1st Openly Gay Commander Takes Helm at Intelligence Center

Saturday, 31 May 2014 12:30 PM

By Sandy Fitzgerald

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The first openly gay commander of the National Air and Space Intelligence Center says the repeal of the national "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy helped her be a better officer.

Air Force Col. Leah G. Lauderback, 42, became the new NASIC leader at a ceremony that attracted about 700 people, including her spouse, Brenda, at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio, this week, reports Stars and Stripes.

She said the repeal of the federal policy that forced gay service members to hide their preferences has not changed how she approaches her job.

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"To me, there is no difference," Lauderback said. "I am going to command the way I always have,” she said.

But, she said she finds the changes that have happened the past few years to be amazing.

"The repeal of DADT (Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell), et cetera, that allow me to function as the best officer that I can be, and if that’s with somebody by my side, that’s with somebody by my side," said Lauderback. "So to be able to do that publicly, personally, is just fantastic.”

Lauderback is replacing Col. Aaron Prupas at NASIC, which provides intelligence reports to the White House, Congress, and combat troops. Prupas is heading for a high-level Pentagon defense intelligence post.

At NASIC, Lauderback is overseeing a $350 million budget, along with 3,100 military and civilian employees. Both of her parents worked at Wright-Patterson while she was growing up, so Lauderback says the base is "very comfortable, very familiar, feels like home already."

NASIC is dealing with budget cuts, like most federal agencies, and Lauderback said she will take two or three months to assess whether any changes are needed at the agency.

She told The Dayton Business Journal, though, that work at the center and its Dayton location will not be affected by plans that could reorganize the structure of the Air Force's intelligence operations.

"I stated in my speech it is already a high-functioning organization," she told Stars and Stripes. "NASIC is a crown jewel. We work for everybody throughout the (Department of Defense) and they do fantastic things."

NASIC's new commander is in Ohio after being in charge of the 67th Cyberspace Operations Group at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland in Texas. Cyberspace defense is a high priority within the Defense Department and the Air Force, which are expanding the number of cyber experts as a result, said Lauderback.

The 178th Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Group at Springfield Air National Guard Base contributes to NASIC’s intelligence mission.

Lauderback, a 21-year career officer, married her spouse in Carmel, Calif. about a month ago, and she acknowledged her, along with her family and friends at last week's ceremony.

However, Lauderback's marriage is not recognized in Ohio. Gay couples may be legally wed in other states, but their unions are not recognized in Ohio. Lawyers for Attorney General Mike DeWine's office are a U.S. District Court decision that ruled the state's refusal to recognize gay marriage violates constitutional rights and is unenforceable.

Ohio voters have also rejected gay marriage. Ten years ago, 62 percent of voters backed a state amendment defining marriage between one man and one woman, while banning state and local governments from recognizing any other types of unions legally. However, opinions are shifting, with a recent Quinnipiac University poll showing about half of Ohio voters now support same-sex marriages.

A decade ago, 62 percent of Ohio voters endorsed a state constitutional amendment that defines marriage as between one man and one woman and banned state and local governments from recognizing relationships that approximate marriage. But a Quinnipiac University poll released this month showed 50 percent of Ohio voters support same-sex marriage, while 43 percent continue to oppose it.

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