The U.S. military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy was discontinued in September 2011, with the support of President Barack Obama and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta—but the repeal didn't happen without a prolonged effort. A notable opponent of the policy was the UCLA-based Palm Center, a research institute and civil-rights advocacy organization led by founding director Aaron Belkin.
When the Palm Center first began researching the policy more than a decade ago, it reported findings from both sides of the debate, but ultimately the Center provided the facts that supported the repeal. At the time, Belkin saw his role as challenging the public's perception that repealing "don't ask, don't tell" would harm the military. "We were able to use research to reform public policy," Belkin said. The Center's goal was "to make sure that the policy was based on evidence rather than on emotion." His successful public education policy has since become a model for other foundations and nonprofits.
Now a professor of political science at San Francisco State University, Belkin has authored several books about masculinity and sexuality in the armed forces.
After serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, Major Nina D'Amato became the only Marine Corps Reservist selected for the Department of Defense's prestigious Congressional Fellowship Program.
D'Amato put her exceptional vision and leadership skills into action between spring 2010 and spring 2011, when she led an effort to implement the UN's National Education Strategic Plan of Afghanistan in violent Helmand province, a Taliban stronghold. She worked with Afghans, U.S. military teams and international partners to rebuild the failing education system from the ground up, including repairing and constructing schools, training teachers, and designing curricula.
What D'Amato found most compelling, she said, was the plan's emphasis on educating girls, which led directly to a project last summer with the Singularity University at NASA Ames Research Center. At Singularity, she helped develop a mobile educational platform for girls. "In Afghanistan, many times girls couldn't leave their house," she said, "so if you bring the learning to them via a mobile device, that can make a real difference in their lives."