MAJ. MARGARET WITT FINDS JUSTICE IN FEDERAL COURT…. It can be challenging selecting the single most egregious example that exposes the tragedy of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” but if we were creating a list, Air Force Maj. Margaret Witt would have to be near the top.
Long-time readers may recall Witt’s story. The highly decorated Air Force officer had an exemplary 19-year military career, including having been awarded the Air Medal for her Middle East deployment and, later, the Air Force Commendation Medal. Witt received sterling performance reviews and, in 1993, the Air Force literally used her photograph in brochures used to recruit nurses.
Witt was, however, drummed out of the Air Force because of her sexual orientation. She had assumed that under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” as long as she didn’t tell, she’d be fine. But a third-party tip prompted an investigation of her personal life, leading to her discharge.
With the help of the ACLU, Witt filed suit. Yesterday, she won — following a six-day trial, U.S. District Judge Ronald B. Leighton, a George W. Bush appointee, sided with the Major and ordered the Air Force to take her back “at the earliest possible moment.”
Leighton’s ruling was surprisingly powerful:
The evidence produced at trial overwhelmingly supports the conclusion that the suspension and discharge of Margaret Witt did not significantly further the important government interest in advancing unit morale and cohesion. To the contrary, the actions taken against Major Witt had the opposite effect. The 446th AES is a highly professional, rapid response, air evacuation team. It is comprised of flight nurses and medical technicians who are well-trained, well-led and highly motivated. They provide a vital service to our fighting men and women around the world. Serving within that unit are known or suspected gay or lesbian service men and women. There is no evidence before this Court to suggest that their service within the unit causes problems of the type predicted in the Congressional findings of fact referenced above. These people train together, fly together, care for patients together, deploy together. There is nothing in the record before this Court suggesting that the sexual orientation (acknowledged or suspected) has negatively impacted the performance, dedication or enthusiasm of the 446th AES. There is no evidence that wounded troops care about the sexual orientation of the flight nurse or medical technician tending to their wounds.
The evidence before the Court is that Major Margaret Witt was an exemplary officer. She was an effective leader, a caring mentor, a skilled clinician, and an integral member of an effective team. Her loss within the squadron resulted in a diminution of the unit’s ability to carry out its mission. Good flight nurses are hard to find.
The evidence clearly supports the plaintiff’s assertion that the reinstatement of Major Witt would not adversely affect the morale or unit cohesion of the 446th AES.
It’s worth emphasizing the overarching conclusion of the ruling: the court found that kicking Witt out of the Air Force hurt the military.
Also note, the ruling comes just two weeks after a different federal judge found that the DADT law itself is unconstitutional.
As for Witt’s future, despite the treatment she’s received, she’s nevertheless anxious to rejoin her unit and return to treating injured troops. Here’s hoping that happens sooner rather than later.