PJ director shares insights, life lessons during Pride Month event

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  • By Naval Air Systems Command

“I always had the desire to serve and serve something bigger, larger than myself,” said Special Agent Lee Russ, Executive Director, Office of Special Investigations (OSI), Office of Special Projects and as the Department of the Air Force Special Access Program Security Director, as the featured guest speaker at NAVAIR’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer + Allies (LGBTQ+A) diversity action team’s (DAT) national Pride Month event June 17. 

The Department of Defense’s Pride Month theme this year is “Pride in all who serve – a place for all.” “It [the theme] embodies the spirt of unity and acceptance across the department and all services,” said Roy Harris, director of NAVAIR’s Sustainment Group and an executive champion of the LGBTQ+A DAT. “The ability to deliver warfighting capabilities and complete the mission is not determined by sexual orientation or gender identity. We all come together from a variety of backgrounds, experiences and thoughts, bringing our talents and expertise to deliver the capabilities the warfighter needs to perform the mission.”

One of our NAVAIR core values is Win with Inclusion and Respect,” along with “Starting with the Fleet” and “Changing the Game.” Winning with inclusion and respect means treating teammates with dignity and respect – always.

Russ served in the Air Force from 1997 to 2006 as both an enlisted communicator and an investigator in the Air Force’s Office of Special Investigation. He separated from active duty in 2006 during “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” which was the official U.S. policy on military service of non-heterosexual until its repeal in 2011.

“When I joined the Air Force, I served for about nine years and truly loved it,” Russ said. “I intended on retiring from the service. It was at that point where I had a scare with ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ when I thought I was going to be investigated. I quickly realized I might not be able to serve a full 20 years. I separated from active duty, because I could have served for 19 or 20 years and been discharged at the very last moment with no benefits. We all have opportunities to serve in different ways. I was immediately hired back as a civilian. I have no regrets. “

A career Special Agent with the OSI, Russ has directed and led law enforcement and counterintelligence investigations and operations at every Air Force level. In 2022, he was promoted to the Senior Executive Service and serves as the director of OSI’s Office of Special Projects.

“Today, we celebrate diversity and inclusivity within our ranks, acknowledging the invaluable contributions the LGBTQ+ bring to the strength and resilience of our Navy,” he said. “As we gather here, united by our dedication in serving our country and our shared experiences as members and allies of the LGBTQ+ community, I am reminded of the profound importance of standing together, supporting one another and embracing our differences as strengths that make us stronger as both individuals and a collective joint force.”

Russ acknowledged prejudice and ignorance still exists within the armed forces and in society as a whole.

“It’s up to us to stand up against hate, bigotry and injustice and ensure that all members of our community are treated with respect, dignity and the equality that they deserve,” he said. “The journey towards equality and inclusivity has not been easy; it’s been marked by significant challenges and obstacles that have tested our resolve and our resilience. From the days of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ to the ongoing fight against discrimination and prejudice, we’ve faced numerous barriers.”

Despite those challenges and obstacles, Russ said the nation has made tremendous progress.

“The repeal of discriminatory policies, the implementation of protective measures and the growing acceptance of LGBTQ+ individuals within our military are all testament to our collective efforts and determination,” he said.

Toward the end of his remarks, Russ asked the audience to look to the future and recommit themselves to the values that define us as individuals and as a community.

“Let us continue to raise our voices, share our stories and advocate for change so that future generations of LGBTQ+ service members and civilians can serve with pride and without fear of discrimination,” he said. “Together, we can create a department that is truly representative of the diverse tapestry of identities that make up our great nation.”

DATs support NAVAIR’s efforts to build high performing and creative teams where all employees are valued, respected and have an equal opportunity to succeed. DATs seek to remove barriers and provide an open forum to share ideas and learn about different cultures and heritages.