The openly gay U.S. Army reservist was given command of his unit, awarded a national recognition for his LGBT work and, most recently, tied the knot with his longtime partner.
Hackel, a native of Central Jersey who now lives in Doylestown, came from a military family, with his father and many of his uncles having served in the Army and Navy during World War II.
He began his own military involvement in the seventh grade when he began attending Valley Forge Military Academy, a military boarding school in Montgomery County that he said was integral in helping him deal with a learning disability.
He went on to attain a bachelor of fine arts, a master’s degree in educational administration and a doctorate in educational leadership.
Hackel has spent the last 18 years as a member of the Army Reserves and was deployed to Iraq in 2003 to create and serve as deputy commander of the American Forces Network Iraq, a radio and television-broadcast network. Throughout his military career, Hackel has received the Bronze Star, the Meritorious Service Medal, Combat Action Badge and Army Commendation Medal.
This spring, Hackel assumed command of the 361st Public Affairs Operation Center, based in New York. In that role, he oversees the work of more than 100 soldiers tasked with strategic-communications responsibilities and commands three military history-documentation units, two public-affairs multi-use units and a broadcast-operations detachment.
Hackel juggles his military career with his civilian career as the director of instrumental music at Montgomery Middle School in New Jersey.
“Like anything, it’s a balancing act,” he said. “I’m very fortunate to have a civilian employer who understands my responsibilities as a military officer. And my military commander has an appreciation and respect for the fact that for many officers, the military is their part-time job. You just need to know what your responsibilities are in advance and balance it out. And then you try to give your job, your military service, your family and friends equal respect and time.”
Hackel’s family, including his husband William Young and their daughter Emma Hope, was front and center during the change-of-command ceremony this April.
That openness is new, as Hackel served most of his military career under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” which was lifted last year.
“Even when I might have felt more comfortable with my supervisors or fellow soldiers, I tended to be more conservative and not say or do anything,” he said. “The hardest part was when I was deployed to Iraq. I was able to communicate with my partner at times, but our phone conversations had to be very controlled and our email correspondence was generic. I always had to be mindful of the fact that this was an area of sanctioned discrimination. I’ve been in service for 18 years and been with him for 12 of those years, so it was often difficult because he felt like an outsider.”
The military, however, is adjusting to the post-“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” world, Hackel noted. At this month’s Family Day celebration at the Reserve Center, Hackel’s battalion presented him with a collective wedding gift.
He and Young got married in Provincetown Aug. 2.
“It’s a very slow movement forward to welcome not just my husband but also all same-sex partners and spouses of soldiers and servicemembers, but I think we’re heading in the right direction,” he said. “I’ve been in command for about six months, and I haven’t had any problems.”
Hackel’s family found similar acceptance at the BuxMont Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, which they joined in 2009.
Growing up, Hackel was raised among some Catholic family members, but he said his mother moved the family to a number of different churches of varying faiths.
“She taught me that if something doesn’t speak to your soul, don’t stick with it,” he said, noting that the UU faith spoke to his family for a number of reasons.
“It’s a paradigm based on ethical values, as opposed to religious dogma, so we have people in the congregation who are Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Wiccan, and each is celebrated. We were in the process of adopting so we wanted to make sure our child would be brought up in an environment of ethical values that mirrored our own. And at BuxMont, it’s not a matter of them accepting gays — they accept everyone. We’re not the token gay couple or the weird guys who sit in the back with the baby. We’re just Adam and Bill, a boring, normal couple.”
Interweave Continental, an LGBT UU association, in June presented Hackel with its 2012 Mark DeWolfe Award, for his work with LGBT youth. Hackel serves as a board member for the Central Jersey chapter of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, and recently worked with GLSEN student leaders to develop an LGBT-inclusive middle-school curriculum.
At his own school, Hackel has organized GLSEN’s National Day of Silence, sponsored LGBT history-month projects and led a group of New Jersey and Pennsylvania students to Washington, D.C., to lobby for LGBT-inclusive safe-schools laws.
“It was an amazing honor,” he said of the award, named for the first openly gay UU minister. “Instead of putting the award on a shelf, I want to use it as a springboard to help assist other religious communities to work with LGBT youth and educate communities about how to deal with LGBT youth in a responsible and loving way.”
The award capped a banner year, Hackel said, that he hopes serves as an example to LGBT youth.
“I look at my life now, and I have a wonderful husband, a daughter who has both mine and my husband’s names on her birth certificate. I’m an out commander for an Army Reserve unit, and I’ve been successful in my civilian career. Twenty years ago, I never would have imagined what I have right now,” he said. “Programs like the Trevor Project, GLSEN and the ‘It Gets Better’ campaign are so important because a lot of LGBT youth just aren’t getting the right message. A lot of youth think that the world just isn’t getting better, but they need to see that there is the potential for the world to be a better place for you. You just have to look for it.”