Loyalty unrewarded?

Loyalty unrewarded?
Army National Guard, Col. Cynthia Millonzi
Army National Guard, Col. Cynthia Millonzi Photography by Lisa Hause

A year ago, Col. Cynthia Millonzi was looking forward to retiring from the Army National Guard. She planned to do so when she passed the 30-year mark in her military career and the 25-year mark in her civil service career.

She and her wife, musician Kit Holmes, bought a historic building in Michigan, planning to turn it into an arts venue. The couple married last year, following the repeal of the military’s anti-gay “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy in 2011.

Colonel Millonzi, who served a tour of duty in Iraq, also came out within the military last year – because for the first time she legally could, and because she felt obligated to make her presence known as a gay leader proudly serving within the military. (L Style G Style profiled Millonzi shortly after she came out, a story you can read here).

Kit Holmes and Cynthia Millonzi
Kit Holmes and Cynthia Millonzi Photography by Lisa Hause

But much has changed since then. Instead of closing out her career, today Colonel Millonzi is fighting for her job, her reputation, her income, and her retirement. National Guard colleagues made accusations that led to an investigation that found her guilty of defrauding the government of a year’s worth of work. On September 28, the Commanding Major of the Texas Army National Guard recommended her for separation from the Army National Guard on grounds of “substandard conduct and deficient character” which made her “unsuited for continued service in the Texas National Guard.”

Colonel Millonzi says the claims are unfounded, possibly provoked by her triumphant coming out as her career wound down. She says they are evidence of the Army’s pervasive culture of gender and sexual orientation discrimination.

But if the claims are found to have cause – they are still being evaluated and wending their way through the chain of command for a final decision–the health care and retirement benefits she earned over nearly three decades of service can be withheld from her, jeopardizing the future for her and her family.

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I met with Colonel Millonzi for coffee on Halloween morning. Though it was the day before the official termination date set out by the claims against her, she seemed calm and focused, resigned to taking public the battle that she has been fighting privately for her entire career. I glimpsed a peace sign hanging from her car’s rear-view mirror.

“Here I am,” she said, dunking her biscotti in her coffee. “Even though potentially tomorrow I won’t have a job.” [Note: at the time of publication on Nov. 4, Colonel Millonzi was still in limbo about her status, with no news from her lawyer suggesting he’d heard nothing back yet from the military on her appeal.]

The proceedings are just the latest in a long line of assaults on women Colonel Millonzi says…

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