DADT on Trial: Maj. Witt's Dismissal "Negatively Impacted the Unit"

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

After opening statements, Jim Schaffer, current Spokane Fire Department Captain and former member of the 446th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron (Maj. Witt's squadron), began his testimony. Before retiring from the Air Force in 2006, he and Major Witt served on the same flight crew on a number of missions and were deployed together a number of times. Schaffer spoke about Mjr. Witt’s stellar career and told stories of how her calm, cool, and collected nature, plus with her ability to include all team members, help their team succeed and save lives. He told of a particular occasion where a Dept. of Defense civilian went into cardiac arrest while aboard a plane, and Maj. Witt’s ability to accurately assess the situation made sure that the person survived.

He also spoke about the nature and culture of the 446th. Particularly moving was his description of his retirement party: He made sure to invite Major Witt to the event, and then used the occasion to provide a send-off for her, complete with signed notes and a photograph from members of her unit. Schaffer made it very clear that Major Witt was someone he admired and trusted.

Next up was Jenny Kofpstein, who was discharged 2002 from the Navy under Don't Ask, Don't Tell (DADT). Jenny, a decorated Navy Lt. Junior Grade, spent much of her testimony discussing integrity and honestly. After she completed the Naval Academy and served a few years, her inability to talk about her life off-ship became a problem. She spoke of the trust needed to work well as a team. By avoiding routine conversations about weekend activities, partners and dinner plans, she had inadvertently created space between herself and her shipmates.

Knowing that to live with integrity she must tell the truth, Jenny wrote a letter in July of 2000 to her commanding officers, telling them that she was a lesbian. She closed that letter with “I can only live my life openly and honestly. Anything less isn’t fair to the Navy, my family, my peers, my subordinates or to me.”

A current 446th flight nurse, Lt. Col.Vince Oda, was next to testify. Vince comes from a family of service members; his father served as a member of the 477th all-Japanese American combat brigade in Italy during WW II. During their service together, Witt and Oda never spoke directly about her sexual orientation because, as he stated, “it was not important to me.”

Over the years he began to believe that Maj. Witt was a lesbian – not because she ever said anything, but because of what she didn’t say. As Schaffer had testified previously, Oda explained Flight Crew culture as involving close teamwork that gives all participants an intimate look at each other’s lives.  Flight crews spend all of their time together. Because Maj. Witt never spoke about her personal life – her partner, what was happening in her home – Oda came to assume that Witt was a lesbian. He stated that Major Witt’s dismissal “negatively impacted the unit.”

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