An upcoming “pinning-on” ceremony in which Air Force intelligence officer Ginger Wallace will receive the rank of colonel will be distinct among similar events involving other service members.
Wallace’s partner of more than a decade, Kathy Knopf, will help pin the new rank of colonel on her jacket during the event beginning at 3 p.m. Friday at the Pentagon.
Knopf is participating in the ceremony after the lifting of the military’s gay ban known as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” which came to an end on Sept. 20.
Wallace, a lesbian, said she’s looking forward to acknowledging Knopf during the ceremony because the commitment her partner has made “is just as real as any other spouse.”
“To be able to acknowledge and thank her is a big deal, and I’m just so thankful to be able to do it before I retire,” Wallace said. “There was one point where I thought I would retire before ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ was repealed, so I never thought I’d see the day. So, I’m very thankful to be able to do it.”
Wallace, a lesbian, entered the military in 1990 and worked through the entire span of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” from when it was passed into law in 1993 until its end in September.
Knopf said she’s pleased the timing of the ceremony took place after the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” so she could take part.
“It’s just nice after 11 years to be able to have it recognized and not dance around the issue any longer,” Knopf said. “So it’s wonderful for me to be able to play a small part and for both of us to acknowledge it instead of keeping it hidden after so long.”
Wallace, 43, is currently participating in language training in anticipation that she’ll be deployed to Afghanistan in the spring as part of the Afghanistan-Pakistan Hands Program, which is geared toward building long-term relationships with South Asian countries. She lives in McLean, Va., with Knopf, 50, who works as an analyst for SpecTal, a government contractor.
In addition to her partner, Wallace’s brothers and parents will participate in the ceremony. During the event, her new rank will be pinned on both her jacket and shirt. Each family member is slated to help in a different way.
“So Kathy and my brothers, James and Ryan, will pin on my rank on my jacket, and then I’ll take that off and then my parents will do my rank on my shirt,” Wallace said.
The “pinning-on” ceremonies are major events for service members in which they celebrate the advancement of their careers with family members and friends — especially when the promotion is to a high rank like colonel.
Alex Nicholson, executive director of Servicemembers United, said he knows of U.S. troops who’ve participated in such ceremonies with their same-sex partners even with “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in place. Such participation was possible because a service member could designate whomever they wanted to take part — including a same-sex partner — without referring to them as such.
Still, Nicholson — who’s also slated to attend the event with Wallace — said the events are more meaningful for gay service members in the wake of the end to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
Nicholson added Wallace’s ceremony is the first that he knows of since “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was lifted in which a same-sex partner has participated.
Even with repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” Wallace said she thinks some gay service members will keep their sexual orientation a secret. But Wallace said she wanted to make a statement with her “pinning-on” ceremony.
“I don’t really have anything to lose, and I think it’s important to make people more aware of what we’re trying to do as far as equal rights go and moving from being second-class citizens to being first-class citizens,” Wallace said.
Wallace said the end to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was “the biggest day” over the course of her 21-year career in the military, although she finds the change difficult to describe.
“I’m not sure that my life is really any different except for what I talked about before — just the release and now knowing that I can’t lose my job and lose the life that I love simply because I’m gay,” she said.