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Lesbian major dismissed under 'don't ask, don't tell' being reinstated

By the CNN Wire Staff
Maj. Margaret Witt was discharged from the Air Force in 2006 on grounds of homosexual conduct.
Maj. Margaret Witt was discharged from the Air Force in 2006 on grounds of homosexual conduct.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The government files an appeal, but Maj. Margaret Witt is being reinstated in the Air Force
  • The openly gay major says she is "thrilled to serve"
  • Witt's 19-year career included time in the Persian Gulf

(CNN) -- A decorated flight nurse dismissed under the "don't ask, don't tell" military policy will be reinstated with the U.S. Air Force, the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington said.

The ACLU of Washington represented Maj. Margaret Witt in a 4-year-long lawsuit seeking her reinstatement.

In September, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington ordered the Air Force to reinstate Witt. The court found that Witt's sexual orientation does not negatively affect unit morale or cohesion. On Tuesday, the Justice Department appealed that ruling, but it is not seeking a stay of the order to reinstate Witt, clearing the way for her to rejoin the service.

"I am thrilled to be able to serve in the Air Force again," Witt said in statement Tuesday. "The men and women in the unit are like family members to me, and I've been waiting a long time to rejoin them."

There was no immediate Justice Department response Tuesday to a CNN request for comment.

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The case is one of a number of challenges to the 1993 policy that prevents gay men and lesbians from openly serving in the military and bars officials from inquiring into a service member's sexuality. Legislation that would repeal the policy has passed the House of Representatives and is expected to be voted on the Senate in coming weeks.

In summer 2004, Witt was notified that the Air Force had begun an investigation into an allegation that she had engaged in homosexual conduct. She was placed on unpaid leave and told she could not participate in military duties, pending formal separation proceedings. In 2006 she was discharged on grounds of homosexual conduct.

In 2008, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the Air Force must prove that Witt's discharge was necessary for purposes of military readiness. The ruling sent the case back to the trial court. saying that before discharging a soldier under don't ask, don't tell, the military must prove the individual's conduct hurts morale and unit cohesion. The requirement is now known as the "Witt Standard."

In September, Air Force spokesman Lt. Col. Todd Vician said the Air Force believed that "Maj. Witt's discharge was fully consistent with the law and thus appropriate."

During her 19-year career in the Air Force, Witt served in the Persian Gulf.