Armys says Soldier who entered as a male wants “to be all she can be”

Staff Sgt. Ashley Fry, 31st Air Defense Artillery Brigade, stands in front of an AN-TWQ-1 Avenger weapon system in the 31st Air Defense Artillery Brigade footprint at Fort Sill, Okla. (Photo by Keith Pannell)

Story by Keith Pannell, Fort Sill Public Affairs

From the age of six, Ashley Fry’s heart was set on a singular goal: to be all she could be.

In first grade, she declared her intention to join the Army. Today, Staff Sgt. Ashley Fry, 31st Air Defense Artillery, stands as a testament to that unwavering call.

Fry’s story is unique in that when she signed the Army contract, she was Brandon Fry, an 18-year-old male, who joined the Army to be an Explosive Ordnance Technician. Brandon failed out of the tough EOD school and reclassified as a 14T in Air Defense.

This was during the time of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” The directive, which the DOD enforced from Feb. 1994 to Sept. 2011, prohibited military personnel from “discriminating against or harassing closeted homosexual or bisexual service members, while prohibiting openly gay, lesbian, or bisexual people from military service.”

“I came in [the Army] before ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ was repealed,” Fry said. “It was very unorganized in the beginning and a lot of the senior leadership still had a problem with it, for some reason.”

In 2016, members of Fry’s first unit found out he was gay. However, those Soldiers never treated him any different.

“I actually didn’t know most of the unit knew until near the end of my time in Japan,” she remembered. “When it was brought up, I was told by a senior specialist that the reason nobody mentioned it before was because I never pushed it on others. I did my job, and while I did have some growing up to do in the beginning like any young person in the Army, they knew I was a good Soldier and didn’t deserve to be kicked out because of ‘something so trivial.’”

Fry figured out he was transgender right after the DOD did away with Don’t ask, Don’t tell and the Army sent him immediately to a promotion board.

“I didn’t pass the board and I was the only person in the unit who was given a bar to re-enlistment for being non-competitive for the board. It felt suspicious. But, I have no way of proving if the reason was because I came out,” she remembered. “Thankfully, I was able to switch units and was able to get the bar to re-enlist lifted and was immediately accepted by my new unit.”

The same year, Fry was diagnosed with Gender Dysphoria. The term “transgender” refers to a person whose sex assigned at birth, based on genitalia, does not align to their gender identity (i.e., one’s psychological sense of their gender), according to the American Psychiatric Association.

Some people who are transgender will experience “gender dysphoria,” which refers to psychological distress that results from an incongruence between one’s sex assigned at birth and one’s gender identity. Though gender dysphoria often begins in childhood, some people may not experience it until after puberty or much later, the APA website said.

“While there are those who treat the term transgender as a lifestyle or a choice,” Fry said. “It should be known that gender dysphoria is not a game to play with. Doctors have found physical brain scans can show and verify the existence of gender dysphoria.”

In a 2018 Science Daily article, “Brain activity and structure in transgender adolescents more closely resembles the typical activation patterns of their DESIRED gender, according to findings presented in Barcelona, at the European Society of Endocrinology annual meeting in 2018. These findings suggest that differences in brain function may occur early in development and that brain imaging may be a useful tool for earlier identification of transgenderism in young people.”

Fry made the decision to transition from male to female in 2016, and took the name Ashley Lynn, the name her parents told her was the name they had chosen if she had been born female.

While she admits her 12 years in the Army hasn’t always been easy, she said she feels she has excelled because of great leadership. And her leadership supports her ability to serve and live her life.

“In line with Army policy, we do not tolerate any form of discrimination based on race, gender, identification as transgender, or sexual orientation. If they can meet our Army’s requirements, there is no reason they should not be able to serve their country honorably, said Col. Ryan Schrock, 31st Air Defense Artillery commander. “The 31st ADA Brigade has many great Soldiers who identify as LGBTQ+, and we are proud of them and support them as we would with any other member of the team.”

“I’ve learned 10 times more from leadership who take the time to provide mentorship, who take the time to make sure you’re learning,” Fry said.

As a transgender noncommissioned officer, she sees the sideways looks and hears the whispers. But, she said she knows there are others, whether part of the LGBTQ+ community or not, who look to her for guidance and leadership and, she embraces the opportunity to mentor and lead.

“I like to view myself as a role model. It’s always a joy as an NCO when a Soldier thanks me for helping them out,” she said. “Most of the people I work with know I am transgender. I want to be who I am and that’s more than just being transgender.”

Fry emphasized her gender dysphoria is a difficult, but small part of who she is, and the Army’s return to the slogan, “Be all you can be” really hits home with her.

“Those five words can speak volumes,” she said. “Be the greatest teacher than you can be. Be the greatest truck driver you can be. It doesn’t matter. The Army allows anyone to be all they can be.”

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