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Col. Will Gunn

U.S. Air Force Colonel Will A. Gunn was born in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida in 1959. Gunn graduated with military honors with his B.S. degree in management from the United States Air Force Academy in 1980. He went on to attend Harvard Law School where he was elected president of the Harvard Law School Legal Aid Bureau and graduated cum laude with his J.D. degree in 1986. Gunn also earned his LL.M. degree in environmental law from the George Washington University School of Law. His military education included graduating from the Air Command and Staff College in 1993; the Air War College in 1999; and, Industrial College of the Armed Forces with his M.S. degree in national resource strategy in 2002.

In 1990, Gunn was appointed as a White House Fellow and Associate Director of Cabinet Affairs under President George H.W. Bush. In 2003, Gunn was named the first ever Chief Defense Counsel in the Department of Defense Office of Military Commissions. In that position, he supervised all defense activities for detainees at Guantanamo Bay prison camp selected for trial before military commissions. This was the first proceedings of this to be conducted by the United States in over sixty years. Gunn retired from the military in 2005 after more than twenty years of service and was named president and CEO of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Washington where he led one of the largest affiliates of Boys & Girls Clubs of America.

In 2008, he founded the Gunn Law Firm to provide local representation to military members and veterans in a range of administrative matters. Returning to government in 2009, Gunn was appointed General Counsel in the Department of Veteran’s Affairs. He has published articles in the Ohio Northern Law Review and the Air Force Law Review.Gunn served as chairman of the American Bar Association’s Commission on Youth at Risk. In addition, he served on the boards of Christian Service Charities and the Air Force Academy Way of Life Alumni Group.

Gunn has also received numerous awards and honors including the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau’s Outstanding Alumni Award, the Human Rights Award from the Southern Center for Human Rights, and the American Bar Association’s Outstanding Career Military Lawyer Award. In 2002, he was elected to the National Bar Association’s Military Law Section Hall of Fame. Gunn’s military honors include the Meritorious Service Medal with four oak leaf clusters and the Air Force Commendation Medal with one oak leaf cluster.

Colonel Will A. Gunn was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on June 21, 2013.

Accession Number

A2013.158

Sex

Male

Interview Date

7/26/2013

9/27/2019

Last Name

Gunn

Maker Category
Marital Status

Married

Middle Name

A.

Schools

Industrial College of the Armed Forces

George Washington University

Harvard Law School

Air Force Institute of Technology

Search Occupation Category
First Name

Will

Birth City, State, Country

Birmingham

HM ID

GUN02

Favorite Season

Spring

State

Alabama

Favorite Vacation Destination

Beaches

Favorite Quote

Just Do It and I Can Do All Things Through Christ Who Strengthens Me

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

District of Columbia

Interview Description
Birth Date

12/14/1958

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Washington

Country

USA

Favorite Food

Seafood

Short Description

Military officer and defense lawyer Col. Will Gunn (1958 - ) is the first ever Chief Defense Counsel for the Department of Defense Office of Military Commissions.

