Advocates point out that Smith is not the first gay general officer, but she is the first who is able to serve wihout hiding that fact for fear of her career. "I would say it's important to recognize 'the first,' because then the next person doesn't have to be the first," says Sue Fulton, an Army veteran and a member of the OutServe board of directors. "It makes it a non-issue going forward."
"It is a great day for our military and our nation when this courageous leader is finally able to recognize her wife for her support and sacrifice in the same way that all military families should be recognized for their service to our country," says Fulton, who was honourably discharged as a captain in 1986, leaving the army because of the strain of maintaining a secret same-sex relationship.
"Participating with family in traditional ceremonies such as the promotion is both common and expected of a leader," Smith, a 26-year veteran of the Army, said in a statement. She and Hepner married in Washington, DC, in March last year. The military dropped its Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy for gay service members in September last year.
In an interview with Stars and Stripes in August last year, before the policy repeal was finalized, Smith, speaking under a pseudonym, said she had no plans to come out to her colleagues but looked forward to the relief of knowing her career wouldn't be jeopardized if she were found out.
"I wasn't surprised that people were so accepting, but in some cases it has been even celebratory," Smith now tells Stars and Stripes of the support she and Hepner have received. "It's like nothing has really changed for us, and yet everything has changed."
According to Stars and Stripes, Hepner is more of an activist than Smith. She co-founded the Military Partners and Families Coalition, a support, education and advocacy group.
Landing image: Servicemembers Legal Defense Network