On Saturday, March 20, I, along with about 900 other people, had the opportunity to say thank you to one of those service members when SLDN honored my former client Lt Col Victor Fehrenbach with the 2010 Barry Winchell Courage Award.
I first spoke to Victor in 2008, just after he was notified that the Air Force was moving to discharge him under DADT. Victor’s first instinct, like many others who are impacted by this law, was to get out quickly with an honorable discharge and get on with his life. But a few weeks later, he called me again. He had changed his mind and wanted to fight. Having gotten to know Victor over the last couple of years, it wasn’t surprising to me that even after he lost at his Board of Inquiry and was recommended for discharge – this highly decorated aviator – with nine Air Medals and hundreds of hours logged in combat – wasn’t content to simply go away quietly and surrender his career. The United States Air Force was Victor’s life – he was born on an Air Force base. Both of his parents were officers in the Air Force and his sister served as well. Not only was he just two years shy of 20 years of service, but the military had spent more than $26 million training him. Victor’s squadron depended on him and our military was stronger and our nation more secure because of his service. He knew what was happening to him was wrong. Victor knew his situation wasn’t unique – that there were others with similar stories. But he knew that adding his powerful voice to the DADT debate could make a significant difference.
Of the thousands of clients SLDN has assisted over the last 17+ years, 99.9 percent of them never go public with their stories. The impact DADT has on service members and their families is an intensely personal and private matter and going public means putting your personal business out there for the world to scrutinize. Victor had the courage and determination to do whatever he needed to in order to change the hearts and minds of the American public. Sacrificing his personal privacy and the personal privacy of his family and friends – Victor has become one of the most effective, respected and influential advocates in the movement to repeal DADT. He tells his story with such dignity and respect for the uniform he wears – never losing sight of the ultimate goal of repealing DADT. He speaks out not just with the hope that he’ll be able to continue serving his country, but also with the hope of easing the burdens on his fellow service members.
Thank you, Victor, for telling your story and for giving a voice to the thousands who continue to serve in silence. I am so very proud to know you – and so very honored that you allowed me to be a small part of your story.
03-25-10 By Emily B. Hecht, Senior Legislative Counsel, Family Equality Council |