Employment

United States Department of Veterans Affairs

Gunn Law Firm

Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Washington

Office of Military Communications, U.S. Department of Defense

United States Air Force

Pope Air Force Base, United States Air Force

Favorite Color

Purple

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/35202">Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Will Gunn's interview</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/35203">Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Will Gunn lists his favorites</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/35204">Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Will Gunn describes his mother's family background</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/35205">Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Will Gunn talks about the significance of Lowndes County as the Black Belt of Alabama and for the Civil Rights Movement</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/35206">Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Will Gunn talks about his maternal grandparents' jobs</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/35207">Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Will Gunn talks about his mother's growing up in Birmingham, Alabama and her career in social services</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/35208">Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Will Gunn talks about his family's move to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, in 1962</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/35209">Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Will Gunn describes his father's family background</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/35210">Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Will Gunn talks about his father's growing up in Opelika, Alabama, his education at Miles College, and his profession as a teacher</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/35211">Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Will Gunn describes how his parents met, married and moved the family to Fort Lauderdale</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/35212">Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Will Gunn describes his parents' personalities and who he takes after</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/35213">Tape: 1 Story: 12 - Will Gunn describes his family's road trip the summer of 1967, and his inspiration to become a lawyer</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/35214">Tape: 1 Story: 13 - Will Gunn talks about his siblings</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/35215">Tape: 1 Story: 14 - Will Gunn describes his earliest childhood memories</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/35216">Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Will Gunn talks about his childhood home and neighborhood in Fort Lauderdale, Florida</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/35217">Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Will Gunn describes the sights, sounds and smells of growing up in Fort Lauderdale, Florida</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/35218">Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Will Gunn talks about going to Dania Beach, Florida as a child</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/35219">Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Will Gunn describes his experience in elementary school</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/35220">Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Will Gunn talks about his family's involvement in Greater New Mount Olive Baptist Church in Fort Lauderdale, Florida</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/35221">Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Will Gunn talks about why he aspired to become a lawyer</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/35222">Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Will Gunn talks about his interests as a child</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/35223">Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Will Gunn recalls the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/35224">Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Will Gunn describes his experience in middle school in Davie, Florida</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/35225">Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Will Gunn talks about his height and his interest in basketball</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/35226">Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Will Gunn describes his experience playing basketball in high school, pt. 1</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/35227">Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Will Gunn describes his experience playing basketball in high school, pt. 2</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/35228">Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Will Gunn describes his academic performance and extracurricular activities in high school</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/35229">Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Will Gunn recalls following the Watergate hearings on TV and his desire to become a lawyer</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/35230">Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Will Gunn talks about his mentors in high school</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/35231">Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Will Gunn talks about his interest in applying to the ROTC programs in college</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/35232">Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Will Gunn talks about his decision to attend the Air Force Academy, pt. 1</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/35233">Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Will Gunn talks about his decision to attend the Air Force Academy, pt. 2</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/35234">Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Will Gunn talks about being accepted into the U.S. Air Force Academy</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/35235">Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Will Gunn describes his experience at the U.S. Air Force Academy</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/35236">Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Will Gunn talks about his mentors at the U.S. Air Force Academy</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/35237">Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Will Gunn talks about playing Flicker Ball at the U.S. Air Force Academy</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/35238">Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Will Gunn talks about his decision to become an Air Force Judge Advocate General (JAG)</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/35239">Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Will Gunn talks about various career paths after training at the U.S. Air Force Academy training</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/35240">Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Will Gunn talks about his instructors, General Malham Wakin and Captain Curtis Martin at the U.S. Air Force Academy</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/35241">Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Will Gunn talks about academics at the U.S. Air Force Academy</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/35242">Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Will Gunn talks about playing basketball at the U.S. Air Force Academy and becoming class president</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/35243">Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Will Gunn talks about the U.S Air Force Academy's football and basketball teams</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/35244">Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Will Gunn talks about getting into Harvard Law School on the Funded Legal Education Program (FLEP) program</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/35245">Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Will Gunn talks about his graduation from the U.S. Air Force Academy</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/35246">Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Will Gunn talks about his first assignment in the Minority Affairs Office at the U.S. Air Force Academy</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/35247">Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Will Gunn talks about his assignment at Hanscom Air Force Base and getting into Harvard Law School</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/35248">Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Will Gunn talks about meeting his wife at Hanscom Air Force Base and getting married in 1982</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/35249">Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Will Gunn talks about his first impression of Harvard Law School</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/35250">Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Will Gunn talks about the people who inspired him to apply to Harvard Law School</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/35251">Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Will Gunn describes his experience and academics at Harvard Law School</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/35252">Tape: 5 Story: 10 - Will Gunn talks about the teachers who influenced him at Harvard Law School</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/35253">Tape: 5 Story: 11 - Will Gunn talks about his mentors at Harvard Law School and his involvement in public service, pt. 1</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/35254">Tape: 5 Story: 12 - Will Gunn talks about his mentors at Harvard Law School and his involvement in public service, pt. 2</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/35255">Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Will Gunn talks about his philosophy on public service</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/35256">Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Will Gunn talks about his involvement with the Black Law Students Association (BLSA) and the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/35257">Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Will Gunn talks about his philosophy in practicing law</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/35258">Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Will Gunn reflects upon the history of race and law in the U.S. Armed Services</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/35259">Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Will Gunn describes his experience in the JAG Corps at Mather Air Force Base</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/35260">Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Will Gunn talks about his responsibilities as Area Defense Counselor and as a Circuit Defense Counsel</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/35261">Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Will Gunn talks about being selected as a White House Fellow in 1990</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/35262">Tape: 6 Story: 8 - Will Gunn talks about his experience as a White House Fellow</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/35263">Tape: 6 Story: 9 - Will Gunn talks about Clarence Thomas' controversial confirmation hearings as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States</a>

