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Reflecting on the Repeal of ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ Four Years Later

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By Colonel Terrel S. Preston

On August 1, 2014, amid the usual pomp and circumstance of a military change of command ceremony, Colonel Kristin Goodwin took command of the Second Bomb Wing at Barksdale Air Force Base near Shreveport, Louisiana. The wing’s history goes back to the very beginning of aviation with laudatory service over France in World War I, Memphis Belle-style B-17 missions over Nazi-occupied Europe in World War II, and countless B-52 combat missions over North Vietnam. Twenty years later, aircrews from this prestigious unit fired the opening shots against Iraqi forces occupying Kuwait in Operation Desert Storm. In every major conflict, this highly decorated wing has led the charge with lethal force and power projection, true to their motto of “Liberty We Defend.”

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Colonel Terrel S. Preston

Against this legacy of duty, honor, and sacrifice stood Col. Goodwin, firmly grasping the wing’s guidon decorated with campaign streamers, taking command of a traditionally male-dominated strategic bomber wing. And at her side during the ceremony, attended by members of the entire organization plus higher headquarters generals, was her wife, Kelly, beaming with pride at Kristin’s magnificent accomplishments in the Air Force so far and her tremendous opportunity to command such a unit of distinction. The Goodwins and their two children took up residence in the wing commander’s quarters along a picturesque park where all the base’s top-ranking leaders live. The sign on the curb reads: “Col. and Mrs. Goodwin.”

Col. Goodwin’s experience is not unique for gays and lesbians after the repeal of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” on September 20, 2011. The military’s embrace of open service has been extraordinary. Col. Goodwin’s selection as wing commander was monumental and a proud moment for the gay community, but like all screenings for command across the uniformed services, it was based on merit and potential for mission success. Lifting the ban on open service didn’t change who the top performers are, it just allowed gays to lead their lives like everyone else and not lose their careers and livelihoods because of who they are.

The dire predictions of conservative politicians and retired generals that repeal would break the All Volunteer Force were completely incorrect, and in my opinion, disingenuous. A year after repeal, the Palm Center conducted an analysis that found absolutely no negative impact on any aspect of military readiness, morale, recruitment, or retention. The troops literally said, “So what, press on.” And today, four years after the ban ended, the military is as strong as ever, absent the costly and senseless witch-hunt for gays that ended the careers of more than 14,000 patriots.

Lastly, there is every indication that the military leadership plans very soon to include the “T” in LGBT for open service. At that point, the thousands of activists who have worked for decades to allow our entire community to serve their country with dignity and respect will finally be able to say “Mission Accomplished.”

Colonel Terrel S. Preston is a 26-year veteran of the U.S. Air Force. Since retirement in 2004, he has served on HRC steering committees in San Antonio and Houston, the Equality Texas Board of Directors, and as Military Advisor to Servicemembers Legal Defense Network.

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