POSITIVE REINFORCEMENTS

Southwest Army Base Has Highest Incidence Of HIV In The Armed Forces

fort blissAn Army base in the Southwest has the highest number of soldiers who are HIV-positive.

Fort Bliss, which straddles Texas and New Mexico, was home to 13 soldiers with HIV last year, the most in the Armed Forces.

It’s the second year in the row for the 110-year-old installation, the Army’s second largest, which had 11 positive service members in 2011.

“There are a number of commonalities among our soldiers who have been affected,” wrote Maj. Gen. Dana Pittard in the base newspaper, the Fort Bliss Monitor. “All of our recent cases have been a result of men having unprotected sex with men. African-American and Latino soldiers were affected disproportionately in far greater numbers.” Pittard also revealed that majority of cases “resulted from online solicitations for sex, particularly from the websites Craigslist, Grinder, and Adam for Adam.”

We’re all for risk reduction and raising awareness about HIV/AIDS, but we can’t help like feeling Maj. Pittard is both pointing fingers at post-DADT gay soldiers and reassuring everyone else it’s not their problem.

Or maybe that’s just us.

As you might imagine, a positive status can derail a military career: “Soldiers with HIV cannot serve outside the Continental United States and are permanently non-deployable,” writers Pittard. “HIV-positive soldiers may not attend military schools greater than 20 weeks or schools that incur an additional service obligation.” (Um, maybe it’s time for the military to revisit that policy?)

The Army routinely tests soldiers for HIV every two years, with the percentage of positive service members generally lower than in the civilian population. But many of us know firsthand the havoc living in the closet can wreak. Doing so in the military—first under Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and, then, later, under the heteronormative culture of the Armed Forces—can lead people to make some bad choices.

That doesn’t mean they should be ostracized. What about the 772 other STIs contracted at Ft. Bliss last year—is anyone calling those people out?

At least one senior officer at Ft. Bliss has her head on straight: “Being openly gay [in the military] is not a risk factor at all,” says the base’s chief public-health nurse Elizabeth Miller. “The risk factors are that they are engaging in unprotected sex.”