Michael Almy served for thirteen years as a commissioned officer in the United States Air Force, finishing his service as a major. Like several other witnesses, he came from a family with a heritage of military service; his father retired as a colonel in the Air Force, and two uncles served as career military officers as well.
Almy entered active duty in 1993, after obtaining an undergraduate degree in Information Technology while serving in the Army ROTC program. He did not self-identify as a gay man until a few years later. After that, he testified, the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Act created a natural barrier between himself and his colleagues, as he could not reveal or discuss his personal life with others. While it was common for the officers to socialize when off duty, he could not join them. All of this may have contributed to creating an aura of suspicion about him, and a sense of distrust.
Almy’s modest demeanor as a witness and matter-of-fact recitation of his service did not disguise his impressive record in the Air Force. During his career, Almy was deployed to Saudi Arabia three times and helped enforce the Southern “no fly” zone over Iraq. Almy set up new communications bases throughout the theaters in Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq, and was deployed in Saudi Arabia, serving in the Communications Directorate, during the invasion of Iraq in 2003. In 2003, after returning from his second deployment to Saudi Arabia, Almy was promoted to the rank of major and accepted a position as the Chief of Maintenance for the 606th Air Control Squadron in Spangdahlem, Germany. In that role, Almy commanded approximately 180 men in the Maintenance Directorate. The three flights in the Maintenance Directorate under his command in the 606th Air Control Squadron deployed to Iraq in September 2004. His squadron was responsible for maintaining and controlling the airspace during the invasion of Fallujah, Iraq, and he was responsible for maintaining control over the vast majority of Iraqi airspace, including Kirkuk, as well as maintaining all satellite links and voice and data communications. While stationed at Balad Air Base, his flight experienced frequent mortar attacks “usually several times a week, if not daily.”
After Almy completed his third deployment to Iraq in January 2005, someone began using the same computer Almy had used while deployed; that person searched Major Almy’s private electronic mail message (“e-mail”) files without his knowledge or permission. The search included a folder of Major Almy’s personal e-mail messages*, sent to his friends and family members, and read messages, including at least one message to a man discussing homosexual conduct. Almy thought the privacy of his messages was protected; he was very knowledgeable about the military’s policy regarding the privacy of e-mail accounts because of his responsibility for information systems. He knew, for example, that according to Air Force policy, e-mail accounts could not be searched unless authorized by proper legal authority or a squadron commander or higher in the military chain of command.
Almy only learned his private e-mail had been searched when he returned to Germany and his commanding officer confronted him with the messages, read him the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Act, and pressured him to admit he was homosexual. At the end of the meeting, Almy was relieved of his duties, and his commanding officer informed the other officers in the squadron of this. Almy had attained one of the highest level security clearances available for military personnel, “top secret [Sensitive Compartmented Information] clearance;” approximately three months after Almy was relieved of his duties, his security clearance was suspended.
Initially, Almy contested his discharge, as he felt he had not violated the terms of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Act: he had never told anyone in the military he was gay. Rather, Almy’s understanding was that his discharge was based solely on the e-mail discovered on the computer in Iraq. Accordingly, Almy invoked his right to an administrative hearing and solicited letters of support from those who had worked with him in the Air Force. Everyone he asked to write such a letter agreed to do so. Colonel Paul Trahan, US Army (Ret.), wrote: “My view is that Major Almy has been, and will continue to be an excellent officer. As a former Commander and Inspector General I am well aware of the specifics of the Homosexual Conduct Policy. To my knowledge, Major Almy is not in violation of any of the provisions of the policy. To the contrary, it appears that in prosecuting the case against Major Almy, the USAF may have violated the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Policy,’ the Electronic Privacy Act and Presidential directives regarding the suspension of security clearances.”
Captain Timothy Higgins wrote about Almy: “Of the four maintenance directorate chiefs I have worked with at the 606th, Major Almy is by far the finest. During his tenure as the [director of logistics], he had maintenance training at the highest levels seen to date . . . . His troops respected him because they believed he had their best interests at heart.”
Those who served under Almy wrote equally strong praise: “I can say without reservation that Maj. Almy was the best supervisor I have ever had.”; “I was deployed with him during the NATO Exercise CLEAN HUNTER 2004. His leadership was key to our successful completion of the mission. He was well liked and respected by the enlisted personnel in the unit.” Almy’s commanding officer while his discharge proceedings were pending, Lt. Col. Jeffrey B. Kromer, wrote that he was convinced “the Air Force, its personnel, mission and tradition remains unchanged and unharmed despite his alleged [violations of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Act].”
During the course of Almy’s discharge proceedings, he was relieved of his command, but remained at Spangdahlem Air Base performing “ad hoc” duties. Almy testified he observed the effect his abrupt removal from his duties had on his former unit: the maintenance, availability, and readiness of the equipment to meet the mission declined. One officer in the 606th Air Control Squadron observed that the squadron “fell apart” after Major Almy was relieved of his duties, illustrating “how important Maj. Almy was[,] not only to the mission but to his troops.”
After sixteen months, Almy agreed to drop his request for an administrative hearing and to accept an honorable discharge. He testified his reasons for doing so were the risks of a less-than-honorable discharge would have had on his ability to obtain a civilian job and on his retirement benefits, as well as his own exhausted emotional state. Almy refused to sign his official discharge papers, however, because they listed the reason for discharge as admitted homosexuality.
Major Almy received many awards and honors during his service in Air Force. For example, while serving at Tinker Air Force Base in the late 1990s with the Third Combat Communications Group, he was selected as “Officer of the Year,” chosen as the top performer among his peers for “exemplary leadership, dedication to the mission, and going above and beyond the call of duty.” In 2001, he was one of six Air Force officers chosen to attend the residential training program for officers at the Marine Corps Quantico headquarters. In 2005 he was awarded the Lt. General Leo Marquez Award, which is given to the Top Air Force Communications Officer serving in Europe. Although Almy had been relieved of command, during the pendency of the discharge proceedings, Colonel Goldfein, Almy’s wing commander, recommended that Almy be promoted to lieutenant colonel.
Almy testified that if the Act were no longer in effect, he “wouldn’t hesitate” to rejoin the Air Force. The Court found Almy a credible, candid, and forthright witness.
*According to Major Almy’s uncontradicted testimony on this point, the Air Force, “for morale purposes,” allows servicemembers deployed in combat zones to use their government e-mail account for personal e-mail. Almy separated the personal e-mail he received in his government e-mail account into a folder titled “Friends.”