Veteran in cyber Dai Rhys-Jones shares the reality of serving pre-2000, when a soldier’s personal life was cause for dismissal from the Army.
“Being in the army changed my life for the better,” Dai Rhys-Jones tells TechVets. It’s a remarkably positive view considering the difficulties Dai experienced while serving.
Dai joined the Royal Army Medical Corps in February of 1985- a time when homosexuality was a crime within the British military. The Ministry of Defense is currently conducting a two year study into the treatment of LGBT soldiers during the Army’s ban on homosexuality (spoiler: it wasn’t good).
“While the modern military embraces the LGBT community, it is important that we learn from the experiences of LGBT veterans who were affected by the pre-2000 ban,” said Parliamentary Under Secretary of State Leo Docherty at the study’s launch.
Minister for Equalities Mike Freer added: “This government is committed to righting the wrongs of the past. Listening to those veterans affected by the ban will be critical to moving forward.”
To that end, read on for Dai’s story of losing a military career and launching another in cyber security and technology.
Dai grew up in a time when rampant stigma and miseducation led to homophobic policies across UK institutions, including the British military.
“I had come from an abusive home and felt like an outcast,” Dai says of his life before the army. By keeping his LGBT identity under wraps, he was able to secure a place in the Royal Army Medical Corps.
Dai loved “the discipline and spirit of camaraderie.” He says the army gave him a sense of pride in himself, along with other lifelong skills like punctuality and a teamwork mindset.
“Being in the Army and being able to serve my country was my biggest dream,” Dai shares. “Everyday of my life I have regrets about leaving.”
Booted from His Career in the Military
Unlike many of us who sign off and pursue cyber security careers after military service, Dai’s leaving wasn’t a choice.
“I was given the option to PVR or face Court Martial for being gay,” says Dai.
Until too recently, it wasn’t uncommon for gay soldiers to have their lives shattered by criminal convictions, prison sentences, and dismissals in disgrace. According to (leading UK LGBT+ veterans organisation) Fighting with Pride, thousands of military personnel like Dai were forced to end their careers prematurely through “administrative or other routes” due to their sexual orientations.
These cases are hard to track, as homosexuality often wasn’t noted explicitly as a soldier’s reason for signing off. Fighting with Pride works to find and address the “enduring impact” these dismissals had on veterans, including Dai, who struggled to survive post-service.
“I was absolutely stunned and felt adrift for a while,” Dai admits. “I felt robbed and was angry. I had no home to return to, very little money and no job. It was a scary period of my life for sure.”
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The nature of Dai’s sign-off led to a tough transition period.
“There was no resettlement process,” he says. “I was marched off within 3 days of filing my Pre-Voluntary Release.”
Dai found work as a civilian chef and eventually got mentorship and guidance through Project Nova, a Forces Employment programme that supports veterans who’ve been through the criminal justice system.
“John Phillips from Project Nova has been my rock for the want of a better word,” says Dai. “Without him, I would not be here today. He helped me believe in myself and feel that I was a worthwhile person. I will forever be grateful to him for all the support, guidance and enthusiasm.”
In the past year, Dai decided to pursue a long-held passion for tech and re-train for a career in cyber security. He joined the TechVets community and found the tools he needed to get started.
“TechVets have made a huge impact in my life, from giving me resources to follow, the chance to retrain and speak to other veterans,” says Dai. “They really have been a lifeline to me during the dark periods of my life and I really can not praise or thank them enough. The opportunities that I have been given really show that TechVets do care about veterans and will continue to support us throughout our lives.”
Seeing a Better Future Ahead
Discouraged by the mistreatment of our brothers in arms? Things are looking up. Fighting with Pride’s joint CEOs Craig Jones MBE and Caroline Paige point to the new study as proof of progress for people like Dai.
“We welcome this important step forward by the Government in their work to find remedy for LGBT+ Veterans who stepped forward for military service and were treated in a way that does not reflect the values of the United Kingdom today. FWP looks forward to working with Government to achieve an honourable outcome for LGBT+ Veterans.”
You can contribute to the study here if you or someone you know was affected by the ban.
For Dai, a cyber security career brings new possibilities and in a promising industry. If you’re considering a cyber career of your own, take Dai’s advice:
“Put in place a support network first and foremost and join TechVets before you begin the transition process. They will guide you, support you and be there for you each step of the way.”