The US Senate entered its August recess last week, without taking up a defense authorization bill that includes language which would allow the Pentagon to lift its Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy. Still, with that vote now at least a month away, many in the media have refocused their attention on the issue, thanks largely to decorated Air Force flight officer Lt. Col. Victor Fehrenbach. The 20-year veteran of the military believes he is about to be discharged under the policy. On Wednesday, attorneys for Colonel Fehrenbach filed a request federal court seeking a restraining order that would block his discharge.
Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, which is assisting Colonel Fehrenbach, released a statement from him on Wednesday. He said “I have been waiting more than two years for the Air Force to do the right thing by letting me continue to proudly serve my country. To say that I’m disappointed with where things stand would be a monumental understatement — I am crushed."
His fate is now in the hands of Air Force Secretary Michael B. Donley, who according to Colonel Fehrenbach's attorneys can either approve a discharge, allow a discharge to go forward without his approval, or stop the discharge.
SLDN President Aubrey Sarvis said " Why and how the hell do we end up firing our best and brightest when we’re fighting in two wars? If Secretary Donley does not step in, this nation will lose a service member worth $25 million in training whose skill sets are desperately needed today."
Attorney M. Andrew Woodmansee told the New York Times that the conditions under which Colonel Fehrenbach was investigated do not meet the standards set by Defense Secretary Robert Gates earlier this year.
And, he says, thanks to a 2008 federal circuit court ruling, in order to discharge someone under the policy within the ninth circuit (which includes Idaho, where Colonel Fehrenbach was assigned) the government most prove a discharge is necessary to significantly further an important government interest. Woodmansee says in Fehrenbach's case, the Pentagon will not be able to do so.
Both Woodmansee and Fehrenbach appeared on the Rachel Maddow Show last night. Woodmansee said that Colonel Fehrenbach's 2010 officer performance report specifically said that he "raised morale." Fehrenbach told Maddow the Air Force "brought nothing to the discharge board" that proved he was "detrimental to good order of discipline, morale, and unit cohesion." He said "we hope this helps other pending cases and other cases that fall under these new enforcement standards."
Maddow dedicated the bulk of her show last night to examining the Don't Ask Don't Tell policy, and its impact on Lesbian and Gay servicemembers. She spoke with Katie Miller, ranked 9th in her class at West Point, but who is transferring to Yale because she cannot continue to live under the ban on gays and lesbians serving openly. Miller said "being re-closeted has been a much bigger challenge than I ever anticipated. It's taken a much bigger toll - socially, mentally, emotionally - than I could have imagined."
She also interviewed Captain Jonathan Hopkins, who was discharged under the policy just this week, despite having earned two Bronze Stars, one with valor. Hopkins said the news of his investigation came on the same day he learned he was being considered for an early promotion to Major. Hopkins said his story "exemplifies the paradox" of how a servicemember can be let go, not based on his or her performance, but based on "how you were born" Hopkins said he had beenliving a "government-mandated lie."
Maddow saved her most biting commentary for President Obama. She said "If you are changing the policy soon, why not hold off the ruination of lives under the policy now? Why not? I'll tell you why. Because that would take some political capital. That would take some guts." She said that although politicians often use fear to motivate their base, "one less soul sucking way to motivate your base and win an election and keep winning elections and have history look kindly upon you is to get your base to cheer for you, not just to cheer against someone else. To see you standing up, not just to bad guys with worse ideas, but you standing up for what is right because you know it is right. Because we know you know it's right even though you know standing up for it is hard. That is how you regain the enthusiasm of your base. That is how you win the respect of your base. That is how you win the respect of the country. And admit it, that is how you win your own self-respect, too. If don't ask, don't tell is going to end, the President could stop enforcement of the policy pending that change. Why isn't he?"
We thank Rachel Maddow for her dedication to keeping this issue in front of the American people, and encourage other members of the media to do the same.