Saturday, July 9, 2011

Andrew Wilfahrt: A Damn Good Soldier

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Corporal Andrew Wilfahrt was an American fighting man who died as a result of enemy action in Afghanistan on Sunday, the 27th of February, 2011.  He had been in Afghanistan since the previous July and was due to go home on leave within a week of his death.

Obviously there is no such thing as a "typical" soldier, but if there was, Andrew Wilfahrt would have been far removed from that stereotype.  He entered the army at the age of twenty-nine, a time when many soldiers are already making tentative plans for their retirement.  His rugged physique caught the attention of his drill sergeants, and his raging intellect was an item of interest of the officers.  Why was this man, an exceptional physical specimen who made a perfect score on the military's aptitude test (the ASVAB), coming into the service as a "grunt?"

AndrewWilfahrt was a complex individual.  He could discuss the history of America's wars for hours on end.  He loved classical music and longed to have a job where he could spend his time composing music.  He was referred to as a math "genius," and he maintained a diverse range of interests in such things as quantum physics, maps, patterns, palindromes, and the U.S. Constitution.  Before Andrew entered the Army, he had served as a volunteer at an AIDS Hospice, food shelters, animal shelters, and walked the streets in voter registration drives.  He was the very essence of a renaissance man.

He was also gay.

Andrew told his parents that he was gay when he was sixteen-years-old.  He went on to suffer the indignities that "normal" kids seem all to eager to heap on anyone who dares to be different, including name-calling and acts of violence, yet he somehow managed to successfully ride out the emotional storm of becoming a self-assured and well-defined gay man.

At the age of twenty-nine, Andrew made another momentous announcement.  He told his parents that he planned to join the Army in a search for the camaraderie that he felt his life was missing.  He told a retired (gay) marine that he wanted to serve so a soldier with a wife and children wouldn't have to go fight.

Andrew Wilfahrt didn't flaunt or hide who he was during his brief military career.  He told his mother over the telephone shortly before his death that  "everyone knows - nobody cares."  His sexual orientation was just a small component of who he was, and he was fully accepted by his brothers-in-arms as part of their combat family.  (Wilfahrt rode with an African-American and an Hawaiian on combat missions, and the threesome was known as "Team Minority.")  And as for that camaraderie that he had been seeking,  the bond that Andrew made with his combat brothers was so strong that he was talking in terms of becoming an Army "lifer."

Shortly after his death, Corporal Wilfahrt's comrades named a combat outpost after him in Afghanistan.

Andrew's parents, Jeff and Lori Wilfahrt, are peace activists who are now engaged in their own battle, an epic confrontation with a majority of the state's legislators (primarily Republicans) who recently voted to put a proposed amendment to the Minnesota's constitution on the November 2012 ballot that would outlaw gay marriage in the state.  The Wilfahrt's believe that their son died in Afghanistan fighting for the rights of all American's - including the right to marry whom they please.

John Kriesel, a Republican Representative in the Minnesota Legislature, has taken up the Wilfahrts' cause.  Kriesel, who lost both of his legs while serving in Iraq, sent Corporal Wilfahrt's photo around to other legislator's during the debate, in an attempt to personalize the issue with a stark reminder of who is actually fighting and dying for our nation.   Representative Kriesel, the proud veteran, said:  "I cannot look at this family (the Wilfahrts) and look at this picture and say, 'You know what, Corporal, you were good enough to fight for your country and give your life, but you were not good enough to marry the person you love'  I can't do that."

Republicans like to put wedge issues, such as gay marriage, on the ballot during important elections as a way of bringing the meanest elements of their party to the polls.  But Jeff and Lori Wilfahrt are not going to take the insult lightly.  They are traveling the state speaking to any group that will listen.  They are imploring people to set aside old prejudices and do what is right by voting down the bigoted marriage amendment.    The Wilfahrts are fighting and they are fighting mad - with plans to take the battle all the way to the Supreme Court if that is what it takes to ensure that all people have the basic human and civil right to marry the person they love.

Jeff Wilfahrt said:  "I hope my son didn't die for human beings, for Americans, for Minnesotans who would deny him civil rights."

Jeff and Lori Wilfahrt want people to know that Andrew was not a gay soldier, but rather a soldier who happened to be gay.    And he was, as his father so eloquently put it, "A damn good soldier."

1 comment:

Don said...

That this soldier, this man, should be remembered as anything less than the heroic embodiment of self sacrifice would be an affront to the nation he so ably served.