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Edith A. Disler Headshot

An Open Letter to the Commander of the United States Air Force

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Dear General Mark Welsh, Chief of Staff, United States Air Force:

As I've written to you before, I wore Air Force blue for 34 years as a cadet and as an Air Force officer. I was as proud of that blue uniform as I was of the oath I swore to the Constitution. My oath and my uniform meant that I conducted myself, off duty and on, with extra care and professionalism. Coming up in the Air Force in the '70s and '80s and '90s we were taught that if someone needed help, you helped them; as a member of a team, the team was everything; and our behavior and integrity must be beyond reproach. I was "Air Force blue" as a missile launch officer, as a United States Air Force Academy instructor and professor, as a support officer to the Secretary of Defense, as a Pentagon speech writer, and as an arms control inspector. I was even "Air Force blue" while earning my PhD at Georgetown University under Air Force sponsorship. Professionalism, fairness, integrity and devotion to mission are, in my opinion, the highest callings of an active duty Air Force officer.

But that devotion to mission and professionalism didn't mean I was an automaton. On the contrary, as a commissioned officer, and as a woman, I objected to institutional sexism that interfered with mission and professionalism, and I rationally addressed those concerns through the written word. I argued that the combat exclusion limited the military's capabilities. And, as a military member serving under the Sword of Damocles known as Don't Ask Don't Tell, I argued, in writing, that the gay ban does more harm than good. I wrote and published those opinions, with proper Air Force review, in peer reviewed and edited publications. History would be on my side. I therefore understand what it means to express an opinion in a professional and academic way. But, sadly, the blogosphere has enabled some military members with far-right fundamentalist agendas to skip the proper checks and balances. One result: the latest (3/27) in a long line of poisonous blog posts written by an active duty Air Force Major named Jonathan C. Dowty. The Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) has long documented the many ways Dowty uses his "Christian Fighter Pilot" blog to violate a variety of Air Force regulations and bully enlisted members, who have been powerless to confront the abuse of an officer because of his rank and position. Dowty's vitriol is one of the many reasons MRFF -- of which I'm an advisory board member and which has earned five Nobel Peace Prize nominations -- continues its mission for its 32,428 armed forces clients.

Over the past several years, blogging on almost a daily basis, Maj. Dowty has habitually been in violation of Air Force Instruction (Regulation) 1-1 which states, "We must also maintain loyalty to the Air Force's core values and standards and maintain professionalism and respect for others regardless of race, color, religion, gender, national origin, age, disability, or sexual orientation. This respect for others not only involves personal interaction, but also extends to communications and interactions in social media and cyberspace. You must never degrade the public's trust and confidence in the United States Air Force and in you."

We can say with confidence that Dowty's behavior clearly stands to degrade the public's trust and confidence. What are Dowty's most egregious claims? Well, he's a very prolific "hater." But, I am personally shocked at his repeated and tenacious characterization of lesbian, gay, and bisexual service members (719 of whom are LGBT MRFF clients) as "deviants" -- just as "deviant" as those who have sex with animals, with their parents, or with their siblings. I am personally incensed because he implies here that my same sex partner (also a retired Air Force officer) and our beautiful twins -- born at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland -- are animals and deviants. A self-proclaimed "ambassador for Christ in uniform" Dowty shames both the Air Force and Christianity. He isn't just a "Christian," he's a very particular kind of Christian -- hardly mainstream. I know what mainstream Christianity is -- my grandfather and father were Lutheran ministers, my family and I attend a Baptist church, and I'm serving as a communication consultant for a wonderful, inclusive Lutheran University in the Pacific Northwest. What's Dowty's type of Christianity? Says Dowty: "A bitter Christian is no more an asset to God's kingdom than an atheist or a Buddhist."

Major Dowty, I ask you this: "Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?" (Luke 6:41)

General Welsh, Major Dowty has offended me and my family personally. But, that isn't the worst part. Despite four months of correspondence with you, your Inspector General, and military lawyers, you have taken no action. Dowty's unprofessional activity continues to shame the blue uniform I once wore so proudly. Dowty's views -- publicly expressed and tacitly approved by Air Force leadership -- are undoubtedly causing harm to the good order and discipline of his unit, because they clearly condemn anyone who is lesbian, gay, or bisexual. And here's the rub: as an active duty Major, Dowty outranks the vast majority of people his views victimize. Will a Staff Sergeant at that base dare to put a photo of her same sex partner on her desk? Will an Airman First Class dare to invite his boyfriend to a unit function? Will a Captain who is preparing to deploy ask that his partner receive the same e-mail newsletter that any "significant other" in the unit, whether or not they were married, would receive while the unit was deployed?

Dowty must cease his homophobic rants. He will claim that he's being religiously persecuted. But I have small tolerance for that argument. When our children were toddlers and I was still serving under Don't Ask Don't Tell, I wanted to have our children baptized at the church we attended in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Every time the church held a baptism, we sang a very special hymn saved for that occasion. The hymn made me weep -- partly because it was a lovely song, but mostly because it reminded me that even though I wanted to get our children baptized in front of the congregation, we didn't dare. Our Congregational Church was open and inclusive. But because of the Don't Ask Don't Tell policy, if my partner and I publicly baptized our children, the exposure could mean the end of my military career. Living under the military's gay ban was truly a persecution.

So, is Dowty entitled to his religious views? Absolutely -- that's why the military defends Constitutional freedoms. Is he free to use the veil of his religion and the power of his superior rank to dole out defamation, libel, slander, insult, and intimidation? Based on your lack of action, General Welsh, I must infer that he is. The silence is deafening. Mark well the words spoken by Martin Luther King, Jr. at Riverside Church in New York in April of 1967: "There comes a time when silence becomes betrayal."

Edie