Pfc. Elliotte Villafan, a chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) specialist with the 140th Chemical Company, California Army National Guard, lays out her gear as she prepares to start a decontamination mission at Muscatutuck, Ind., April 21, 2021. The bag includes a hazmat suite, powered air purifying respirator systems (PAPR), boots, food and water. (Photo by Spc. Darianne Hudson, 372nd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment, U.S. Army Reserve)
Pfc. Elliotte Villafan, a chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) specialist with the 140th Chemical Company, California Army National Guard, lays out her gear as she prepares to start a decontamination mission at Muscatutuck, Ind., April 21, 2021. The bag includes a hazmat suite, powered air purifying respirator systems (PAPR), boots, food and water. (Photo by Spc. Darianne Hudson, 372nd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment, U.S. Army Reserve) (Photo Credit: Spc. Darianne Hudson) VIEW ORIGINAL

MUSCATATUCK URBAN TRAINING CENTER, Ind. - Pfc. Elliotte Villafan, a chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear specialist in the 140th Chemical Unit from Gardena, California, said she remembers the day she found out that the 2017 military ban on transitioning service members was lifted. Villafan recounts being busy at work, but her phone lit up with text message notifications.

“There’s always anxieties I have as a trans person, but my unit were the first to let me know that I was good to go,” said Villafan. “It's amazing that I’m able to come to [annual training] (AT) as a fully realized human being who doesn’t have to hide or be ashamed of that part of my life.”

Villifan is from Los Angeles and serves in the Army National Guard. She is completing her degree in visual merchandising and design, as well as serving her community as a transgender education advocate when she is not training.

The Army actively strives for diversity in the ranks, and according to Sgt. Michelle Bantug, Villafan’s team leader. Villafan’s service just makes the unit better. During Bantug’s seven years with the unit, she said she has seen many different types of people enlist.

"When Pfc. Villafan arrived, it added another great member to the family," said Bantug.

Villafan, Bantug and the 140th Chemical Unit were part of the homeland emergency response exercise at the Muscatatuck Urban Training Center (MUTC) grounds. Their mission involved was mass decontamination and radiation monitoring of casualties from a simulated nuclear detonation. Bantug said that she specifically chose Villafan to work in the same section with her due to Villafan’s reliable work ethic.

"In a real life situation with casualties who may be in a panic, you need to be able to calm them down and guide them," said Bantug, "Her confidence in addressing situations was perfect for her role in this [exercise]."

For Villafan, the amount of training her unit does through the year prepared her for this moment, as did her life’s journey.

“It’s all about setting priorities, delegating tasks and ensuring the job gets done in the time allotted,” said Villafan.

However, being a service member was not always so simple for trans individuals. Villafan said she remembers a time when trans service members were unable to undergo a sexual reassignment while enlisted.

Strict regulations made it difficult, not just for Villafan, but also for her fellow soldiers who empathized with her situation prior to her sexual reassignment. Since being able to successfully transition, Villafan said the morale of her unit has improved.

“This is a super tight-knit unit and family, and now that there are protections in place I know that my unit will have my back,” said Villafan.

Villafan knows that there are many challenges ahead, not only for her, but for other transgender service members as well. She said she hopes that the knowledge gap in peoples understanding of the realities of transgender soldiers will be closed so they can serve their country like anyone else.