WASHINGTON — Flanked by other senators who helped repeal “don’t ask, don’t tell” and by three now openly gay members of the military, Sen. Susan Collins on Tuesday held a postcard aloft that she said helped drive home the significance of the historic day.

Dated July 26, the postcard had a photo of combat soldiers serving in Afghanistan on the front, and a note to the Maine Republican on the back.

“I will still be deployed in Afghanistan on 20 Sept. when DADT is finally repealed,” the note said. “It will take a huge burden off my shoulders – a combat zone is stressful enough on its own. Thank you for your courage to vote in favor of repeal as a Republican. I will repay your courage with my continued professionalism.”

The postcard was signed simply, “An Army Soldier,” because in July the 18-year-old ban on gays and lesbians serving openly in the military was still in place.

But as of 12:01 a.m. Tuesday, Collins said at the Capitol Hill news conference, that soldier “can sign his name and that makes all the difference. Today represents a historic change for our country and for our military.”

Collins was a leading advocate of repealing “don’t ask, don’t tell” and one of eight Republican senators – including Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine – to break with their party and vote for repeal in December.

Collins was the only Republican among a half-dozen senators appearing at the news conference. Democratic Sen. Mark Udall of Colorado credited her with “immense courage and strength.”

Collins “brought many in her party along,” Udall said of his fellow Senate Armed Services Committee member.

Also Tuesday, Collins was honored by the gay advocacy group Log Cabin Republicans with its “Spirit of Lincoln Award” during the organization’s national dinner in Washington.

Military leaders have said the repeal will not hamper recruiting or the ability of troops to function in a war zone.

Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., another architect of the repeal, called Tuesday a “real celebration of historic accomplishment for our country.”

At the news conference, Air Force Staff Sgt. Jonathan Mills of Florida said he was “extremely grateful and relieved” to be able to stop hiding his sexual orientation from other soldiers and his commanders.

Mills and the two other soldiers at the news conference said they have no reason to believe other service members have a problem serving with openly gay comrades.

Sarah Pezzat of Michigan, who left active duty in 2007 and joined the Marine Corps Reserve because she was tired of leading a “double life,” said at the news conference in an emotional voice, “I am 31, I am a woman, I am a U.S. Marine and I am a lesbian.”

 

MaineToday Media Washington Bureau Chief Jonathan Riskind can be contacted at 791-6280 or at: [email protected]

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