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Interview with Elizabeth Lates Hillman [6/14/2005]

Steve Estes:

My name is Steve Estes, today is June the l4th, 2005 and I'm in San Francisco, California...

Elizabeth Lates Hillman:

-this is Beth Hillman and I'm in Camden, New Jersey.

Steve Estes:

Let's start with two questions that you've actually already answered and that is when and where were you born Beth?

Elizabeth Lates Hillman:

10/18/1967 in McKeesport, Pennsylvania.

Steve Estes:

And what did your parents do for a living?

Elizabeth Lates Hillman:

My Dad worked for U.S. Steel. My Dad was in the Army Air Corps during World War II and then went to school on the G.I. Bill and worked for U.S. Steel. He worked in the mills for a while then he computerized their payroll and worked as an accountant and systems analyst and my Mom mostly raised kids but also was a dietician.

Steve Estes:

Did you grow up in McKeesport?

Elizabeth Lates Hillman:

No, the suburbs of Pittsburgh, a place called Pleasant Hills.

Steve Estes:

Uh Huh, was it pleasant? [Laughter]

Elizabeth Lates Hillman:

Very, at the time it was fine. As I go back I find it not so pleasant altogether, but it was just fine, typically, post-World War II suburb.

Steve Estes:

How much did your Dad talk about his service?

Elizabeth Lates Hillman:

Very little, very little. It was an important time in his life and a lot changed; he became Catholic in part because he wanted to marry my Mom, but also because he had served in the military and actually had a connection with other men who were Catholic and with Masses actually, which were shown before the movies during the war, but um, it was important to him, but it was a part that was out of sync with the rest of his life, and so it didn't come up very much when he talked about things.

Steve Estes:

Do you have any siblings?

Elizabeth Lates Hillman:

Yes, I'm one of five kids, I have a twin sister and three older brothers.

Steve Estes:

Twin sister, huh! So why did you decide to do R.O.T.C.?

Elizabeth Lates Hillman:

Because I wanted to go to an expensive school and I wanted a scholarship and it was one of the places I felt I could turn that didn't require lots of financial information. My parents didn't have a lot of money but they had enough that I knew I wouldn't qualify for a lot of need-based financial aid.

Steve Estes:

So it was mostly a pragmatic decision; there was no interest in the Military before or outside of the financial support?

Elizabeth Lates Hillman:

Not initially. I was a very gung-ho cadet and officer and I was very much seduced by the Military once I got into it, but initially I thought that I could do it; I was an athlete in high school and a good student and I was not intimidated by mostly male-dominated things and so I felt comfortable that I would do fine in the Military, I didn't mind math and science and that sort of thing, but I didn't have any particular interest or connection to... -at first I didn't know anybody that was an officer. I remember when I went for the interview I went to the University of Pittsburgh for an interview with an R.O.T.C. cadre there and when I got home that day I had a letter of instruction about how to handle that interview from the Commander of the R.O.T.C. detachment at Duke, but it was a little too late to help. I remember they asked me, I had to write some essay for them about why I wanted to be in the Air Force, which I had no idea really, but they also asked me what rank my Dad had been and he was enlisted and um, I said he flew over the hump in the China-Burma-India Theater and they said, "Was he a pilot?" And I said, "No, he was a navigator, he was a radio man that was how they did navigation, and they made him a Captain, and he was not and Officer, he was enlisted." And he [Beth's Father] laughed when I got home. And he said, "Captain? I wasn't a Captain." So, I really had no idea what that meant at that point.

Steve Estes:

Right! [Laughter] So it must have been a crash course in the Military once you got to Duke.

Elizabeth Lates Hillman:

As much as R.O.T.C. is ever really a crash course, I mean, it's a sort of part time Military thing, you know, you wear your uniform once in awhile, you have some training and you know it's not the culture shock of Basic Training or the Service Academy in terms of acculturation to the Military.

Steve Estes:

Right. So Duke's a relatively, I can't speak for the 1980's, but since I went to Chapel Hill for graduate school, Duke was a pretty liberal place in the 90's anyway, was there any tension between R.O.T.C. and non-R.O.T.C. because of that?

Elizabeth Lates Hillman:

Not that I perceived, but there was tension between me and my sister because she was an aspiring journalist and was hanging out with different people than I was at school, but I didn't have any... -I was pretty non-political and I didn't really have any strong sense of opposition to what I was doing or have any negative experiences when I was in uniform or anything like that.

Steve Estes:

And just for the record, what year did you start at Duke?

Elizabeth Lates Hillman:

1985.

Steve Estes:

And your sister also went to Duke?

Elizabeth Lates Hillman:

She went to North Carolina.

Steve Estes:

[Laughter] So that, that could explain part of the rivalry right there.

Elizabeth Lates Hillman:

Yeah, yes it could, I mean the Tar Heels don't have good feelings about the Dukies, but we did just move in different directions. She felt uncomfortable with the deference to authority and the whole Military thing, it sort of freaked her out, when she was in a position when she was sort of challenging people about trying to write the stories she wanted to and sort of doing her own thing, she was the editor of the student newspaper at Carolina, the Daily Tar Heel, which has a circulation of about 20-25,000, so it was a big paper really, even though it was the college paper, so she was moving in a different direction than I was.

Steve Estes:

I hear you. That's funny I worked for that paper too!

Elizabeth Lates Hillman:

They actually elect the editor in a campus-wide election, so it's, I don't know if you realize that, so it's a big deal.

Steve Estes:

Yeah. No, it's a real job. It's bigger than most small town papers, you're right.

Elizabeth Lates Hillman:

Right, right and that's why she really didn't go to class when she did that, as most people who do that much work for the paper do.

Steve Estes:

So, okay, it sounds like you're saying that R.O.T.C. was not super strenuous. Is that right?

