The Last Deployment - How A Gay, Hammer-Swinging Twentysomething Survived A Year In Iraq
I was excited to begin reading Bronson Lemer’s book about being a gay man in the military serving during the Iraq War in the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell era. Despite having seen "Restrepo," "The Hurt Locker," and countless news programs and articles about the wars in the Middle East, I wanted to read a first person account of a soldier’s experiences there.
Lemer’s book "The Last Deployment: How a Gay, Hammer-Swinging Twentysomething Survived a Year in Iraq" follows the young National Guard soldier from his childhood and college years in North Dakota to his days toiling in camouflage gear in the heat and dust of Iraq and Kuwait.
Lemer talks about having to keep his sexuality a secret from the men in his company who never really pried into his personal life. He doesn’t express exceptional angst over his fear of being discovered and, aside from occasional fratboy comments, thankfully didn’t seem to encounter much homophobia, hatred, or even suspicion from his fellow soldiers.
While one is thrilled Lemer and his company survived without a fatality, major injury, or even combat skirmish, the lack of action (military or socio-sexual-political) strips the book of any real drama. There must be hundreds of gay and lesbian soldiers serving in Iraq and Afghanistan who’ve experienced hatred, death, injury, or blackmail, and any one of their stories would make for much more compelling reading.
Oddly, there’s little gay presence in his book. Every few pages Lemer says it’s tough not mentioning his sexual orientation, but there’s no passion, yearning, or sensuality in his book at all. Aside from a few passages about former boyfriends, there’s no mention about any tension or longing for any of the men with whom he’s serving and living so closely: No secret crush on a fellow soldier, no clandestine sexual interludes, no horny R&R experiences on leave, or mention of even a single other soldier he suspects might be gay.
Nearly all gay men develop a certain sense of gaydar and learn how to send out little feelers to see which ones are returned. Were there really no fellow soldiers who gave a knowing nod when a gay bar, homo vacation destination, or gay-friendly TV show were mentioned? Lemer was an openly gay young man in college when he was called up for duty, so it’s not as if he was a closeted man who hadn’t already come to some degree of acceptance of who he was.
Also, along with keeping this side of himself a secret, even the single dark, fuzzy photo of Lemer on the cover of his book is so tough to see, you wouldn’t recognize him if he was sitting next to you in his fatigues and combat boots.
Despite these things, you still feel grateful for the sacrifices Lemer and his fellow soldiers made for us and our country and are glad they all made it home safely.
by Bronson Lemer
Publisher: University of Wisconsin Press. Publication Date: June 8, 2011. Pages: 236. Price: $24.95.