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Gay nurse plans to return to Air Force by January

Witt greets the press Tuesday. (Associated Press)
Witt greets the press Tuesday. (Associated Press)

Regardless of whether Congress repeals the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy this month, a Spokane nurse discharged under the policy said she expects to be back in her Air Force Reserve unit by January.

Margaret Witt, a decorated officer and flight nurse, said Tuesday she isn’t surprised by the results of a massive Pentagon study that indicates the military could adapt to ending the policy and most members of the armed forces don’t object to serving with gays.

“I would say that goes hand-in-hand with what I experienced for 18 years in the military,” she said.

Witt was suspended in 2004 and later discharged after her relationship with a female co-worker in her civilian job was reported to military officials. She sued and was ordered reinstated this fall by U.S. District Judge Ronald Leighton after a trial in Tacoma.

At her trial, members of her aeromedical evacuation unit at Joint Base Lewis-McChord testified that Witt’s sexual orientation didn’t hurt morale or cohesion, but the way she was discharged did.

“It’s got to change,” Witt said of the discharge policy. “It’s time. It’s way past time.”

The U.S. Justice Department has appealed Leighton’s decision but not his reinstatement order, which takes effect when she completes 180 hours of work as a registered nurse, an annual requirement for her military specialty. Witt said she is accumulating hours working nursing volunteer shifts at Spokane’s Veterans Affairs Medical Center, where she has a full-time job as a counselor.

She expects to fulfill her nursing hours sometime in December and be back in uniform by January.

If Leighton’s ruling reinstating Witt survives an appeal, it would require the military to prove a discharge under “don’t ask, don’t tell” is necessary to protect the morale and cohesiveness of a gay member’s specific unit, not the armed services as a whole.