THE top guns of the Australian Defence Force (ADF) are to throw their weight behind LGBTI service personnel this Mardi Gras with confirmation the most senior enlisted member of each of the three armed forces will — for the first time — march in next month’s iconic parade.

The warrant officers of the navy and air force and the regimental sergeant major of the army will lead their respective services along the parade route through inner city Sydney on Saturday, March 7.

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Just three years after the ADF first officially participated in the parade, the presence of the high-ranking officers raises Mardi Gras to the level of other ceremonial events the forces attend.

Regimental sergeant major (RSM) of the army, David Ashley, said the force was made up of exceptional people from all backgrounds and orientations.

“As RSM of the army, I’m not marching for the celebration of Mardi Gras, I am marching in support of our soldiers,” he said.

“The service warrant officers are here because we are proud of all of our people and just like those marching, we are proud of our uniform.”

Navy warrant officer Martin Holzberger agreed.

“My participation is part of navy and defence’s ongoing effort to promote inclusion and greater respect for the men and women that make up our talented and diverse workforce,” he said.

Air force warrant officer Mark Pentreath said he was humbled that the men and women of the air force were proud to have him co-lead the ADF contingent at the Mardi Gras parade.

“Why wouldn’t I be proud? These men and women are part of the team that is our future as an ADF,” he said.

“To me, marching in the Mardi Gras parade is no different to representing the air force at any cultural event that is important to our people such as White Ribbon Day, or International Women’s Day.”

Enlisted officers hold the highest non-commanding rank in the ADF.

Leading Aircraftsman Jake Smith said he gained the confidence to come out to his colleagues after he watched the ADF march in last year’s Mardi Gras parade.

“Without seeing the march, I would still be in the closet and hating life,” said Smith, who is an Avionics Technician at No. 37 Squadron in the Royal Australian Air Force.

“Everyone has been really awesome.

“I wholeheartedly feel accepted by my workmates and I am in a workplace with an accepting culture, not a bunch of rules stopping discrimination.”

The ban on gay people serving in the ADF was dropped in 1992 with a similar bar on trans* personnel thrown out in 2010.

One of the ADF’s most high-profile LGBTI members is group captain Cate McGregor.

The chief of army, David Morrison, famously refused to accept McGregor’s resignation when she revealed her intention to transition to a woman.

In 2013, Morrison made an impassioned plea via YouTube (see video below) to stamp out harassment and discrimination in the army and in 2012 said he would like to see greater recruitment of gays and lesbians, women and ethnic minorities into the ADF.

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