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Air Force poster boy fired under "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"
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Air Force poster boy fired under "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"
by Shaun Knittel - SGN Staff Writer

Air Force Lt. Col. Victor Fehrenbach can tell you a thing or two about flying combat sorties. The first-class aviator served in Afghanistan and Iraq. He flew the longest combat sorties in his F-15E squadron's history, destroying Taliban and Al Qaeda targets in support of Operations Enduring and Iraqi Freedom. After the September 11 attacks, he was handpicked to protect the airspace over Washington, D.C. The virtual Air Force poster boy has been awarded nine medals during his 18-year career as a military man.

Fehrenbach is Gay and because of his sexual orientation the Department of the Air Force will add one more entry in the servicemembers record - a dishonorable discharge from military service under "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."

Retirement pension? Gone. Benefits? Gone. Eighteen-year career? Over.

Fehrenbach is not alone; he joined over 200 servicemembers forced out of the military since President Obama and 111th Congress were sworn in earlier this year. Fehrenbach originally put off appealing his discharge in the hopes President Obama and Congress would overturn "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." Because Congress and the administration have not acted with any urgency, he is now challenging his discharge, fighting to serve his country and keep his retirement.

On May 19, Fehrenbach took his story to the nation on the MSNBC Rachel Maddow Show - the second military officer to do so. Recently, West Point graduate Army 1st Lt. Dan Choi used Maddow's show to announce he was Gay and challenge the president and Congress to do away with "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." Choi and Fehrenbach are asking Obama to keep his campaign promise to repeal the controversial policy.

The Air Force informed Fehrenbach in May of last year that he was being investigated for violating "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." He was told in September 2008 he would be discharged. He was absolutely devastated, he told Maddow during his TV appearance. "The Air Force has been my life. Basically I was faced with the end of my life as I knew it," he said.

"Don't Ask, Don't Tell" is the current U.S. Military policy concerning homosexuals serving in the armed forces. The policy states you can serve as long as you are not open about your sexuality, or act on it, for that matter. Since the policy was put into place in 1993, nearly 13,000 men and women have been separated from the military. Basically, the government fires servicemembers for being Gay or Lesbian - at least one, often two, every day. It is estimated that 65,000 Gay and Lesbian people currently serve in the military.

At first, Fehrenbach did not want to fight the decision. "I initially thought I wanted this all to just go away. I wanted a quick, quiet, fair, honorable discharge." Then something changed. He said the more he thought about it, the more he realized how wrong the policy is. "I thought that I had to fight," said Fehrenbach. Proponents of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" say allowing Gay or Lesbian persons to serve openly would undermine the good order and discipline of a military unit. Fehrenbach disagrees.

"It's absolutely false. For the past 369 days [since the investigation began], I have been going to work every day and doing my duty with absolutely no impact on morale and discipline and good order," he said.

The latest round of both officer and enlisted firings under "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" has many asking the question: Why? The sheer cost of training and educating servicemen and women is astronomical. Fehrenbach estimates his training value at $25 million. Why would the Air Force want to discharge an officer with such critical and valuable skills? The truth of the matter is, they have no choice until Congress or the president changes the policy.

Perhaps Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell said it best. "This building [Pentagon] views 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' as the law of the land until Congress acts otherwise."

Defense Secretary Robert Gates, someone who would oversee the implementation of any new policy on Gays in the Military (should one be drafted), told the press, "No change soon on 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell.'"

The White House issued a statement in April saying Obama has begun consulting with Gates and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on how to lift the ban. Gates says that dialogue has not really progressed very far at this point in the administration, saying that he and President Obama have "a lot on our plates now." As Gates puts it, "Let's push that one down the road a little bit."

One thing is certain: The impending discharge of Lt. Col. Fehrenbach and 1st. Lt. Dan Choi are high profile. The two officers are putting a face on the struggle by taking their challenge and call for equality to the national media.

"I think we need a permanent solution from Congress," said Fehrenbach. "I would hope that they would act, and I hope the president moves fast and fulfills his promise to us and proposes a policy of non-discrimination."

Both Fehrenbach and Choi are not asking for a free pass out or a payoff. Like true military men with integrity and honor, they are asking to stay in, to continue to serve their country, to continue to lead.

Time, it would seem, is not on their side. Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff said May 19, "Secretary Gates and Mullen are aware of where the president wants to go on this issue, but I don't think that there is any sense of any immediate developments in efforts to repeal 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell.'" The two men are likely to be discharged before a solution is reached.
Air Force poster boy fired under "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"
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