The walls and shelves of Suzanne Wheeler’s home office in Shawnee, Kansas, are filled with awards and memorabilia from her 32 years in the Army. At the height of her career, she was in charge of plans, operations and training for the Kansas National Guard, responsible for 7,400 soldiers and airmen. She did combat tours in Kosovo, Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan, and retired last year as a colonel.
Dressed in white sandals and a flowing bright shell, she walks over to a table and picks up an elegant wood-handled Army combat knife.
“The knife was given to me at retirement. It’s my favorite retirement gift,” Wheeler says. Engraved on the handle is a quote from a 1910 speech by Teddy Roosevelt: “The credit belongs to the man who’s actually in the arena.”
On the back side of the knife is the name — Howard E. Wheeler.
“Oh, that’s my old name,” she says casually. “A lot of the retirement gifts came in my old name.”
Wheeler started taking hormones about a year and a half before her retirement. It was six months before President Barack Obama lifted the ban on transgender people serving in the military.
Her face and body began to change quickly, she says. People asked if she was sick.
She shopped for baggier uniforms as she developed breasts and hips, and found herself sneaking around, making sure she was the last one in the shower after workouts, dressing in private.
It didn’t take long for her to decide to come out to her leaders. Read more via KCUR