Editors' note: Gina King comes from a family with a strong tradition of military service is a veteran of the US Navy. She identifies as intersexed and trans identified. Currently she works within the military industrial complex as a vital member of a strong, forward thinking company that has inclusive employment practices and is a global leader in its field.
The Secretary of Defense and the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff have said they believe DADT needs to go, but they would need a year to review and plan an end to DADT. Right now they want to study it for 2010 and then legislate it in 2011. Some question this as foot dragging, even I do. But unlike many of those criticizing the administration, I served in the US Navy.
It's hard to forget some things; it's been just a bit over nineteen years since Lt. Linda Heid proved the military brass wrong and pushed women's equality forward.
Back in the 1980's during the Reagan administration, Congress moved to allow women a greater presence in the ranks. They allowed women to enter non-traditional jobs. These jobs were everything from Jet Mech and Ordnanceman in the enlisted ranks to aircrew and even pilots. The women were still barred by law from serving in combat units or fly combat jets. The old guard really balked at allowing women to fly jets equipped with ejection seats. Conventional wisdom at the time held that a woman would do irretrievable harm to her breasts and reproductive system if they ever rode an ejection seat up the rails.
The military really drug its heels in on that issue for women aviators... or I should say that the Air Force dug in its heels. The Air Force insisted that a woman could not safely eject from a combat aircraft and the ban on women flying combat jets should remain in place. The Air Force insisted that it was the authority on flight physiology and everyone had to listen to them.
The Air Force went in front of Congress saying that they would need $50 million dollars and two years to determine if it was safe for a woman to eject from an aircraft equiped with ejection seats without doing physical harm to themselves.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff, Congress and the President had pressure to change the law barring women from serving in combat units but were reluctant to do it. They didn't want women flying in ejection equipped aircraft. That was 1991. Desert Shield had become Desert Storm and people willing to serve were needed to fill vital roles. Women were ready to serve, but they were held back by the law barring their service in combat roles and the conventional wisdom said they couldn't take an ejection from a combat aircraft.
The Navy was not the Air Force, the excuse used by the Navy at the time was that there was an extreme shortage of trained carrier qualified combat pilots and they would use what they could for the non-combat roles. The Navy felt it could fill the needs of just a few squadrons that were not combat aircraft equipped with woman pilots, flight officers and aircrewmen.
My squadron was one of them, VAQ-33 had A-3, EA-6A, TA-7Z and P-3 aircraft. The aircraft I worked on were old, obsolete and modified to fly an esoteric mission of Adversarial Electronic Air Warfare. The women were allowed to be assigned to this squadrons because it only had non-combat jets... some of which just happened to have ejection seats.
On Febuary 11, 1991, a pilot turned to his Electronic Warfare Officer and said "Ladies first." Lt. Linda Heid pulled the ejection handle of her seat and history was made; the military's barrier to women serving in combat aircraft was erased unequivocally. With Lt. Linda Heid's ejection no one could stand and say that women could not serve in combat aircraft or perform combat missions.
The next day, the Air Force went to Congress and said that they would need two years and $50 million to explore women using ejection seats. Until then, they said it would be unsafe for a woman to fly in a jet with an ejection seat because, if they did eject, they could suffer great harm. Their move was to continue to bar women from combat roles.
Lt. Heid had an abrasion on her nose, a fat lip and a gash in her arm. Her ejection proved women could eject safely, that they could perform combat roles.
With in four months the House of Representatives voted to rescind the law barring women from serving in combat roles. The next month the Senate voted the same and the law barring women from serving in combat roles was a footnote in history.
Currently DADT is the law being questioned. It bars gay and lesbian citizens from serving openly in the US Armed Forces, but it does not prohibit their service.
It's a blatantly discriminatory law similar to the law barring women from combat roles. Lt. Heid's ejection proved that a woman could fly and eject from a combat jet. Congress couldn't see the logic of spending $50 million studying or waiting two years on something that had been proven as possible with Lt. Heid's ejection.
After all, there was a war on.
Right now, there are thousands of Lt Heids proving that gay and lesbian service members can serve.
And strangely enough, we're still fighting that same war.