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Thanks, Cpl Carter

In 2009 I was the Chief Trainer for military working dogs on Marine Corps Base Quantico. I had been on Quantico for a little over a year. At the time I was a Sergeant of Marines.

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Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODA

Before my wife and I got together I was pretty homophobic. I wasn't the type of homophobe that was "scared" of being around gay people or became angry when I was around a gay person. I was the type of homophobe that thought that gay men were somehow weaker. I'm not sure if I would have even said it out loud but I surely wasn't hesitant to call someone a faggot from time to time.

My wife’s background is in psychology. While we were dating and for the first few months of our marriage, she was finishing a master’s degree in experimental psychology. Her expertise helped in recognizing many issues that I was dealing with. I had no idea that I was dealing with those issues.

I remember getting into "arguments" about gay people serving in the Marines. I was against it. I remember arguing about if PTSD was real or not. I did not think it was real.

Over the period of months, my view point started to change. I was going to regular counseling for PTSD. I also found myself talking to one Marine.

This corporal asked if he could speak to me in my office. The corporal had been going through an investigation because he was "turned in" to the Marine version of NCIS. The corporal had a profile with his picture on a type of website for gay people.

He told me that he didn't make the profile and that he wasn't gay. I had a position of influence in our battalion. He asked that I talk to the Sergeant Major and vouch for him. I did. The Sergeant Major was extremely dismissive of me. I utilized the chain of command and asked to speak to the Sergeant Major’s Sergeant Major. I did.

I was screamed out of that office. That’s was totally fine. It wasn't the first time and it wasn't the last.

A few weeks later Cpl. Shawn Carter was kicked out of the Marine Corps with an administrative discharge. It was one of my saddest days. Cpl. Carter was one of my best Marines. He was an outstanding dog handler, military policeman, and a experienced combat veteran.

One month later, Cpl. Carter came back to the kennels to visit. He started to get emotional in my office and apologized for lying to me. He was gay.

At that point my entire perspective about gay people completely changed. I could not imagine having to go through YEARS of hiding a major part of one’s life. I cannot imagine dating, being engaged, or newlyweds with my now wife and not talking to my friends or co-workers about it. I cannot imagine not sharing stories about your friday night.

I'm glad that those days are behind the Marine Corps. I'm glad that Michael Sam chose to come out of the closet. Hopefully young athletes won't feel like they need to hide who they are. I'm a better person because of Shawn Carter. I hope that the NFL becomes better and more tolerant because of Michael Sam.