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Austin Honors Service of DOD's LGBTQ Community at Start of Pride Month

June 1, 2021 | BY Terri Moon Cronk , DOD News

Today kicks off Pride Month, and Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III is proud to celebrate and honor the service commitment and sacrifice of our LGBTQ personnel in and out of uniform, Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby told reporters in a briefing today.

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"He's proud that one of his first actions after being sworn in was to implement President [Joe] Biden's directive to ensure that all transgender individuals who wish to serve and who can meet the appropriate standards to be able to do so openly and free from discrimination," the press secretary said.

At Austin's direction, the Defense Department also has taken concerted action to promote and protect the human rights of LGBTQ persons around the globe, he said, adding the secretary remains committed to building a diverse, equitable and inclusive force. During June, DOD will celebrate "the rich contributions of LGBTQ personnel," Kirby added.

The words "SERVICE" "DIGNITY" and "RESPECT" appear on rainbow bars.
Pride Month
Defense Department 2021 Pride Month poster.
Photo By: Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute
VIRIN: 210621-D-D0439-101Y

Looking ahead, Kirby noted that on Thursday, Austin will host Israeli Minister of Defense Benjamin Gantz for his first counterpart visit at the Pentagon. 

"I think it's safe to expect that among the things they will talk about are regional security issues, and clearly, we have every expectation that Iran and their malign behavior in the region will certainly come up," Kirby said. "This is not the first time the secretary has met or spoken with Minister Gantz. They've had numerous phone calls … and, we visited Israel not too long ago, [where] they had a very extensive day together. So [Thursday's meeting is expected to be] a continuation of those discussions." 

Exercise Defender-Europe 21 continues, the press secretary said. As part of a series of field artillery exercises called fire shock, the U.S. Army's 41st Field Artillery Brigade joined exercise Saber Guardian, and the unit quickly deployed to Bulgaria, conducted a live fire and returned to their home station in Germany. 

A frigate participates in an exercise.
Formidable Shield
The Air Defense Frigate Forbin sailed off the coast of Scotland, May 22, 2021. It is taking part in the combined air and missile defense exercise Formidable Shield 2021 off the coast of the United Kingdom.
Photo By: Courtesy, Naval Striking and Support Forces NATO
VIRIN: 210522-O-NO901-0101

The Defender-Europe 21 command post exercise began today as well. This exercise includes approximately 2,000 personnel and will demonstrate the ability to command multinational forces in a joint and combined training environment, Kirby said. 

Formidable Shield 21 wraps up this week, he added, which is also part of Defender-Europe. The NATO and Air Missile exercise began May 15, and Formidable Shield exhibits allied interoperability and a live-fire joint environment using NATO command-and-control reporting structures. The exercise, sponsored by the Navy's Sixth Fleet, and conducted by Naval Striking and Support Forces-NATO remains underway on the Western Isles of Scotland and off Norway and in the North Atlantic. Some 15 ships, nearly 50 aircraft and more than 3,000 service members from 10 nations are participating, he said.

A Romanian soldier mounts his weapon in an exercise.
Steadfast-Defender
A Romanian soldier mans a gun mount while conducting reconnaissance training during Exercise Steadfast-Defender 2021 in Romania. Steadfast-Defender 2021 is a NATO-led exercise involving more than 9,000 troops from more than 20 NATO ally nations and partners. The objective is to ensure that NATO forces are trained, able to operate together, and are ready to respond to any threat from any direction.
Photo By: OR-7 Pia Dunkel, NATO - Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe
VIRIN: 210521-A-PD249-0246C

In other U.S. European Command news, as part of a bomber task force rotation yesterday, U.S. Air Force strategic aircraft conducted Operation Allied Sky by flying over every NATO-allied nation in Europe in a single day. The 52-H Stratofortress aircraft, deployed to MorĂ²n Air Base in Spain, integrated with several allied aircraft during the operation, Kirby said. 

Turning to Afghanistan and the U.S. military withdrawal, "U.S. Central Command has released its weekly update, and they estimate they've completed between 30% to 44% of the entire retrograde process. They've retrograded the equivalent of approximately 317 loads of material out of Afghanistan and have turned nearly 13,000 pieces of equipment over to the Defense Logistics Agency for disposition," Kirby said.