DASession

1$1

DATape

4$6

DAStory

5$7

DATitle
Will Gunn talks about his decision to become an Air Force Judge Advocate General (JAG)
Will Gunn talks about being selected as a White House Fellow in 1990
Transcript
Now I know in the, I've heard anyway there's a height limit in, in terms of being a pilot--$$Yes.$$--but uh, so even though you're in the [U.S.] Air Force would you, could you qualify to be a pilot at 6'7"?$$Yes. When I got to the Air Force Academy I was pilot-qualified. I had the, the thing that throws a lot of people off is the, is actually the eyesight and I had 20/20 vision and so I was pleased. I was happy to be pilot-qualified but flying was never a dream of mine. So I saw being at the Air Force Academy since they produce pilots, I saw being pilot-qualified as just a great a fringe benefit. The fact that, "Hey this is nice, nice to have." But it was interesting. For the first time in my life you know earlier I mentioned changing ambitions as I was coming up, which I don't think is all that uncommon. Well for the first time in my life I was around people at the Air Force Academy that I heard story after story of people saying things like, "Hey when I was like three or four years old and looked up and saw planes flying, I knew I wanted to fly planes." And there were so many people that I came into contact with that were at the Air Force Academy because of the desire that they had to fly and to be a pilot. That was never my passion. So as a senior at Academy because I was still pilot-qualified and just under the height, height requirements I had to take a course, pilot screening course, which led to being able to solo in a single engine Cessna. Well it was an interesting experience because I found myself getting air sick in, in the patterns as I was you know preparing to land and also during different maneuvers and such. And I really believe it was just my body telling me that, "Hey this is not your thing." And so I turned down the opportunity to go to pilot training because I was eventually able to get past the air sickness but it wasn't something that I was passionate about. On the other hand, I did have a couple of pre-law classes at the Air Force Academy. I did very, very well in those and thought that, "Hmm, maybe I want to be an Air Force JAG [Judge Advocate General]," and eventually that, that came to be.$$Okay.$Now in 1990 we have here that you became a White House Fellow?$$Yes.$$How did that come about?$$Well as a senior at the [U.S.] Air Force Academy I had, I had a friend, a young lady who came out for a visit, and she had with her this brochure about the White House Fellows program. And I took, I took a look at the brochure and it had biographies, short bios of the current class of White House Fellows and I saw it and said, "Wow! This is cut-out for me!" And, but ask I saw those bios and saw the things that the people had done at, at that stage in their career, I knew that I was far too junior for it. But I started to send off each year for the application and each application would have the bios of the current class and the, it became a goal of mine to become a White House Fellow. Finally in 1989 I suppose I appli-well actually 1988 I applied for the first time for the White House Fellows program and I made it after filling out the application I made it to the regionals. I had a regional interview in Los Angeles [California] and felt I'd just had a great day but I didn't make it to the national finals. I actually had a mentor, a guy by the name of Pat Sweeny, who is a black JAG [Judge Advocate General], who was a colonel military judge who presided over my, one of my first cases as, as a prosecutor, who talked to me about the program. Now I was already aware of it but he then a Fellow I believe in the, during the [President Ronald] Reagan Administration and early in the Reagan Administration. And so he became a person that I called upon for advice on the White Fellows program. Well that first year as I said when I went for the regional interviews I had a great day but part of the application asked for you to send in a draft or a memo, a policy memorandum proposing some type of policy to the President of the United States. And you know it wouldn't actually get to the president but they wanted to see how well you write, wrote and how, how well you reason. Well my policy proposal that year as, since I was serving as a defense counsel in particular. I said, well I want to write; I wrote about the, how the military should repeal this ban on gay service members because it didn't make sense to me that in all volunteer force we were getting rid of people because they were gay and when, if we came into a time of conflict, that person who's serving and all they'd have to say is "I'm sorry. I have to leave now. I'm gay." And (laughs) that just didn't, didn't strike me as, as making a whole lot of sense. And so I argued the case and so I sent that in as my policy proposal. After finding out that I was not selected, I got a letter from one of the interviewers and he told me that he was disappointed that I hadn't been selected and encouraged me that if I was interested I should reapply. But also told me that while he didn't agree with my policy proposal, he believed that that had distracted some of the other interviewers--$$[unclear]$$--while, during their deliberations, while no one would admit to it he firmly believed that there were some that were uncomfortable with that proposal and therefore they marked me down. Well the next year I, I suppose I was, I didn't keep the same policy proposal. I wrote on something different and that year I got, I got all the way through and I was named a White House Fellow there in the, in early June of, of 1990. And came to [Washington] D.C. [District of Columbia] a few weeks later for a series of interviews to figure out where I was going to be placed and the fellowship year begins right around, right after Labor Day and it was a phenomenal year.$$