Cover

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Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-vi

Contents

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pp. vii-viii

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Foreword

Colonel Margarethe Cammermeyer | RN, PhD, USAR retired

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pp. ix-xiv

Major Witt’s determination, stamina, integrity, and loyalty are brought to life in Tell, the story of her successful four-year battle to challenge the constitutional validity of her dismissal from the U.S. Air Force under the law and policy known as Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Throughout the years, thousands of others have walked in her shoes, bravely serving in the military while hiding their sexual orientation: many served full careers in silence, while many others were dishonorably discharged because of their homosexuality. However, few had the impact her case has had on changing the...

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1 | Homecoming

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pp. 1-15

It was 5:46 a.m. Pacific time, and the late-summer sunrise was still a half hour away. Margie Witt was in her bed in Spokane, Washington, a midsize city that unfolds against the northern Rockies to the east and the basaltcolumned canyon lands of the Columbia River basin to the west. The alarm clock radio was set to prod her from sleep at the top of the hour. Because she didn’t actually have to be at work until eight o’clock, the opening report from the alarm could be received as a suggestion and cut short by a tap to the snooze button. But on this breezeless and blue morning the...

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2 | Young Ms. Everything

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pp. 16-29

Karyn Ingebritsen could be forgiven for feeling a sense of dread when she arrived for her first day at Curtis Junior High School. Winters tend to arrive early in the Pacific Northwest, and there can be a disheartening suddenness to the way the radiant foliage and cobalt-blue skies of autumn are replaced by woolen mists and a darkness that gets delivered well before dinner. And it was at this time of year, in late 1976, that Karyn’s family made the move from the drier side of Washington State to the one that, in winter, gets a near-daily rinse of cold rain from the Pacific. After eight...

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3 | Crossing into the Blue, Part I

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pp. 30-38

One droplet in the rich broth of Margie Witt’s most excellent childhood was a little game the Witt family played on frequent car trips that took them near the hangars at McChord Air Force Base. Margie was the youngest of the lot, and the contest was mostly for her sake. The object was to see who could be the first to spot a distinctive white-and-gray jetliner with a red cross on its tail.
The elusive aircraft was a modified DC-9, the length of three school buses, with twin engines at the rear. Equipped with a hydraulically operated...

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4 | Crossing into the Blue, Part II

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pp. 39-46

That Margie could be as honest with the U.S. Air Force as she was with her old friend Jill Spangler was out of the question.
At the time she walked into the recruiting station in a small, inauspicious brick building near the Tacoma Mall in south Tacoma, the general U.S. military practice, dating back more than two centuries, was to purge known homosexuals. This was true even though the contributions of gay men and women to the armed services were well documented and, in large measure, quietly appreciated. Likewise, the premise that homosexual service...

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5 | Flights of the Nightingales

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pp. 47-58

Gathered along a broad, north-reaching arc of the Rhine River, Wiesbaden, Germany, is home to a quarter million people and famous for its architecture and hot springs. As Margie would come to discover, the city’s myriad charms reach back to antiquity. But, for her, Wiesbaden’s main attraction in 1990 was that it was an ocean and more than five thousand miles away from Castle Air Force Base. Her long-awaited orders were to report to a regional medical center the Air Force had been operating in Wiesbaden since World War II....

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6 | Love and Lilac City

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pp. 59-67

Aside from the magnetic appeal of her photogenic smile, the choice to use Margie’s image as a face for Air Force recruiting was largely a product of chance. As she knew as well as anyone, there were many other dedicated flight nurses and medical technicians with whom you would be grateful to “cross into the blue” if you were wounded, or sick, and needed to be medically evacuated by air. One, to be sure, would be her buddy Jim Schaffer, the highly experienced Spokane firefighter and paramedic who tended to the “Black Hawk Down” wounded at an overwhelmed clinic in...

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7 | Halloween

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pp. 68-80

Like Margie Witt and countless other Americans who live west of the Rocky Mountains, Ed Hrivnak was still in bed when the World Trade Center came under attack on September 11, 2001. And, as Margie was with Gloria, it was only a few minutes after the first plane slammed into the North Tower that he was on the phone with his mother. She had called to wake him, and then struggled for words to explain why. But the urgency in her voice was unmistakable....

