses and coordinate some events.
Derrick Monroy, 28, took the offer and raised it: He leveraged resources from his job with a retail warehouse company to bring food to the troop’s monthly drill weekends. The result was more than a year of spaghetti feeds, chili cook-offs and hot breakfasts served to groups of about 100 citizen soldiers.
He brought in more spouses for volunteer work and helped raise money for the troop’s morale, welfare and readiness account. He also lended a hand to a few families when last summer’s wildfires kept citizen soldiers away from home for longer than they expected.
“I’m just proud of him,” said Pablo Monroy, 27. “Not just anyone takes time off to do this.”
He didn’t warn Derrick that he’d be the focus of a small award ceremony at the Puyallup Armory on Saturday. The sergeant just let his spouse coordinate breakfast while soldiers readied their Humvees for the drive to the Yakima Training Center, where they’re spending two weeks training.
A one-star general and one of the state’s highest-ranking enlisted soldiers showed up, but no one drew attention to them. Grice called the troop together for one last formation. Two soldiers received promotions and one more won a soldier-of-the-month award.
Then Grice called for Derrick Monroy to “post up,” meaning coming to the center of the assembled soldiers.
“I’ve never had a (family readiness volunteer) like Derrick,” said Capt. Justin White, the troop’s commander.
Pablo Monroy recorded the presentation with his cellphone camera while smiling and standing in formation with his platoon. Derrick promptly tried to turn the attention from himself, thanking the other spouses who’ve helped him at different events.
“It’s a team effort,” he said.
Later, Pablo Monroy gave Derrick a hug as soldiers lined up for biscuits and gravy the volunteers had made that morning.
“I think they love him more than me,” Sgt. Monroy said, laughing.