Elizabeth Lates Hillman:

Hmmm, I mean I did a lot in R.O.T.C. , it was primary extra-curricular activity and I spent a lot of time doing the things that would help me get ahead in the detachment and the R.O.T.C. Program generally, but in terms of... -because I taught at the Air Force Academy I recognize the difference between being in an R.O.T.C. unit and that part-time experience and being immersed in a Military culture like the Service Academies or like Basic Training is for enlistees. It is not that, so...

Steve Estes:

That's one of the questions I was going to ask you, was how well did R.O.T.C. prepared you for service after college when it became a full-time job and not just a part-time thing.

Elizabeth Lates Hillman:

I never felt that I was less prepared in the Air Force than anyone who'd come to it through a different commissioning source, like the Academy or like Officer Training School. The reality is working the Military is a job like other jobs, you still go home at the end of the day and you have other connections to people and other things that you're doing in the time that you're in the service. Even if you're deployed that's true, even if you're serving in an especially demanding or dangerous job. I think R.O.T.C. prepared me better than the folks that were at the Service Academy who I did go through training with right after graduating, because I was not... -there's this sense that people once they graduate from West Point or Annapolis or the Air Force Academy they're suddenly free to have the lives that they want to and not have to wear the clothes and short or long-sleeved or tie or no tie, that they had to when they were actually in school during a time when most people like me are regular college students and are mostly making decisions for themselves. So actually, I think in terms of living, in terms of having the mature sort of life where you have to figure out how to manage in the Military, I think that R.O.T.C. is better in many respects.

Steve Estes:

I think that's fascinating. I actually want to back up a little bit and ask you why the Air Force and why not a different service?

Elizabeth Lates Hillman:

I can put a more rational spin on it but I think it's really because my Dad was in the Army Air Corps, so I felt some stronger connection to the Air Force than the other services, but I also did have some sense that the Air Force was a service where opportunities where open to women and it was also a technically sophisticated or a service that was technologically advanced in terms of most of the jobs and because I was interested in science and engineering and I majored in engineering, it seemed to make sense to me to go into the Air Force.

Steve Estes:

Okay. What was your first assignment or training program after Duke?

Elizabeth Lates Hillman:

Well, first I went and worked at the Pentagon, but I wasn't actually on active duty yet, that was before I came on active duty. I had worked as a cadet at the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) Organization, that's the Star Wars program, and I had worked there the previous summer and they asked if I wanted to come back; the guy that I worked for, and run the program for the cadets that were doing it and do some other work myself and I said yes. So right after I graduated I went to the Pentagon and I had been commissioned but was not yet on active duty, sort of an interim status; sometimes I wore a uniform, sometimes I didn't, you know, I was waiting to become active duty. And then at the end of that summer in September, I went out to Lowry Air Force Base in Denver and went to the first training that I did called, 'Undergraduates Space Training' which was then at least the entry point for space operations officers which is the career field that I went into.

Steve Estes:

I'm just writing down some of the proper nouns that you say so I don't have to ask you to spell them right now. Okay, I want to back up a little bit, it's funny that you worked on SDI and yet you were not a very political person because that had to be one of the most political programs in the Air Force during the 1980's, right?

Elizabeth Lates Hillman:

What do you mean?

Steve Estes:

I mean in terms of controversial funding and... -let me just say this, when I teach U.S. History and I teach the survey class, you have to pick and choose what you're going to talk about and one of the things I talk about is SDI and one of the reasons I talk about it is, for folks in the Reagan Administration, it represented the thing we needed to do to win the Cold War, so it was very politically important and Militarily important for them and for liberal critics of that Administration they said, "This is exactly what's wrong with the Administration and our Military and DaDaDaDaDa, and so..." So which ever way you feel about it is important, politically, do you see what I'm saying?

Elizabeth Lates Hillman:

But I don't think that most of the people who work in that program make a decision whether or not to be involved based on the bigger political picture, especially when they're, you know, at the beginning of their careers or thinking about whatever, where they want to live in terms of their family or their ambitions to get ahead or whatever, I don't think... -I mean to me SDI was... ah.. [Hesitates] ...a rigorous, exciting assignment. It was a place where there was a lot of money, that is, there was money to fund interesting and exciting programs, and there was a lot of technological excitement around different things that were changing. It was what's called a 'Purple Service Environment' there were people from the different services and there was this connection to the space world and the space business and the different parts that I thought I was going to end up working with in the Air Force that I could get a different glimpse into there, so for me it was a place to get some kind of experience. I didn't think about it as... -I mean when I said I wasn't political, I really meant that. I didn't think about national politics in a way that I considered how I might influence them in any way as a second lieutenant in the Air Force or even a sort of a pre-second lieutenant when I was there.

Steve Estes:

Well, that's kind of what I wanted to know is why you decided to do it and you answered that beautifully. Okay, so do you have anything more to say about SDI or what your average day was like there? It sounds like it was pretty exciting.

Elizabeth Lates Hillman:

Uh yeah, what I remember most were the people that I got to know and how they helped me to understand what it was to have a long career in the service. I worked with very senior people, mostly, actually. Like most places in D.C. and certainly in the Pentagon it was staffed at a high level so there weren't a lot of lieutenants or captains who were working there. There were a lot of Lieutenant Colonels and Colonels 05's and 06's and the Navy Commanders and Captains who were doing a lot of staff work and were trying to make decisions about programs. I helped them work with contractors; I helped them write memos to assess things. I did some research for the historian at SDI on some different ballistic missile defense things. Since we've now overthrown the ABM treaty, some of the things that I worked on are kaput now, you know SDI was long looking toward trying to undermine the Ballistic Missile Defense Treaty and make it possible so that the ABM Treaty wouldn't keep SDI from moving forward the way that it was perceived to do for awhile. You know, it was fun, I learned a lot. I set up a trip and went out to Shy Mountain where Dad worked later when I was on active duty, I went out there and met some people out there; I met Pete Warden for instance who is recently retired now with some big consulting firm as a major space theorist and scientist in the Air Force. So I had contact with a lot of people who did interesting things and were very engaged with the space business and how the military and the Air Force in particular was going to play in it and I found that pretty interesting and so I liked it.

