Washington Post, Editorial: Lt. Col. Fehrenbach’s Story Shows DADT Still Has Teeth
'Don't ask, don't tell,' on its last legs, still has teeth
Saturday, August 14, 2010
THE BAN ON gay men and lesbians serving openly in the military is on its last legs. The House voted to repeal it this spring. The measure now awaits action in the Senate. Given that it is attached to a defense authorization bill, action is likely. Once the Pentagon Working Group submits its report by Dec. 1 and the findings are certified by President Obama and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, "don't ask, don't tell" will be history. But until that day comes, this absurd policy remains in effect, and the danger it poses to gay service members is ever present.
The story of Lt. Col. Victor Fehrenbach is the latest cautionary tale. He has been a member of the Air Force for 19 years. He has flown combat missions over Iraq, Afghanistan and Kosovo. Remember the jets that flew protective cover over Washington in the months after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001? Col. Fehrenbach was one of the pilots. He has been decorated with five Air Force Commendation medals, two Air Force Achievement medals, two Outstanding Unit Awards with Valor, a Navy Commendation medal and the Meritorious Service medal.
In May 2008, Col. Fehrenbach was accused of sexual assault by a man in Idaho, where he was stationed. As a result of the investigation by local and military authorities, he had to acknowledge homosexual acts. The next month, local law enforcement dismissed the complaint as unfounded. By August, military officials also concluded that the allegations were false. Nevertheless, the military continued to pursue discharge under don't ask, don't tell. The more humane application of the flawed policy, including the rejection of third-party allegations unless under oath, which was instituted this year and applied to all open cases, apparently has no bearing on the airman's current case.
Today, Col. Fehrenbach's separation from the military is imminent; the recommendation awaits final action by the Air Force. He has filed a lawsuit and is seeking a preliminary injunction hearing that would force the military to show how his presence undermined unit cohesion, morale, good order and discipline. He also hopes this move will save his career.
This nation cannot afford to lose talented and committed members of the armed services such as Col. Fehrenbach.
"I've literally risked my life for this country," Mr. Fehrenbach told us Thursday, as he explained why he's fighting to stay in uniform. Would that the military were as committed to him as he is to this nation.