Just Do Right — How a Maxwell Air Force Base Lieutenant and future Supreme Court Justice equalized pay for the Armed Forces.

  • Published
  • By Colonel Eries L.G. Mentzer, Commander
  • 42nd Air Base Wing

Just Do Right. 

That is exactly what Lieutenant Sharron Frontiero, now Sharron Cohen, did in 1970. As a physical therapist assigned to Maxwell Air Force Base, she refused to accept that the United States Air Force would not extend married female Airmen the same spousal benefits as married male Airmen.  

At the time, a married man in the Armed Forces was automatically entitled to spousal benefits but a married woman in the Armed Forces had to prove that her husband was dependent on her for more than one-half of his support.  So, Lieutenant Frontiero sued Secretary of Defense Elliott L. Richardson for equal pay and in 1973 the United States Supreme Court ruled that military benefits could not be paid differently based on gender. 

Why did Lieutenant Frontiero sue?  Because unequal spousal dependent pay for male and female Airmen was wrong. It denied servicewomen due process as guaranteed under the Fifth Amendment. It also perpetuated long-standing stereotypical distinctions between the roles of men and women in society, denying women full rights as citizens. 

Lieutenant Frontiero did not let what was ruled or written, or even socially accepted, deter her. When told no, she hired a lawyer who persisted in representing her case  until it reached the Supreme Court. Her case was the first case Ruth Bader Ginsburg would argue before the Supreme Court, long before she served as an associate justice on the Nation’s highest court. 

As we continue to secure the Freedom to Serve at the 42nd Air Base Wing, Chief Morgan and I expect all Airmen to do the same. If something is wrong, do not accept what is ruled or written. Just Do Right. 

If there are gaps between who we say we are as Airmen, honorable service members of integrity and excellence, and your experience, we want to hear from you. We have Freedom to Serve Champions charged to listen to you and propose changes to the Command Team so we can cultivate conditions for you can rise to your best. You can reach our Champions at 42ABW.ABW.FreedomToServe@us.af.mil

Similar to Lieutenant Frontiero, we believe if you are closest to the problem, you are probably closest to the solution. Lieutenant Frontiero wanted equal pay and she did not stop until she received it. If a lieutenant can equalize pay for all service members, what can you do? What can we do? Just Do Right. 

Just Do Right means that in our choice moments we choose what is right. We lead inclusive environments and treat others with dignity, respect, compassion and equity.

You may find in those choice moments that the rules or regulations are archaic or obsolete and no longer reflect today’s Air Force or Airmen. Think about how you would want to be treated and Just Do Right. If the rules or regulations are wrong, help us change them ... just like Lieutenant Frontiero changed the rules regarding pay, equalizing it for all service members. 

In 1999 Sharron Cohen met Justice Ginsburg at the Supreme Court. Justice Ginsburg called her a hero. Mrs Frontiero said she never saw herself as a hero, she simply wanted the money due to her. She simply wanted what was right. 

You know what is right. Just Do Right. 

As the late, great Maya Angelou so eloquently says, “So pick it up. Pick up the battle and make it a better world. Just where you are. Yes. And it can be better. And it must be better. But it is up to us.” 

Just Do Right. If we all do our part, we can leave Maxwell Air Force Base even better for those that follow ... just like Lieutenant Frontiero did for us.