The OutHeroes Project: Major Margaret Witt

| September 12, 2011 | 0 Comments

As we count down the days to the final end of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” we are highlighting the contributions of military service members who’ve come before us in this fight for justice. In particular, we are focusing on those whose stories have not been publicized recently, those who many have forgotten – or never knew. This is far from a comprehensive list: it is only a small and random sample of all those who struggled and sacrificed so that gay, lesbian, and bisexual Americans can serve in the military with integrity. But these inspirational stories are solid reminders that LGBT people have served their country, and will continue to serve their country, fiercely and honorably.

After September 20th, once “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is finally ended, OutHeroes Project will profile currently-serving gay, lesbian, and bisexual soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, and Coast Guard members.

In Honor of Major Margaret Witt

by Michelle Benecke, Esq.

“I always wanted to be a nurse so I could help people. I joined the Air Force so I could help my country. I always thought that was the mission, until 2004 when I was discharged under DADT. After it happened, my friend and role model, Col. Margarethe Cammermeyer, told me I had a new mission – to help lead the way toward the day when all people could serve their country – and their military families – openly. And so, here we are, seven years later, and we’ve won: “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is ending. It’s been a long battle, made so much easier by the love and support of my partner, Laurie, my family, my military friends, and the phenomenal legal support of my attorney, Jim Lobsenz, and the ACLU in Seattle. I will always wish I could have finished my career the way I started it. I miss being an operating room nurse and a flight nurse, and I miss saving lives. I will never forget the honor of serving in Germany during the first Gulf War and in Southwest Asia during Operation Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom. I am one of the fortunate few who have been able to retire despite DADT and I am deeply grateful to those who have fought before me and whose immense sacrifices have made this possible. My next chapter is to complete my doctorate in physical therapy, to co-author a series of nursing textbooks, and to continue to serve as the rehabilitation coordinator at the Veteran’s Administration hospital in Spokane. People ask me if I’m still proud of being in the Air Force after everything that’s happened, and I say that I am. To those still serving – in all branches of the military – and to those I served with – you will always have my respect and loyalty.” – Major Margaret Witt

Air Force Major Margaret Witt is a decorated flight nurse who was discharged under DADT in 2004 and for the past seven years has fought for her reinstatement and the rights of other GLB military members.

In 2008 the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that before discharging Witt or other service members under DADT, the military must actually prove that the service member’s conduct hurts morale and unit cohesion. No longer could the military simply assert that the presence of known gay people harmed readiness. This requirement became known as the “Witt Standard.” This standard became the basis for three other successful suits brought before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, accelerating momentum for ending DADT.

Applying this standard, the US District Court found in favor of Major Witt in September 2010 and ordered her reinstatement. In May 2011, the Air Force reached a settlement with Witt that will allow the 18 year veteran to retire with full benefits.

Witt served in Germany during the first Gulf War and in Southwest Asia during Operation Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom, where she earned an Air Medal while delivering medical care to injured service members. In 2003, Major Witt was again decorated for saving the life of a civilian Defense Department employee who collapsed while on a flight from Bahrain.

Bringing the fight against the military’s gay bans full circle, Witt was represented in her lawsuit by the ACLU of Washington and cooperating attorney Jim Lobsenz, the same attorneys who represented famed Army Sergeant Perry Watkins. Watkins was drafted as a gay man in 1968 during the Vietnam War and served openly until 1981. In 1989, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled as a matter of fairness that the Army could not discharge Watkins since the military had known he was gay when they drafted him and went on to reenlist him three times during his career. Given the years that had passed, Watkins reached a settlement with the Army and made history when he became the first openly gay person to be officially retired from the military with full benefits.

Category: OutHeroes

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