Gay Army chaplain finds acceptance as Soldier

By Monica K. GuthrieJanuary 27, 2017

(Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

FORT SILL, Okla., July 7, 2016 -- Editor's note: This the conclusion of the article on Chaplain (Capt.) Aaron Oliver, 1st Battalion, 30th Field Artillery, who is also gay.

From last week: "I could live a double life -- uniform on the weekend and then a social life outside," he said. "I could be open. But there was always fear in the back of my mind. I would ask myself, 'If this going to be my last day in uniform, is this the day I'm going to be found out?'"

Oliver deployed in 2004 to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, with his New Jersey National Guard infantry unit. He told some of the Soldiers in his unit he was gay and that the response was lackluster.

"I don't think they really cared," said Oliver. "They valued me as a Soldier and a member of the team. I'm grateful for that. I think that people cared more about the mission than they did about my private life."

When his brother moved to Las Vegas, Oliver followed and joined the cavalry unit in the Nevada National Guard. Oliver said along with always wanting to serve he also wanted to be an officer and a member of the unit ministry team. To him, combining all those desires together seemed to make sense by becoming a chaplain.

In Nevada, Oliver said he would talk with the chaplain about his interest in theology and attended different worship services. In 2008 Oliver was commissioned as a second lieutenant chaplain candidate and attended seminary in Yonkers, N.Y.

"I went to a very conservative seminary, an Eastern Orthodox seminary," said Oliver. "I was openly gay but still felt like I had to lead a double life. I could have chosen a more gay-friendly church, but I agreed with their theology and the traditions of the church."

Dealing with "don't ask, don't tell" policies were stressful for Oliver. However he focused on his work and said he excelled during seminary. He was the student-body president and was completely devoted to serving the community.

"I wanted to serve my country so badly that I was willing to put that part of me aside," said Oliver. "I wanted to be ordained and serve the church so bad that I was willing to put it aside again."

Then, in December 2010, the repeal law for "don't ask, don't tell," was signed, and in September 2011 the law took effect. Now lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender service members were free to announce their sexual preference without being afraid of military administrative reprisals.

"In December 2010, I was riding in Bronx, N.Y., with someone I was dating at the time and heard it on the radio," he said. "I was surprised because I didn't expect it to happen that soon. I felt a sense of freedom which I'd been waiting for all those years."

Because of his experiences, Oliver said it is hard for him to put things into black and white categories. He said there were times where his faith wavered but because of the solid foundation he created when he was 19, and through a deep prayer life, he was able to persevere. He also believes he understands that there may be some who feel uncomfortable because of his sexual orientation and he tries to be sensitive to their feelings.

"My religious beliefs tell me that we're supposed to love people unconditionally, meeting them where they're at," he said. "I have to understand them and their background just as they have to understand mine. At the end of the day, they're still my brother or sister."

In 2011, Oliver finished seminary and returned to his cavalry unit in Nevada and was their battalion chaplain for three years. Then in 2014, Oliver decided to go active duty leaving Las Vegas to come here where he became the 1-30th FA battalion chaplain. However, he didn't divulge his private life to his command or to other chaplains when he arrived.

"I didn't tell people I was gay when I first got here because rightly or wrongly, I didn't want that to be the first impressions people had," he said. "I wanted to establish myself as a chaplain before I came out to anyone. I didn't want to be known as the 'gay chaplain.'"

Finally Oliver, in January 2015, came to the decision to tell his fellow chaplains and some members of his unit. The response was positive.

"The chaplains that I told were very supportive," he said. "That doesn't mean they agree with homosexuality, but we are professionals. As government workers we're pluralistic. We can have our personal views, and each chaplain has a faith-group endorser, but at the end of the day it's our job to support Soldiers and their families.


Oliver serves as the pastor of Old Post Chapel and is one of the few chaplains that can perform same-sex marriages or union ceremonies. He can also teach Strong Bonds events with same sex couples.

"I hope to be a force multiplier and a resource," he said. "I would rather be seen as just another member of the team, opposed to a threat or being suspect."

Oliver stresses that his sexual orientation is not part of his job and he hopes that others will view him in his role as chaplain and staff officer.

"People think it's strange to have an openly gay chaplain and that can be exhausting," he said. "But it's hard for me to believe I'm not in the right place because of the calling I feel, the work I've done, and the training I've had. I appreciate the support and encouragement I've received all around."

Despite any flurry of attention he may receive Oliver said he hopes that his coming out will help someone else.

"First and foremost, I want to do God's will for my life the best I can and the best way I know how," said Oliver. "That's something I would advise anyone to do. I've been blessed to serve God and country, and I want to do so as long as possible. It's important for Soldiers to be encouraged to be who they are, for the sake of their formations but ultimately themselves."