Kopfstein, Jenny Lynn

Former Lieutenant Junior Grade, U.S. Navy (1999-2002)

photo by Judy G. Rolfe

After spending two years in a civilian college, Jenny Kopfstein joined the United States Navy when she entered the United States Naval Academy in 1995.

Kopfstein graduated from the Naval Academy with a Bachelors Degree in Physics on May 26, 1999, and was selected as a Surface Warfare Officer.

She immediately attended the prestigious Surface Warfare Officer's School in Rhode Island -a school dedicated to teaching shipboard systems and operations, similar to the flight training pilots receive at flight school.

After graduating from the Surface Warfare Officer"s School, Kopfstein was given her first duty station on the U.S.S. SHILOH. The SHILOH's homeport is in San Diego. Serving on board a ship for the first time, Kopfstein realized that concealing her sexual orientation from others was inconsistent with her strong values of honesty and honor.

Kopfstein found it difficult to answer casual questions about her personal life without lying or concealing the whole truth. After a few months on board, Kopfstein gave her Commanding Officer a letter saying that she was a lesbian, and also saying that she wished to continue service.

Despite having made this admission, the Navy did not immediately seek to discharge Kopfstein during her first deployment. Instead, Kopfstein went on a second, six-month deployment in the Western Pacific in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. She completed that deployment, and still no discharge proceedings began. Although Kopfstein had originally been scheduled for an 18-month tour of duty on the SHILOH, she was retained on the ship for 22 months.

Admitting her sexual orientation to others did not harm Kopfstein's job performance. To the contrary, during her deployment and in the months following that deployment, Kopfstein continued to display a high degree of professionalism and excellence. The Navy recognized this, and gave Kopfstein several awards and honors, including qualifying Kopfstein as Officer of the Deck Underway, which allowed her to take command of the entire ship in certain situations. Kopfstein was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Junior Grade (O-2) with a Surface Warfare Officer specialty after returning from deployment.

Nineteen months after admitting her sexual orientation, a Board of Inquiry finally convened to investigate whether grounds existed for discharging Kopfstein under "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." Although it is highly unusual for a Navy Captain to speak on a subordinate officer's behalf in a Board of Inquiry hearing, both of Kopfstein's Captains (command of the U.S.S. SHILOH changed during her tour of duty) volunteered to testify on her behalf. Both Captains testified that they understood that Kopfstein was a lesbian, but that Kopfstein was an excellent officer and that she should ideally remain in the Navy.

The Board of Inquiry disregarded the recommendations of Kopfstein's Captains. Concluding that Kopfstein's statement that she is a lesbian constituted grounds for discharge under "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," the board voted in February 2002 to discharge Kopfstein from the Navy.

After a delay, Kopfstein was honorably discharged from the Navy on October 31, 2002. At the time of her discharge, Kopfstein had served in the Navy for nearly three years, not counting her four years as a midshipman at the Academy. During her service, Kopfstein received numerous awards, including the Navy Achievement Medal, Meritorious Unit Commendation (2), Battle "E" Ribbon, National Defense Service Medal (2), Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal, Sea Service Deployment Ribbon, Navy Expert Rifle Medal, Navy Expert Pistol Shot Medal, and Surface Warfare Qualification Breast Insignia.