Major Gloria A. Downey
Filmmaker. Warrior. Visionary.
I was medically retired from the Judge Advocate General’s Corps of the United States Air Force in May 2009. Prior to my retirement, I was hand-selected by the Judge Advocate General of the United Sates Air Force to fill a highly sought after Senior Defense Counsel position but my combat-related injuries rendered this impossible for me to accept. My last assignment was Chief of Litigation at Ramstein Air Base, Germany. In this role, I worked with junior trial counsel as the Senior Litigation Attorney. While assigned to Ramstein, I deployed to Baghdad in 2007 where I prosecuted terrorists in the Central Criminal Court of Iraq.
I was very actively involved in the military’s sexual assault crisis and response, both as a prosecutor and defense attorney. As a prosecutor, I: created sexual assault prevention seminars for dormitory residents which were benchmarked by the Air Force and the Department of Defense; was appointed to respond to a high level inquiry by the Department of Defense regarding the prosecution and defense of sexual assault allegations in the military; and was the driving force behind expanding rape prosecutions to include cases of rape based on psychological force alone. As a defense attorney, I developed and disseminated a new strategy for overcoming rape shield laws in appropriate cases – primarily when alleged victims were clearly fabricating stories for their own purposes. These “victims” are a driving factor in what makes rape prosecutions so difficult.
My other JAG assignments were as the Area Defense Counsel at Osan Air Base, Republic of South Korea where I represented hundreds of military members through all aspects of their military justice actions including dozens of courts-martial and discharge boards. In this role, I defended several Airmen who were being persecuted under the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy – all while hiding my own sexuality. I was competitively selected to this position while serving as Senior Litigation Attorney and Chief of Military Justice at Travis AFB, California where I assisted young trial counsel in the preparation and prosecution of military justice cases while also performing duties as the Chief of Military Justice, overseeing the base’s entire criminal and disciplinary program. I worked hard to ensure all lawyers with whom I worked held themselves to the highest possible ethical standards at all times – a fact of which I remain extremely proud.
I was commissioned as a Judge Advocate in 2002. Prior to this, I served as an Assistant Public Defender in Ocala, Florida and Miami, Florida. I worked on all levels of the Florida criminal justice system including felony, misdemeanor, juvenile and traffic divisions. During my four years as a public defender, I represented thousands of indigent clients facing criminal prosecution. I was admitted to the Florida Bar in 1997, after graduating from the University of Miami School of Law in 1996 and the University of Florida, with a focus on Political Science and Sociology, in 1993. Climbing up and out of the poverty and disillusionment of the life I was born into, I earned my GED at 16 years old, after completing only the eighth grade, then attended and graduated from Broward Community College with High Honors at 18 years old, earning entry into my state’s flagship university. It was early in my college education that I set my aims at high political office.
While deployed to Baghdad, I was injured during multiple mortar and rocket attacks, rendering me unfit for further military service. The body armor – not designed for women – crippled me (and thousands of other warrior women). My service under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” hampered my ability to get the help and support I needed and stay in the Air Force so I accepted the retirement decision. Despite my pending discharge, my supervision pressed for my promotion to Major in recognition of my outstanding service. I was permanently retired as a Major in May 2009. I passed and became a member of the California Bar in May 2009 but, due to the limitations of my physical and emotional injuries, I can only practice law on a Pro Bono basis.
After my retirement, I was left for dead by our government. I could not work. I became financially destitute. I became homeless for several years, forcing me back into school. I faced near death every day for several years as my untreated PTSD kept me on the constant edge of hurling myself in front of a train, a car, off a bridge… I “lived” like this for four years until I went back to school in 2012, using my GI Bill. It took the VA over ten years to diagnose my injuries and give me the care I needed. My combat service still has not been recognized by the Air Force.
In 2015, I finished my Master of Fine Arts in Directing from Academy of Art University in San Francisco, CA and now work to continue my fight for justice for all through the medium of filmmaking. My thesis film, Forgive Me Father, received numerous honors and has been included in several film festivals. I am now working on a feature film script encapsulating my personal war experiences in Iraq, the way we were all made to participate in the breeding and rise of ISIS, and the devastating impact the failures by the Air Force and the VA have had on my life since I went to war for our country. I am also completing the first two episodes of my Women of War film series which is dedicated to the universal experiences of all Women of War.
I was born to a life of impossibility, heartbreak and hopelessness but, I always knew I would escape. My signature motivation – a profound sense of justice was born with me. A witness to the crimes of poverty and hatred, both against me and all those around me, I clawed my way to becoming a lawyer. I began as a Public Defender, often fighting for the deplorable in the name of the Constitution. In pursuit of greater justice, and with awareness of the world’s evils, I joined the Air Force, spending seven years as a distinguished officer, litigator, and warrior.
In 2007, I was truly in shock and awe when I deployed to Iraq to “serve” in a war that
itself was a crime. I volunteered for the most dangerous of the available positions because I was told this was the path to delivering the most justice – but the truth was the exact opposite. I was really a pawn in a sham court system, set up to detract from the crimes committed against the detainees at Abu Ghraib. In this position, I experienced many life-changing events: I felt the Earth shake through me as a man wearing a bomb, praying to God, blew himself through a market, killing 150 people in an instant; I led a makeshift team through the blood trail of our fallen bodyguard after a mortar attack on our courthouse; I prosecuted “terrorists,” heard their explanations and put them on death row; and I pondered daily the unimaginable horror endured by the people of Baghdad during our notorious campaign of “Shock and Awe.”
The profound physical and emotional injuries I received in Iraq rendered any “normal” life impossible for me. After years of teetering on the brink of destruction, I have forged a new mission: the pursuit of justice through filmmaking. I now prosecute cases and pursue justice with the camera – a weapon potentially far mightier than the pen and sword ever were. I strive to show my viewers their roles in so many of our ongoing crimes against each other. I will propose a clear course of action: something we can do now to face the actions of the past, stand against them as they exist in the present, and compel us all toward a more just future.
Despite our great intentions, ambitions and dreams, ours is a criminal and reprehensible history of slavery, slaughter, genocide, theft, rape, imprisonment, torture, greed and terror – for, I assure you, there are few things more terrifying than having American Airpower rain down on your city for days on end, or having your skin set ablaze by Napalm from the sky, or being indiscriminately mowed down in a homicidal frenzy of Hotchkiss guns…
It is my most fervent belief that the old ways of doing things – with a blind eye toward all that does not serve us – must change. To achieve this, we must strive to acknowledge and use our privilege to make right all that has so long been wrong. It is my most fervent hope that, in telling the dark side of the American story, while suggesting good and righteous possible courses of remediation and action, we can forge a future that truly guarantees, by finally delivering,
Life, Liberty and Justice – to all of us.
I know with absolute certainty that I will fight for others until I die. I will never be stopped or silenced. I have seen the dark side, walked through the corridors of Hell, and eaten dinner with Satan – nothing scares me anymore. As Socrates taught, “they can kill me but they can’t hurt me.”