Steve Estes:

How did, once you went on active duty, and went out to Denver, how'd you're life change, how'd you're work change?

Elizabeth Lates Hillman:

[Hesitates} Ah, being in a training program is very different than having a job where you're... -I pretty much made the work I wanted to and moved around and I was able to work to my capacity to do things when I was at the Pentagon, but that changed. Now a training program is a matter of getting a bunch of people through a certain amount of material in a certain amount of time and its not... -there's nothing that's individually tailored about the whole thing, it's pretty wrote and so, you know, it's like being in school again. I got thrown into a group of people, some of whom I already knew, some of who are still friends of mine and who I didn't know until I got there. And we lived in dorms near the base, on the base literally, but near where the building was that we had class in and we went to class in different subject areas. And the classes are not intellectually rigorous, it's more like the (bar review course) that my students now are taking to get you through a certain amount of material, not to make you think critically about things, there's not really the time for thought. I mean, for example, and you should interrupt me if I'm talking at too great of length here on these things, I was an electrical engineer as an undergrad and the course on electrical engineering was maybe two days in the Space Training course and it was just enough electrical engineering so that people would know, if they didn't have a technical background what the basics of electricity and magnetism and electrical structures sort of were. And I remember I almost failed the test we took on that because it was a multiple choice exam like they all were and it was based on the material that they prepared, not based on any sort of greater understanding of it and it was... -I can still remember some of the questions, I didn't answer them correctly because I hadn't memorized the material because I assumed that I understood it enough to do fine, so...

Steve Estes:

So four years translates into two much than more than two days. So, did you feel that once you got out of this training program that you were able to work to your full potential again, once you went to... -what was your next step actually, I should stop...

Elizabeth Lates Hillman:

I went to Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Base in Colorado Springs and I went on a Space Surveillance Center Crew, the Space Surveillance Center was one of the different operational centers in the mountain that operates on a twenty-four hour rotating... -you know, people rotate in on shifts and run it all the time and I became an orbital analyst then.

Steve Estes:

What did that mean in lay terms?

Elizabeth Lates Hillman:

I was part of a center that tracks everything that orbits around the Earth; watches what goes up and what comes down, helps individuals, countries and organizations who are launching satellites to keep track of what's up there, identify the potential threats to the United States and watches the satellites more carefully, watches when objects re-enter the atmosphere, if they might come down some place that's dangerous or that might cause a false alarm, for instance guns, during the Gulf War, that was the big thing, you know if a rocket body, which is very dense and large, when it re-enters the atmosphere it looks bright to many different sensors that are looking at it. It might look like a re-entry vehicle from a missile coming into the atmosphere and if it would come down in the wrong place it might, during the Gulf War, it might trigger a reaction from Ground Base Missile Defense Systems. We might know, or might be able to predict or guess that it was a harmless rocket-body that just happened to come in there, that kind of thing, so...

Steve Estes:

Did that happen?

Elizabeth Lates Hillman:

Yes.

Steve Estes:

Can you talk about it or is it something you can talk about?

Elizabeth Lates Hillman:

I can't really remember. I can't give you enough to give you any really damaging details, but it was an issue during the Gulf War, that we occasionally identified things that looked like they might be S.C.U.D.S. but they weren't because of something else. And we helped the space shuttle, that was the sexiest job that we had which was to identify any objects that might intersect with the orbit of the space shuttle, because you clearly don't want the space shuttle to run into anything that you can identify, so it would occasionally maneuver to get out of the path of an object that was big enough for us to track so that it might hit.

Steve Estes:

So you're kind of like Air Traffic Controllers for space.

Elizabeth Lates Hillman:

Yeah.

Steve Estes:

They don't call it 'Space Traffic Controllers' though, right?

Elizabeth Lates Hillman:

Not... -I, not to my knowledge... [Laughter]

Steve Estes:

Okay. Well, so you've talked a little bit about the Gulf War already and I was wondering about how the Gulf War affected you're time in the military other than what you've already said, or if it did?

Elizabeth Lates Hillman:

I was on shifts, I worked shifts and space is... -satellites are always up there, and there's always things changing, you know, satellites moving, you know launching and their orbits degrading and their orbits coming back into the atmosphere, moving around up there and whatever, and also those things continued to happen so in many ways our job was the same, but like everyone who was part of the support structure in the military, the bulk of the military supporting the effort, it was a different tempo of things once the war was on. I mean, the intelligence briefings were different, the stakes were higher; it was clear the stakes were higher, but really what we did was the same thing we had done during times we weren't in conflict, it wasn't significantly different.

Steve Estes:

Well the Air Force played a crucial role in fighting the first Gulf War, was there any chance that you might have served more actively in that war?

Elizabeth Lates Hillman:

More Actively?

Steve Estes:

I mean overseas.

Elizabeth Lates Hillman:

No. I mean, I was Space Operations Officer. The work that I had to do required big computers and lots of communication with radars around the world, with satellite operators around the world and sometimes with Air Force Operators around the world, but there was no... -I couldn't have done my job any better or any different if I had been on the ground, you know, in a dangerous place, so, um, it's not a part of the military that changes that much during the war.

Steve Estes:

Ihearya'. How would you describe your leadership style as an Officer?