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8 | The Scarlet Letter

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pp. 81-87

When they awoke in each other’s arms, still in the dark, it was November. Mercifully, it was the end of the week, and neither had to jump into jeans and race off to work. The nearest road with any traffic or noise to speak of was more than a mile away. No leaf blowers, no snowblowers, no sirens. Just the dull clop of hooves from the horses quartered downstairs in the barn. And, still, to step out of bed and out of the loft was to step into a whole new minefield of complications....

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9 | Meeting Major Torem

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pp. 88-92

By the time Margie turned forty, on the second day of spring in 2004, it seemed as though she had tumbled into a life that was beginning to feel complete. She was finally able to walk without crutches after the two major knee surgeries. Her thumb had healed. Better still, the wrenching, emotional ordeals she and Laurie and Abby and Sam had endured the previous fall and winter were receding and being replaced with a quality of happiness she couldn’t have imagined a year earlier. There was a swimming pool behind Laurie’s house up on Glenrose Prairie. As the long days...

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10 | When Lawyers Are a Girl’s Best Friends

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pp. 93-97

As Margie got up to leave her life-shattering encounter with Major Adam Torem, she was concerned her legs might buckle beneath her. When she realized she was still able to move, she walked briskly out of the room, out of the building, and into the parking lot.
The depth of betrayal was incomprehensible. While she had, for years, considered ways she could be ensnared by the military’s antigay policy, she had never imagined something like this. The JAG officer’s earlier meeting with Tiffany—at which Tiffany corroborated Pat McChesney’s report to...

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11 | Silver Wings

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pp. 98-106

JP Wirth was not at McChord for the 446th’s busy drill weekend in late July. Having just returned from a long deployment to Ramstein Air Base in Germany—where his med-tech duties included long flights to retrieve soldiers wounded in Afghanistan—he was on leave, at home in Seattle, when Margie reached him by phone.
As with Jan Gemberling just minutes earlier, it was instantly clear to him that Margie was in distress. His natural instincts, coupled with his medical experience, were to work through the emotional shock and find...

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12 | “Major Witt Is Gay”

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pp. 107-119

For twenty-five years Margie had struggled daily to reconcile two of the truest things about herself.
First and foremost was her deep love and loyalty to her parents; not just the love tied to dependence, but the kind of love that you stand up for, as she did that day as a first grader when she got into trouble for insisting on including her mother’s story in a writing assignment about what fathers do.
The unwelcome realization that she might be a lesbian began to arrive as she reached her mid-teens. It turned out to be a suspicion her parents...

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13 | A Sojourn to Langley

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pp. 120-129

Shortly after one o’clock, Margie rose to her feet as a trim man with an athletic physique came into view through a doorway on her left. It was the last day of June 2006.
Federal district court judge Ronald Leighton, as per his daily routine, had just returned from a midday workout. As he reached and settled into the high-backed chair behind his bench he was briskly cordial. The fifty-fiveyear-old judge greeted “Major Witt” and her two attorneys by name, and then complimented all the lawyers—including a pair of Justice Department...

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14 | The Wilderness

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pp. 130-143

If Grethe’s advice to Margie had a certain edge and ring to it, it was because she had, in her own time, met the Army and the U.S. government at the brink.
By telling the truth about her sexual orientation during her security interview in 1989, she had triggered a landslide of bricks from above.
“I did not realize,” she wrote in her memoir, “that by saying to Agent Troutman, ‘I am a lesbian,’ I would lose my career in a country that espoused equality for all. And I didn’t know that by being forced to speak...

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15 | The Witt Standard

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pp. 144-153

If there is no crying in baseball, as Jim Lobsenz would say, then it could at least be conceded that some of the umpires were becoming sullen, if not mutinous.
This was certainly true of Thomas Zilly, the federal district court judge who had ordered the National Guard to reinstate Grethe Cammermeyer in 1994. In doing so, he had highlighted a disquieting rent in the fabric of American justice. It was a settled principle that “the federal government cannot discriminate against a class in order to give effect to the prejudice...

