Osan+ pride: Navigating challenges, celebrating progress

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Aubree Owens
  • 51st Fighter Wing Public Affairs

Throughout Osan Air Base, Republic of Korea, amidst the disciplined rhythm of military life, there exists a vibrant pulse of diversity that empowers pride in all who serve, sanctioning a place for everyone at Osan AB.

As Pride Month unfolds, Osan AB commemorates the strides made towards equality but also reflects on the journey of its Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer (LGBTQ+) community members, who have faced and conquered challenges with unwavering perseverance.

At the forefront of this celebration stands Robert Lewis-Pimentel, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency representative to the U.S. Air Force within the ROK, whose journey intertwines personal courage with professional dedication. Robert reflects on resilience, a trait he instills daily in the service members he mentors.

"Resilience isn't something you cultivate alone," Robert states. "It's about community, drawing strength from each other when faced with challenges."

Robert's personal story echoes this theme of community and perseverance. Growing up with African American and Cuban heritage, he navigated the complexities of identity. "In the ‘80s and ‘90s, appearance mattered more than anything," he recalls. "But for me, it was about more than just race—it was about my sexual orientation." In those years, finding acceptance for his identity was a solitary journey, until he attended college and found his "chosen family" of like-minded individuals.

Entering government service in 2008, Robert faced the lingering shadow of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell,” which persisted even among civilian roles within the Department of Defense. The DADT policy, signed in 1993, eliminated the requirement for individuals to disclose their sexuality and military officials could no longer investigate, depriving LGBTQ+ service members the opportunity to serve their country openly.

“The policies were archaic, but I believed my technical skills mattered more than outdated restrictions," he reflects. Undeterred, Robert became a catalyst for change, founding support networks within his career field to defend and progress the LGBTQ+ community, despite DoD policy constraints.

The journey towards equality was marked by pivotal moments, including the repeal of discriminatory policies and executive orders. "Each step forward was a testament to our [LGBTQ+ community members] collective resilience," Robert notes. "From secret meetings labeled as 'working lunches' to openly celebrating Pride Month, progress was hard-won but deeply rewarding."

Osan+, an LGBTQ+ affinity group formed in November 2023, stands today as a beacon of inclusion and progress, thanks to initiatives championed by leaders like Robert, the senior leader for the organization.

“We've come a long way, but the journey continues,” said Robert. “Every conversation, every policy change—it all contributes to a safer, more inclusive environment."

The recent events hosted by Osan+ during Pride Month underscores this commitment. "People came forward, seeking advice and support," Robert recounts. "It reminded me of the impact we can have, even in a challenging environment."

Looking ahead, Robert remains optimistic about the future. "Just as we've tackled outdated policies, we're now paving the way for broader societal acceptance," he states. "Change starts with us, right here with Osan+."

As conversations continue to evolve, so does the Osan+ mission and members. "We're expanding our reach," said U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Brittany Ortega, Osan+ president and a founding member. "Ensuring that every voice is heard, and every individual feels welcome."

Osan’s journey through Pride Month is not just a celebration of identity but a testament to the resilience and progress achieved through collective efforts. Robert reminds us, "We are the bright light around the darkness. Together, we continue to move forward, knowing our work is far from over."

Osan+ proudly stands as a symbol of diversity, inclusion, and unwavering progress for Osan AB, as well as a testament to what can be achieved when resilience meets determination in the pursuit of equality.