Elizabeth Lates Hillman:

[Pauses] I don't know. I had the most opportunity to lead when I was a cadet because the nature of the Air Force is that most of the jobs that people move into, and there are few exceptions like aircraft maintenance for instance or the air police, security police they call them in the Air Force, instead of Military Police, where you're in charge of large numbers of people, but most of the time in Air Force, most officers serve in positions where you don't have a huge number of people who work for you. I never had a large number of people who worked for me, but I always would have told you that I was a leader, so... -I don't know, I always felt like I was able to move an organization forward from whatever position I had in it. I didn't have to be at the top of the organization to play a leadership role, so, I don't know, it's hard to say. I mean, when I was in R.O.T.C., I knew what I wanted to do and I managed to do it. I was the Commander of my detachment and I was the... -there's this service organization affiliated with Air Force R.O.T.C. called Arnold Air Society and I was the Commander of my region in Arnold Air Society and I won the award, some saber, you get the H.H. Arnold Saber for being the best Commander in the country at that level and there were I think nineteen Commanders or something like that, so I was always fortunate to be successful in the positions I was in, but I don't know that there was some specific style of leadership that I could sign myself up to when I was actually on active duty.

Steve Estes:

This is totally changing our whistles a little bit, what was life like outside your job in Colorado Springs?

Elizabeth Lates Hillman:

Well, I was in Colorado Springs a long time, so it was different at different points, I mean I... -In some ways it's a little like still being on a campus to be part of a military unit with a lot of young officers because there were a lot of people who were like me who... -there was not only Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Base, there was then Peterson Air Force Base, I think it may have a different name now and Falcon Air Force Base which definitely has a different name that I can't remember; all in Colorado Springs, all of which had a large number of junior Air Force Officers and then Fort Carson which is a big Army base there. There were a lot of young military people in the area, you know, recent college grads who I got to know a significant proportion of and hung out together. You know, we went skiing, we went out to the bars, we did things and that was fun. I met a lot of people; we had an ultimate Frisbee league that was sort of an ad hoc thing that we played at a park in Colorado Springs. I enjoyed it. It was a good post-college experience at first there, and then I got married to another Air Force Officer out at Falcon Air Force Base. Then that was another... -a different experience in some ways, you know, buying a house together, setting up a life together with somebody; that was something else that was a part of my life as a young officer.

Steve Estes:

Well, next question is... -well, I think you just answered it. I guess I asked, 'Were you out?' And I guess that since you were in Colorado Springs several different times, you could answer that differently in different places. Maybe we'll come back to that. When did you leave Colorado Springs to go to grad school and why did you leave?

Elizabeth Lates Hillman:

Well, because I wanted to go to graduate school. I had always thought that I'd go back to school and I felt like it was time to do it after I had been in like three years or so. I applied for some different scholarship, fellowship opportunities and the one that came through was with the Air Force Academy and so the Department of History at the Air Force Academy sponsored me to go back and study history full-time and get a Master's Degree and come back and teach at the Air Force Academy and I was excited to do that and I convinced them to send me to Penn., which was an expensive school that they didn't particularly want to send me to, but I said that I didn't want to go anywhere else, so they did, and I came to Philadelphia. And I was here, I was in Philadelphia for about ten months and I did two semesters of course work and then I wrote a Master's Thesis and then I went back and started teaching at the Air Force Academy the next year.

Steve Estes:

When was that?

Elizabeth Lates Hillman:

I think I was at Penn. From 93'-94', then I was at the Air Force Academy from 94'-96', so two academic years. And then in 96' I started law school.

Steve Estes:

When you started law school in 96' were you still in the service?

Elizabeth Lates Hillman:

Yes, but I was on terminal leave, which is a great phrase for that if you have saved up some leave time in the service, you can actually separate, you know, leave your duty post, but still technically be on active duty until that time expires, so it's a... -you make a little more money than if you just cashed in those days because you continue to get your benefits through the time that you're actually out of the service.

Steve Estes:

Okay, how did your study of history at Penn change the way you viewed the Air Force, or did it?

Elizabeth Lates Hillman:

Yes it did, dramatically. I often tell my students when they say they've learned a lot from a class that they took with me that it's about who they are when they came to the class and not so much what I do in the classroom that makes it possible for them to learn it and when I got to Penn I was really ready to be intellectually engaged and emotionally and personally engaged in a way I hadn't been before. Certainly I wasn't an especially good student as an undergrad, I did fine, but I wasn't... -my interests were really elsewhere. But when I got to graduate school I was excited about the professors I was hearing in the classroom, I was excited by the students that were there with me and I was just ready to hear what people were saying, to listen to people and for the first time I saw people who were gay and were unafraid about it. I certainly realized when I went back to Colorado Springs I knew people, I had known people all along who were gay; many of them who had thought that I was a lesbian, actually before that, which was a surprise to me, guess I didn't think that, but, so graduate school was a coming out experience for me in all kinds of ways including in terms of my sexual orientation; because that is when I fell in love with a woman. I was married and I left my husband back in Colorado Springs and I came to Philadelphia and I met all these graduate students, and I fell in love with a woman and we had a torrid affair and I thought I was going to leave it behind and that would be the end of it, and it wasn't. I went back... -even as I was driving back across the country to teach at the Air Force Academy, I knew that things were not going to be the same and I was realizing that the military wasn't going to be a career that was going to work for me because I wasn't the person I thought I was.

Steve Estes:

Right. What did you write your Master's Thesis on, in twenty words or less?

Elizabeth Lates Hillman:

Women's Military uniforms and specifically in the Service Academies in the 1970's. So when women were admitted to the Service Academies, how Annapolis, West Point and the Air Force Academy went through the process of deciding what women should look like and what they should wear, and how that reflected the difficulty of integrating women into a place that was fundamentally hostile to women.

Steve Estes:

I had an interview with a Marine, a female Marine from the, actually I think they called them woman Marines when she first started in the 1970's and she talks a lot about the uniform, I wish you had... -I mean I'm sure you talked to people about that stuff, so...

