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Happy Trajectory

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Alexis Redin
  • 18th Wing Public Affairs

Every Airman has an individual story that brings a new perspective to the fight. Master Sgt. Kristian Johnsen’s story is one example of what it takes to create a more diverse force.

“It’s a calling,” said Johnsen, 525th Electronic Maintenance squadron non-commissioned officer in charge of special programs.  “When we had career day in elementary school, I was always drawn to military presentations.”

Two things were clear to Johnsen for most of his life; he was going to join the military, and he was going to serve no matter the cost.

“We always hear that everyone makes sacrifices when they raise their right hand, some make more than others,” Johnsen said. “That was something I knowingly did.”

Johnsen enlisted in 2008, when Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was still the norm, meaning he sacrificed his freedom of gender expression for the opportunity to serve his country.

He felt isolated at his first unit, forced to keep his coworkers at arm’s length, fearing backlash over his personal life. Even simple questions such as, ‘What are you doing this weekend?’ could reveal too much.

The stigma of the time prevented Johnsen from being his authentic self or  having a close relationship with his coworkers, but he never questioned his place in the Air Force.

“I knew who I was, and whatever people saw didn’t change that,” Johnsen said.

After eight years of serving, what was known as the ‘Trans Ban’ was repealed and not only could Johnsen be honest about his sexuality, but he could finally begin the process of transitioning; a dream he’d sacrificed in order to serve.

A year later, his luck turned when the ban was reenacted.

“It felt like I had just been kicked in the gut,” said Johnsen. “I didn’t know who to turn to, or what to do.”

Lucky for him, he had the support of his supervisors and mentors.

The support he received through this turbulent experience compelled him to help those going through similar struggles. He supported Airmen wanting to learn about transitioning, detailing the medical and administrative lengths necessary.

Now, Johnsen enjoys his time in and out of uniform, in a body that was always his, but now reflects who he is on the inside.

Despite the challenges Johnsen has faced in the last 15 years, his service to his country nor his sense of self ever faltered. He maintains that though he may not find his story particularly compelling, it’s still not finished.

“This isn’t my happy ending, more like my happy trajectory,  because I still have a job to do,” he concluded.