This week, the ACLU of Washington is before the U.S. District Court in Tacoma representing Maj. Margaret Witt, a decorated U.S. Air Force Flight nurse who was dismissed under the discriminatory and counterproductive policy known as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT). This is a dispatch from the trial.
Testimony from former members of Maj. Witt’s unit, the 446th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron, filled the third day of the trial. Leading off was Jill Robinson, who spent 23 years in the Air Force. Inspiring her service was a recruiting poster for the Air Force Reserves that featured Maj. Witt on the cover.
Robinson testified that she saw Maj. Witt as a mentor in the 446th, and that her discharge was like “extracting a parent from the family.” Robinson said she found the entire process “crude” and unfair. There was no dialogue or any process. “One day she was just gone,” Robinson said. She added that she had apologized to Maj. Witt for the discharge, feeling sorry that she (Robinson) was “part of an institution that did this to her.”
The day’s second witness was Heidi Smidt, who testified that upon hearing of Maj. Witt’s initial suspension, her immediate thoughts were that “the loss of Witt was devastating to the Air Force and to the unit.” She believed that the “squadron (was) losing a very valuable member.” (Read her written declaration.) (PDF)
Former flight nurse Judith Krill, the next witness, served as a unit deployment manager in the 446th. In this position Krill observed families separating as servicemembers left for deployment. Krill testified that at these departures, she saw heterosexual couples and gay and lesbian “roommates” alike separating with the same emotions. Krill said she was horrified to learn that Maj. Witt had been discharged because she “was the epitome of what you want (crew members) to be.” (Read Krill’s written declaration.) (PDF)
The final testimony of the day came from Faith Mueller, now Assistant Fire Chief in the Tacoma Fire Department. Her career provided insight on how different government agencies deal with housing people. Mueller testified that in most Tacoma firehouses, all firefighters sleep in one large room, irrespective of gender and orientation. When Mueller was deployed as a Federal Emergency Management Agency volunteer at Ground Zero after 9/11, she slept in a large conference room with hundreds of other volunteers — again of all genders and sexual orientations. And she observed that housing in the Air Force provides much more privacy than that of FEMA or the Fire Department. When Maj. Witt was suspended, Mueller felt that “a grave injustice had been done.”
Since 1993, more than 13,000 service members have been discharged due to their sexual orientation. At least 240 of those service members have been discharged since President Obama took office. The Senate will debate DADT as early as next week. Join the ACLU in urging Congress to act this year to finally end DADT once and for all.