Elizabeth Lates Hillman:

I did, I did a bunch of interviews actually at the Air Force Academy, put them on archives at the Air Force Academy, but I did talk to graduates in that first class, especially who were Air Force Officers in that first class; the class of 80', so... -about their uniforms. It's a topic I'll discuss, come back to at some point. Maybe I'll use your reference when I get around to it again.

Steve Estes:

Okay. So in 93'-94' is when 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' is being implemented, but 92' is when Clinton is promising to lift the ban as he runs so, were you in Colorado Springs when Clinton was campaigning?

Elizabeth Lates Hillman:

Yes.

Steve Estes:

And how did people talk about Clinton's promise to lift the ban? Or did they?

Elizabeth Lates Hillman:

Yes, they did talk about it. You know, in negative ways. I talked more to enlisted folks at that time because many of the folks on our crews were enlistees, Marine Corps or in the Navy, or the Air Force or the Army and they felt strongly. I remember midnight shifts, lunchtime, which is 1 am, you know, conversations, talking about what would happen; what the impact of this would be and I remember a strong sense among a lot of the... -they weren't low-ranking enlistees, because there really weren't any low-ranking enlistees who had jobs in space command; they were sort of middle to high command enlisted guys, and they were all men, that I can remember on the crews. But they were negative about it. They felt that it was an encroachment on their privacy, that's how they talked about it; especially the hot-bunking thing. I remember sailors talking to me about that so... -but I also remember there were people who supported Clinton and I was one of them and I had nothing better to say than I thought it was time for a change, you know, that I thought Clinton was a better candidate. I was not sophisticated politically and I was not... -I didn't have some well-developed perspective on what he would mean, or what this change would do in the military.

Steve Estes:

So, in 93' and 94' when that compromise is hammered out, you're in grad school, which I know from hearing you talk and know from experiencing it myself is a very different environment from space commanding was. What was the talk like there about 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' and how did your views change?

Elizabeth Lates Hillman:

I think I was pretty preoccupied, I mean, I don't remember. We talked about a lot of things. 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' was not among the top things that I was paying attention to at the time, you know. I was learning how to study history and I was trying to figure out what I was going to do with my life, I don't know. It was a different atmosphere altogether, I mean it was far left of what I was used to and much more questioning of authority and much more engaged with all sort of issues, but 'Don't Ask, Don't tell' was not at the top of that list.

Steve Estes:

So, when you come back to the Air Force Academy in 94' take me into that first classroom with you. Can you go back to that place? Just describe it?

Elizabeth Lates Hillman:

Well I went to graduate school and I studied American History. I took all courses in American History, that's pretty much all I had studied in the past and I had not studied that much history as an undergrad, it was my second major and with R.O.T.C. and with engineering stuff I didn't have that much room to take a lot of history courses, but I loved the classes I had taken, but I hadn't done that much, and I had only taken eight courses at Penn., and I came back and I taught that first semester, four sections of World History...

Steve Estes:

Brutal! [Laughing]

Elizabeth Lates Hillman:

And World History at the Academy was from the Greeks to Gorbachev; it was a large course. There was a lot to cover and we used a book that I now see as a... -We used William McNeil's book, and Bill McNeil actually came out to the Academy during my first semester there and we sold a huge number of his books, it's no wonder he was willing to accept our invitation to come out and talk to us, every cadet had to take it so, you know, we sold a thousand of his books every semester, or every year that we were using it, but it was his World History textbook is pretty much the rise of the West, it's not a Western Civ. Book, but it's a World History, written from the perspective of how the West interacts with everyone else and why Europe ascended to the point that it did, anyway, it was challenging. It was very strange to teach four of the same classes. You know, each day that I taught, so every other day we were on a schedule that we called M's, MT's, you know, we didn't have Monday, Wednesday, Fridays and Tuesday/Thursday classes, we had M days and T days, so it made literally for two and a half days a week, in terms of the scheduling. And every other day I taught four of the same things and I couldn't always remember what you had said to the class the previous time, you know, if you had taught at nine, at ten, at one and two in the afternoon, by the time you got to your one o'clock class; I had to keep looking at my notes to make sure I hadn't just said what I was sure I had just said to them. But you know it was exciting in the way that teaching is always exciting. You know, students come prepared in different ways, but they're captive to you, I mean they're going to listen to you for the period of time that they're assigned to that class. They come in with their own ideas about what is right and isn't. I mean I actually had students that had studied more world history than I had and who would... -World Histoiy, someone can always tell you something that you don't know about it, so I had students who were assertive and would tell me things about, some specific details about Russian History or whatever that I had no idea about that had nothing to do with what we were talking about that day. But you know it was fun. I was in a cohort, as I always found I was in the Air Force, with other people who were in similar situations, and I still keep in touch with some of those people now and they were great and I was glad I got the chance to meet them and get to know them and worked hard to try to figure how to manage this... -So, it was fun. The first year teaching... -World History was a first year course so we had students who had been at the Academy since right after the 4th of July who were... -so when they start classes, in whatever point in late August when we started classes, they were very tired, they had gotten through one of the most difficult part of their training and now they were trying to turn their minds to the academic part of it, but they were still very much under duress, they were tired. In the afternoon classes, I taught after lunch the first year, they fell asleep all the time, which I got them on their feet like everybody else did, but I certainly understood why that was happening, they weren't getting enough sleep and they were really taxed, so...

Steve Estes:

So, I imagine that the Air Force Academy is different from other History Departments in that you do have a lot of people who are there for a two year teaching (inaudible) or whatever and then they're going to go on to something else. Are there senior faculty that stay around all... -or are veterans?

Elizabeth Lates Hillman:

Yes.

Steve Estes:

What were your collegial relations like with the senior faculty there?

