A Dayton native and the first openly gay commander of the National Air and Space Intelligence Center took over the top leadership post of the secretive agency that provides intelligence reports to the White House, Congress and even ground troops in combat.
Col. Leah G. Lauderback, 42, became the leader of NASIC at a change of command ceremony Wednesday in front of about 700 people gathered at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force. She replaces Col. Aaron M. Prupas, who leaves for a high-level defense intelligence post at the Pentagon.
Lauderback will oversee a $350 million budget and about 3,100 military and civilian employees who assess air, space and cyber threats to the Air Force and the nation. The agency is headquartered at Wright-Patterson, a place familiar to Lauderback, whose parents both worked at the Miami Valley base while she was growing up.
“This is very comfortable, very familiar, feels like home already,” she said in brief remarks at the ceremony. “… I’m humbled, honored and privileged to command NASIC.”
Maj. Gen. John Shanahan, commander of the Air Force Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Agency, lauded both colonels and called NASIC one of the “crown jewels” in the Air Force.
NASIC has dealt with budget cuts while demand for the agency’s intelligence analysis has risen in recent years, officials have said. Lauderback said she will take 60 to 90 days to assess what, if any changes, might be needed at the agency.
“I stated in my speech it is already a high-functioning organization,” she said. “NASIC is a crown jewel. We work for everybody throughout the (Department of Defense) and they do fantastic things.”
The Air Force colonel, who acknowledged her spouse, Brenda, and her family and friends at the ceremony, said in an interview she was proud she could serve openly as the first gay commander of the intelligence agency. The two married in Carmel, Calif., about a month ago, Lauderback said.
“I would say first and foremost, I am very proud,” the 21-year career officer said. “I am very excited. It’s been a wonderful ride for a month now.
Lauderback said the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, the former policy that forced gay servicemembers to hide their homosexuality, hasn’t changed how she approaches her job.
“To me, there is no difference. I am going to command the way Leah is going to command the way I always have,” she said. “Personally, I would say that it’s been amazing the last couple of years the changes that have been out here that have been made. 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. So to be able to do that publicly, personally, is just fantastic.”
Gay couples who wed in other states have had to wait for their marriages to be recognized in Ohio while lawyers for Attorney Gen. Mike DeWine’s office appeal a U.S. District Court decision. U.S. District Court Judge Tim Black has ruled Ohio’s refusal to recognize gay marriage is a violation of constitutional rights and “unenforceable in all circumstances.”
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 opposed it.
Lauderback was in charge of the 67th Cyberspace Operations Group at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland in Texas prior to her new post at NASIC. Her background in cyberspace is in an area defense officials have said is a high priority as the Defense Department and the Air Force expand the number of cyber experts.
“I can tell you that cyber is a growth area for the Air Force, and having just come from the cyberspace operations group, I’m well-versed in understanding and acquiring the need out there for cyber,” she said.
The 178th Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Group at Springfield Air National Guard Base contributes to NASIC’s intelligence mission.
Lauderback said she expects demands for intelligence reports will increase as U.S. combat forces pull out of Afghanistan and the military boosts forces in a “pivot” to the Pacific region.
Prupas, former NASIC commander, was appointed principal military assistant to the under secretary of defense for intelligence. Also Wednesday, he was awarded the Legion of Merit for leading NASIC.
Staff writer Laura Bischoff contributed to this story.