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16 | Obi Wan Obama

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pp. 154-167

Six weeks before the 2008 elections, John McCain surprised even members of his own party by attempting to call what amounted to a high-stakes, political time-out. With the first face-to-face debate between presidential rivals rapidly approaching, the Republican nominee hastily summoned reporters to a midtown Manhattan hotel. In the wake of the stunning bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers—Wall Street’s fourth-largest investment bank—the nation’s financial markets were teetering on collapse. Reading from a teleprompter, the senior senator from Arizona said he was suspending his...

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17 | Outing Goliath

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pp. 168-175

Inside Tacoma’s Union Station courthouse, even on cloudy days, knots and tendrils of spectral light emanate from ornate glass art pieces. The largest, End of the Day Chandelier, hangs directly beneath the ninety-foot-high copper dome and feeds on natural light pouring in from large banks of windows on the mezzanine level. Against the cream-colored walls and ceiling, the vertical chandelier suggests a giant, shimmering sea creature with air sacs and uncoiling tentacles. As with the other glass pieces, it is from the imagination of artist Dale Chihuly, a Tacoma native. The glasswork art spills...

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18 | True Stories

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pp. 176-192

If in the trial of Witt v. Air Force, the government’s lawyers wanted to spend the bulk of their time trying to varnish and reinterpret Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell in light of the Ninth Circuit’s ruling, then Judge Leighton wasn’t inclined to stop them.
When he had met with the lawyers in pretrial conference the morning of September 2, he moved swiftly through a list of procedural, jurisdictional, and scheduling issues before turning to what they could expect of him, and he of them....

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19 | The Last Days of Summer

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pp. 193-208

Just as she had each morning the week before, Sher Kung quietly greeted Margie with a smile in the main lobby of the Marriott Courtyard Tacoma. It was Monday, September 20. In addition to examining witnesses and her other duties in the courtroom, the soft-spoken, twenty-seven-yearold lawyer was Margie’s designated escort to and from the courthouse at Union Station.
One reason Sher was shadowing Margie was to try to shield her from the sort of ugly encounter Grethe Cammermeyer had to endure in June...

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20 | An Exemplary Officer

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pp. 209-216

Judge Leighton’s closing remarks, his “story about judges” and sober commentary about the kind of judge he is, were enough to keep Margie’s expectations in check.
The last time she had placed her hopes in his hands she had been roundly disappointed. Given how painful her and Laurie’s lives were in 2006, it was difficult to isolate his dismissal of her lawsuit from the humiliations and emotional shocks the two of them were enduring at the time. Yet, even then, she had been able to separate her disappointment from her measure...

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21 | Heard

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pp. 217-228

Out of respect for Judge Leighton, the tightly packed spectators restrained themselves until the door closed behind him. The courtroom then erupted in cheers, more than loud enough for the judge to hear the outburst in his chambers.
For Margie, it had been a surreal experience to stand there between Sarah and Jim knowing this was perhaps the most important public moment of her life. She was trying to concentrate on what Judge Leighton...

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Epilogue | Out of the Blue

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pp. 229-240

The hardest part was letting go.
From the day she found the path to becoming a flight nurse, the Air Force had been a near perfect fit. It offered the physicality and adventure she sought. It was the opportunity to serve her country and serve the men and women in uniform who needed a skilled nurse when they were badly ill, injured, or wounded. It made possible the lasting bonds of honor and respect that come with proving yourself to your peers under intensely stressful and sometimes life-threatening circumstances....

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Acknowledgments

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pp. 241-242

This is a story about a journey I wouldn’t have chosen.
A decade ago I was serving my country as a flight nurse when my country served notice of its intention to expel me from the Air Force because I’m a lesbian. As this book explains, it was an assault instigated by an act of vengeance, aimed not just at me but at the love of my life. It was an effort to ruin us. We chose not to let it.
Somehow we found the strength to resist, and through this resistance, grace emerged. With the support of our families, some dear and devoted...

Notes and Sources

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pp. 243-250

Index

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pp. 251-258

Photographs

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pp. A-P