Elizabeth Lates Hillman:

They were good. You know, I had always been on the fast track in the Air Force and they still perceived me to be on that track. I mean I was somebody who did well and who got ahead and you know, people want to be associated with you... -you know senior people when they see somebody that they think is doing well, you know I had gone to a graduate program that had had a lot of prestige and I started to go to conferences right away and to talk about my work, which was well-received. They were positive. I got to teach the honor's section of World History my second year and I was... -the officer of the year, or quarter or whatever it was, you know, I won those things out there too, so I had a good relationship with my more senior colleagues or superiors.

Steve Estes:

There was in the 90's a lot of press and I guess there still is a lot of press about sexual harassment at the Service Academy, I was wondering if you could just talk a little bit about that, knowing that, you're in some sense an outsider because you weren't actually a cadet, you weren't actually a, what did you say? Zoomy? So, could you talk a little bit about that?

Elizabeth Lates Hillman:

Yeah, it was a big issue. I mean, what I remember most was that I was on... -I was involved in different efforts to try to... -what we called improve the social climate, was on a committee that studied this... -I mean developed and administered a survey to all the cadets about the social climate and asking them questions about it. I was a participant in the sexual assault awareness week which was the first time they had done that and they did it when I was there and it was a week of all kinds of events. All the cadets had to sign up to go to one event during that week in addition to some things that they all had to do within their squadron and I said I would give a lecture on rape an war in a historical perspective and I had a thousand cadets... -in terms of what all of these young men are going to be willing to go see, that sounded much better to them than how to hear when someone says "no" to you or what are common date-rape scenarios are or the softer topics, so-to-speak, that were being discussed by psychologists and sociologists and other experts that were talking during that week. I also set up a program, I got a little money from the Commandant to do some oral histories of some women cadets, and so I enlisted some other faculty members and we interviewed at great length some female cadets and we put the transcription in the library archives, and they talked about harassment. I don't feel removed in the sense that I got to know enough of the female cadets to get a sense about what they were going through. But their perspectives were very different. I was the assistant coach for the basketball team, I worked with the junior varsity and there were several women who had had different experiences with sexual assault and harassment and it was very much a part of their understanding of the institution. It was certainly not something that somebody didn't know about if they were paying any attention.

Steve Estes:

Do you think that the Air Force Academy and the Air Force in general were making a good faith effort to address the issue?

Elizabeth Lates Hillman:

Um, that's a hard question. I mean I think there were individuals who genuinely sought change in the culture and in the institutional mechanisms that tried to respond to this, but I think that the problems of misogyny and homophobia, aggression that are such a deep part of the military, even the Air Force, which is the least martial of the services, they make it very hard to solve the problems that they faced, and you know, there were individual failings of leadership and individual decisions that went awry at different points involving particular cases and different things like that involving what would happen with results of surveys and that sort of thing. But they did try to address these things. I know that this stuff is continued. I mean when I was there it was the first time that I remember, there was a cadet who went on 20/20 who talked about the mock rape; rapes that took place as a part of S.E.R.E., which is an acronym for a now (inaudible- be-shuttered?) program called Survival Evasion Resistance and Escape, which is the... -the Air Force rented out Fairchild Air Force Base for all of its pilots and other crew members that might be shot down and might end up as P.O.W.s and it's a training program to prepare them for it and the Academy used to require that every cadet go through that whether or not they were ever going to be air crew members and that program got shut down, in part because of the accusations of sexual assault that took place during that. You know, whatever a mock rape is, it's not a pleasant experience, or not to most peoples minds a useful experience in preparing even for that trauma of being a P.O. W., and that had happened in this... -So you know that happened. There was another cadet, young man who left the Academy and sued it because of his experience in that same program and those things came to light when I was there, so it was, you know, there were individuals who were tried to address some of this, but it wasn't a problem that was getting fixed.

Steve Estes:

Did you personally ever feel discriminated against because you were a woman?

Elizabeth Lates Hillman:

I always thought that I could manage it and I felt that I could use it to my advantage. [Pause for phone call] -Inside the military and outside the military and having thought about feminist theory, I saw discrimination all over the place. In terms of what I experienced personally, I never thought it was going to be a barrier to my career advancement, but I did see how it changed the way that people responded to me, in particular, it was more about the choices that I made, about what to study for instance more than I was simply a woman. I mean, I had never been a woman who had challenged men in a way that... -I mean, I got along with them, I liked sports, I could talk about these things, you know, we got along fine, I was married for pete's sake, but then I went to graduate school and I wrote about how women's uniforms were dysfunctional and unattractive specifically because the people who designed them couldn't imagine what a woman soldier should look like, like how a female military uniform should make its female occupants appear. So I realized I was writing about some things that we're going to draw some fire, and they did. I had a boss who was the Director of the American History part when I got to the Academy's History Department, he was joking, but it reflected his real discomfort with Women's History, he said, "What you study Women's History? Is that like the study of redheads? Is that the history of people who ride motorcycles?" I mean he was, he really.. .-and you know, I had just been through a graduate program where I was hearing about the maturation of gender studies and you know, Women's History as a field, you know, it had been a time when this had been a part of academic and historic inquiry for a long time and people couldn't believe that when I relayed that to them, so, you know, I was surprised at that reaction in some ways. It made me more aware of some of the other more systematic sort of discrimination that was going on across the Academy.

Steve Estes:

Gotcha. This is a broad question, but I was wondering if you could begin to talk about how your sexuality affected your experiences in the Military?

