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Admiral Mullen’s Legacy Reflects the Essence of True Leadership

Today, Mike Mullen will retire from the Navy after a long and accomplished military career. There are many things he will be remembered for, but none more than his historic “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) testimony on February 2, 2010. “It is my personal belief that allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly would be the right thing to do,” he stated in front of the committee and the nation.

I remember that moment vividly, as I watched it live, with tears streaming down my face. After my 17 years fighting “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” I recognized the significance of that moment. For the first time in history, the most senior uniformed leader of the armed forces publicly announced his support for open service. I knew at that instant there was no turning back – we had achieved the tipping point.

Fast forward 10 months. On December 22, 2010, I had the honor and privilege of standing next to Admiral Mullen during the Presidential signing ceremony for the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Repeal Act of 2010. The two loudest and longest standing ovations that morning went to Rep. PatrickMurphy and Admiral Mullen. I stepped aside during the applause so the audience could get a better view of the Admiral. I remember him standing there very stoically, soaking in the appreciation coming from that room. I leaned over slightly and said to him “It’s okay to smile!” He broke into a small grin and the crowd went wild. I was thrilled to see him receive the recognition and thanks he deserved for his leadership and courage.

Admiral Mullen and I share one common experience – we are both Naval Academy graduates. The mission of Annapolis begins, “To develop midshipmen morally, mentally, and physically and to imbue them with the highest ideals of duty, honor and loyalty.” These values are taken very seriously, and are what sets apart our service academies from other educational institutions.

In Admiral Mullen’s courageous actions, he embodied the true meaning of duty, honor and loyalty. He preserved the integrity of theinstitution by standing up and calling for the repeal of a policy that compromised the integrity of its service members. That is true leadership, and I will be forever grateful to him for that.

By Zoe Dunnning, U.S. Navy Commander (Ret.) and SLDN Board Co-Chair |