***SCROLL DOWN FOR VIDEO OF FEHRENBACK ON "THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW"***
New President. New Congress. No Change. Here is the latest evidence of what our country is losing under the law that prevents gay men and women from serving openly in the armed forces of the United States.
Lieutenant Colonel Victor J. Fehrenbach, a fighter weapons systems officer, has been flying the F-15E Strike Eagle since 1998. He has flown numerous missions against Taliban and al-Qaida targets, including the longest combat mission in his squadron's history. On that infamous September 11, 2001, Lt. Col. Fehrenbach was handpicked to fly sorties above the nation's capital. Later he flew combat missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. He has received at least 30 awards and decorations including nine air medals, one of them for heroism, as well as campaign medals for Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Iraq. He is now a flight instructor in Idaho, where he has passed on his skills to more than 300 future Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force weapons systems officers.
Since 1987, when Fehrenbach entered Notre Dame on a full Air Force ROTC scholarship, the government has invested twenty-five million dollars in training and equipping him to serve his country, which he has done with what anyone would agree was great distinction. He comes from a military family. His father was a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel, his mother an Air Force nurse and captain. Lt. Col. Fehrenbach has honored that tradition.
And the Air Force is about to discharge this guy, a virtual poster boy for Air Force recruiting, because he is gay? Someone has to be kidding. This is sheer madness.
But Lt. Col. Fehrenbach does not have to be discharged. There is something the Pentagon can and should do now. Lt. Col. Fehrenbach's commanders and senior commanders can retain him in the service. Individual commanders are allowing many gays and lesbians to continue to serve openly in the armed forces. They are doing so because these are good service members who are doing their jobs. Lt. Col. Fehrenbach is no danger to unit cohesion, or to morale, or to good order and discipline. He goes to work every day, does a fantastic job for his country, has all the medals and job performance evaluations to prove it, and he should be allowed to serve.
Is the discharge of an officer with such critical and valuable skills, whom the government has spent millions training, is that really what Congress intended when it gave us "don't ask, don't tell"? Only last week, Defense Secretary Robert Gates told members of Congress, "If we don't get the people part of this business right, none of our other decisions will matter." Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Congress, "This is how we take care of our people."
He should have said, "This is how we take care of some of our people," because neither Secretary Gates nor Admiral Mullen could have been thinking of the 65,000 gays and lesbians in uniform today. Certainly they were not thinking of Lt. Col. Fehrenbach when they talked about "getting the people part right" because they got the "people part" wrong.
Watching Gates and Mullen on the Hill last week, you could see what President Obama is up against. They know how to deliver great performances. They know very well that their new Commander in Chief wants to get rid of "don't ask, don't tell." They know the President needs their help to accomplish it. So far, to put it gently, they have not been particularly helpful. "Dragging their feet" best describes what they've been doing, and the President, waiting on his military, finds himself in a box.
In an Associated Press story this afternoon, reporter Lara Jakes quoted Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell as saying that both Secretary Gates and Admiral 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 the offing on efforts to repeal don't ask-don't tell." Does this mean they know where the President wants to go but they're not going there? It doesn't sound as if the President has made a lot of progress in getting the Pentagon players on his team.
The impending discharge of Lt. Col. Fehrenbach, an 18-year combat aviator, and the likely discharge of First Lieutenant Dan Choi , an Arabic speaking Army platoon leader, put real faces on this sad unfolding drama. These two service members and scores of others are paying an enormous price while grown men and women in Washington do their political dance. And make no mistake, Congress is in on this dance, too. It is their "don't ask, don't tell" law. They passed it; they own it. Only they can repeal it. Let's be fair and accurate here. This is far more complicated than a simple stroke of the presidential pen. If an Executive Order to temporarily suspend DADT discharges would work on all fronts, for all service members, I would be all for it. But we need a real, lasting fix.
A law is a law, even a bad law. Our country and service members are suffering the consequences as we watch this theater of the absurd play out. We need this new 111th Congress and this new President to engage each other immediately and with a sense of urgency to stop this obvious madness.
What is happening in the United States military today is not the 17th century witch trials in Salem - nobody has been hanged on Gallows Hill - but it's not what most Americans think of as just or fair in a country that prides itself as having the best justice system in the world.
Lt. Col. Fehrenbach has just made his case before the American people on MSNBC's Rachel Maddow Show tonight. Let the 25 Million Dollar Aviator serve! Watch his interview with Maddow below.