Elizabeth Lates Hillman:

Ah, it was a whole new world, I mean, you know. I mean I bought the Air Force hook, line and sinker when I was seventeen or eighteen years old. I was seventeen when I first put on a uniform and then I decided I liked this stuff, I was going to be good at it and I did everything I could to get ahead, I was meeting all the gates I needed to and then I realized I was a lesbian and I couldn't be that anymore. It was completely different. It also made me see hierarchies and patterns of prejudice, you know, discrimination all over the place that I hadn't seen before, and it made me identify with people who were disenfranchised in a way that I had not experienced until I was personally in that situation. It made me doubt the military in this, at worst, paternalistic institutional organization that's going to tell me what to do all the time, authoritarian institution and it made me question the kind of place that it was. And it also made me think very hard about, and I had thought about this some before, you know, did I want to be a part of an institution where what we did was kill people and blow things up and that was me questioning that deeper mission of the armed forces was sparked by the personal changes that made me at odds personally with what the Air Force wanted from us.

Steve Estes:

Sounds like you and your sister kind of swapped places, I mean, I don't know where your sister had gone after Chapel Hill, but it sound like you were beginning to have some of the questioning of authority, albeit on a much more intellectual level that she was having.

Elizabeth Lates Hillman:

Yeah I followed her, I would say. And she would say I out-lefted her, because then I ended up being a lesbian and you know, anyway, moving in this direction. She's actually an English Professor now and teaches at Villanova, but... -in American Literature.

Steve Estes:

Let's see, you said that some people when you got back to Colorado Springs, that they said, "Oh, well, we had kind of always thought that you were a lesbian." Could you talk a little bit about that, about the community in Colorado Springs? And were there some supportive folks there?

Elizabeth Lates Hillman:

Yeah. There certainly were. But it's a disconcerting support too. Some people called it 'The Family' and they would say that you're... -"Don't worry he's family" or "She's family" or whatever [laughter] and I was like, I understand what you're saying but they're not, I don't know who they are. You know, I mean, and this is a part of growing up as you come out too, that you don't really like everyone just because they happen to be a lesbian or a gay man, and you regret that, because you wish that you did and that they were all cool and they're not, so, it was the same thing in the military. I mean, and I was uncomfortable with people knowing too much about my life who I didn't know at all, and I realized that people were coming out for me, different people, and I didn't like that, but it's beyond your control. You know, you get tapped into a sort of network of people, but there are different parts of the military where there are clearly more lesbians and gay men and I think that the academic part of the military is one of those places that there are certainly... -this is all speculative because no one could say how many, what percentage of gay men or lesbians or bisexual or whatever queer people are in different parts of the military and different units. It does seem to me that higher education has the impact on many people that it had on me. That it gives people time and opportunity to question things and to see people who live their lives in different ways and try to be true to themselves and there were a lot of lesbians at the Air Force Academy.

Steve Estes:

Were you ever afraid that the unintentional outing or outing that was beyond your control was going to come back and hurt your career? Or did it ever come back and hurt your career?

Elizabeth Lates Hillman:

No, because I wasn't going to have a career in the Air Force anymore and I knew that. As soon as I realized I was gay I knew that I wasn't going to stay in the service. You know, because I'm like a lot of the people, and this is one of the reasons why I haven't become a more committed advocate of lesbians and gay men in the service, because I don't have good feelings towards military service, you know, I don't have uncomplicated good feelings about military service. I can't separate who I am from my service in the Air Force and I don't regret what I did, but I also, I have doubts about what the Military teaches people, especially men, but women too, about violence, about what it is to be an American, about authority, about autonomy. So for me, the questioning pushed me in that direction and so I knew I wasn't going to be able to stay in, even if the Air Force would have me, and I knew the Air Force, and I say this sometimes when I talk about 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell', I'm not somebody the Air Force should have lost. I would have been somebody they would have like to have had. You would like to have me on your team, I think most of what... -most games you were playing, you would want me on your side and the Air Force certainly did for a long time, but I didn't want to play anymore, not only because I was lesbian, but also because of the bigger things I saw about that. So I wasn't so worried about it coming back to haunt me. What I was worried about was that I didn't want to have to spend the time and energy on a fight about this because if somebody had found out that I was involved with a woman and that I, you know that I could be discharged under 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell', I knew that I would fight that discharge because I felt like if anyone has a record to stand on, I do. Even though I knew lots of people with comparable records and accolades had lost in the past, I felt like I would have had to do that. And I didn't want to waste the time on that.

Steve Estes:

Can you talk about why you decided to go to law school?

Elizabeth Lates Hillman:

Yeah. That's funny, there are the reasons that you kind of constructed. You look for jobs that sort of build your career and then the actual reasons that did it; that caused you to take particular steps in life. I knew that I wanted to study more. I knew that I wanted to be back in graduate school. I had loved being in grad school in Penn. I felt like I was well-suited for it and I was intrigued by it and I wanted to do it. So I knew that I wanted to go back and study history, but I wasn't sure I wanted to be an academic historian. I wasn't sure that I wouldn't like to be a lawyer and do some of the things that the law might offer, that I might like to practice, that I might like to do policy work that I might like to be a judge. You know, all kinds of things went through my mind. I also thought that I wanted some time to try to figure out what I wanted to do next, because I wasn't ready to make a clear career decision about what I would do after the service. I was in a lot of personal turmoil. I was still in the relationship that I'd gotten involved in at Penn and you know, we lived together for awhile, we were together for some years, and I can't remember now how many, and I got divorced and I came out gradually to different friends and family. You know, I was in the process of personal transition, and I wasn't sure what I wanted to do professionally, so I just wanted a little more time, and um, going to a law and history program gave me a little bit of space to be in school again and to try to figure out what I wanted to do next. That's what I was looking for.

Steve Estes:

Where were you? Where did you do your graduate work?

Elizabeth Lates Hillman:

I went to Yale.

Steve Estes:

It was a joint ID/PhD. program?

Elizabeth Lates Hillman:

Yes.

Steve Estes:

Did you write your Ph.D. dissertation?

Elizabeth Lates Hillman:

Yes.

Steve Estes:

And what was it on?

Elizabeth Lates Hillman:

The military justice system during the Cold War.

Steve Estes:

And what was your thesis?

Elizabeth Lates Hillman:

It's called Cold War Crime in American Military Culture: Court Martial in the U.S. Armed Forces 1951-1973 or 74', I can't remember, and the book will be out next month.

Steve Estes:

Oh, congratulations!

Elizabeth Lates Hillman:

Thank you, thank goodness. I tried to study what crime means in the Military, so who gets prosecuted for what and why do they get prosecuted for those sorts of things and how did the court martial change after the legal reforms that took hold after World War II were implemented, which there was a lot of concern among many veterans and law-makers, that are to become law-makers, and law-makers who were in office during the time of the war about what had happened on the ground at... -the court martial that took place around the world. So there was a big impetus for reform and that resulted in a uniform code of military justice which is adopted by Congress in 1950 and then is implemented in 1951. And so I tried to look at the cases that were the most serious cases to try to understand how that legalization of the court martial system changed the way that discipline, in particular criminal law worked inside the military.

Steve Estes:

Okay, and I imagine this was much farther reaching than sexuality, how the military dealt with sexuality. You deal with all parts of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, but if you could talk about the part that deals with sexuality, or is there a part that deals with sexuality?

Elizabeth Lates Hillman:

Yes, there are parts. It is clear that service men and women who weren't straight were more likely to run afoul with military justice. They were more likely to be court martialed for things that their straight comrades in arms couldn't be court martialed for, but also the sorts of investigative tactics that they were subject to were much more aggressive and they were subject to more prejudice at trial. A young man who was a private in the Army was tried for arson, for instance, or for stealing from the supply, some sort of relatively mundane offense and then, maybe... -I remember an arson case in particular, something more dangerous, or more threatening on top of that, if there was the insinuation at trial, at the court martial itself, that he was gay, he was certainly subjected to greater prejudice. That is a potentially worse sentence, additional charges, so it's a big impact in terms of the outcomes of criminal justice and the process itself based on sexual orientation of the alleged offender.

Steve Estes:

And how much did the Cold War lavender scare, as a recent book has called it, affect the writing of the code in terms of sexuality?

Elizabeth Lates Hillman:

Well, I think it's complicated. David Johnson's book is about the federal regulation and how the censure of federal employees gets affected by fears of homosexuality. There are others that look at particularly, is it Tim Fisher I think who looks at Tom Dooly, so there's... -the part that I looked at, this is hard cause you're asking me to put on my academic hat (inaudible) biographical hat here.

Steve Estes:

Right, I'm sorry about that.

Elizabeth Lates Hillman:

No, no, but the Cold War had a big effect because, you know, homosexuality is equated with communists and the threats are seen as parallel and often overlapping and so there is á greater concern of the subversion from within in many ways; the homosexual was like the communist in the military, you can't tell who they are by looking at them so you have to find other ways to identify them, and that makes people insecure and that insecurity leads them to engage in lots of damaging investigations, to make assumptions about people that they shouldn't and all sorts of things like that.

Steve Estes:

Well, I'm going to let you take you're academic hat off cause we're almost done. Let's go back to the biographical hat, or the autobiographical hat. If you could sum up how military service has affected your life, what would you say?

Elizabeth Lates Hillman:

Ah, well, I said before that I can't separate who I am from who the Air Force helped to make me, because I had the opportunity to do a lot of things when I was in the service that I wouldn't have had the chance to do otherwise. And those things did the things for me that they're supposed to in the standard line about what the military is. I mean, I think that I gained physical courage, I think I gained self-confidence, I gained a good sense of teamwork and how to get along with different kinds of people because I did... -I was thrown into groups with people that were very different than I was, and I learned to deal with them. And I think all those things were good in terms of my general life skills, my coping mechanisms for personal and professional things. On the other hand I think I had a reaction against authority and the lack of respect for individuality; you know, human dignity that military life and culture embraces, that lack of respect, I think I've tried to have a reaction against that and tried to... -I've grown increasingly critical of that as I've gown up as a scholar and a person. So a part of that is, I became who the service wants people to become; strong, confident and capable people, but I also stepped back and became critical of the institution and more of a doubter than I would have been had I not had that experience.

Steve Estes:

Well, in a different environment, in a different era, the military might have a place for both the strong, confident individuals that they want to mold and create and also the critical thinkers too. But maybe this is not that era.

Elizabeth Lates Hillman:

I don't think so, actually, but...

Steve Estes:

Do you think it is a historical constant?

Elizabeth Lates Hillman:

There are no historical constants. I mean there are times when, World War II, for instance, where large numbers of people serve for a relatively short period of time including a lot of people who had long careers and a lot of experience before they got into the service, but today we have an all volunteer force and professionalized military officers and professional enlisted forces as well. I don't know, it's not a culture that lends itself to questioning, you know, as much as... -you know they told us at the Air Force Academy we're supposed to teach cadets to think critically, but it's very hard to teach people to think critically when they don't decide whether or not to shine their shoes that day, what time they're doing to get up and, you know, everything about their lives.

Steve Estes:

Okay, well, that opens up a whole new can of worms that we probably don't have time to talk about today. The last question that I ask is, "Is there anything that I didn't ask about that you wanted to talk about for the Library of Congress or...."

Elizabeth Lates Hillman:

I don't think so. This is my life and my work, I do think a lot about this stuff, but I don't know that I have any more to say than all the other folks to whom you're speaking, who have thought about it and dealt with this stuff too.

Steve Estes:

Then last, all I have left to do is say thank you.

Elizabeth Lates Hillman:

Okay.

Steve Estes:

It really was a pleasure to talk to you and hopefully I'll get to see you at a conference some day and we can talk off the record about this stuff too.

Elizabeth Lates Hillman:

[More conversation continues, but tape is shortly turned off... inquiries about where Steve studied]

 
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