Last night on MSNBC, host Rachel Maddow interviewed Lt. Col. Victor Fehrenbach, a decorated U.S. Air Force fighter pilot who received notice last September that he was being discharged due to the military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy. Fehrenbach served in both the Iraq and Afghanistan theaters, was just two years away from retiring with a full pension, and estimates that the U.S. military spent roughly $25 million training him. When he received word of his discharge, Fehrenbach decided to fight, hoping that, if elected, Obama would quickly change the policy:
FEHRENBACH: But the more I thought about it, about how wrong this policy is, I thought that I had to fight and perhaps with my unique perspective, I could speak out and help other people in the meantime.
MADDOW: Did you think that President Obama, if he were elected, was going to end the policy?
FEHRENBACH: I did. I had tremendous hope around September and that was actually when I did reverse my decision and decided to fight because I did have hope that President Obama would follow through on his commitment to change the policy and — and initiate a policy of non discrimination.
Watch the interview here:
MADDOW: We begin tonight with a man named Lieutenant Colonel Victor Fehrenbach — an F-15 fighter pilot, an 18-year veteran of the United States Air Force. On September 11th, Lieutenant Colonel Fahrenbach was picked to be part of the initial alert crew immediately following the 9/11 attacks. The following year in 2002, he deployed to Kuwait where he flew combat missions over Afghanistan attacking Taliban and al Qaeda targets. After the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, Lieutenant Colonel Fahrenbach deployed there, flying combat missions in support of “Operation Iraqi Freedom.” Over the span of his career, he has flown 88 combat missions including missions that were the longest combat sorties in the history of his squadron. He logged more than 2,000 flying hours, nearly 1,500 fighter hours, 400 combat hours. Lieutenant Colonel Fahrenbach is also highly decorated. He’s received nine air medals including one for heroism.
After 18 years of active duty in the Air Force, this experienced, decorated, fighter pilot says he ready and willing to deploy again. He is ready to do whatever his country and the United States Air Force ask of him. The military is now firing him. He’s just been informed by the U.S. military that his career is over. After 18 years of service less than two years shy of being able to retire with a full air force pension he’s being discharged from the U.S. air force under the military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy.
Despite a record of documented heroism an unblemished career, despite the fact that he estimates the U.S. military spent roughly $25 million training him, Lieutenant Colonel Fehrenbach is being fired. He was informed of his impending discharge in September. He and his lawyer have tried to delay his appeal as long as possible — hoping the new president would fulfill the pledge he made as a candidate to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. So far that hasn’t happened but today there were two important developments on the front. The first is the Obama administration’s decision to accept an appeals court ruling in favor of another discharged air force pilot essentially that ruling said the government has to prove why the continued service of a gay service member in this case a woman, is a threat to military discipline.
The Obama administration could have appealed that ruling to the Supreme Court but they chose not to. The other development was far less promising, it came from the pentagon which announced today it has no plans to end don’t ask don’t tell. And they say they do not anticipate being asked to end don’t ask don’t tell anytime soon.
MORRELL: I do not believe there are any plans under way in this building for some expected but not articulated anticipation that don’t ask don’t tell will be repealed. This building views don’t ask don’t tell as the law of the land until congress acts otherwise, to my knowledge, David there, are no internal planning efforts under way in anticipation of a change in that law.
MADDOW: It is in the shadow of these political promises left unfulfilled that lieutenant colonel victor fehrenbach now faces his impending dismissal from the military a decision that he challenged but, so far, has lost. Joining us for his first ever interview is the lieutenant colonel victor fehrenbach. Thank you so much for joining us tonight, sir. Thank you for your service.
FEHRENBACH: Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: You’ve been in the air force 18 years. What was your reaction when you found out you are being investigated and then discharged?
FEHRENBACH: I was devastated, absolutely devastated, Rachel. The air force has been my life, I was born on an air force base, the air force has been part of my family and I’ve served for 18 years and I was just two years short of retirement, so basically, I was faced with the end of my life as I knew it.
MADDOW: Were you expecting that you would at some point redeploy at the time that you found out they wanted you out?
FEHRENBACH: Absolutely. In fact, two weeks before this all came to light — or I’m sorry two weeks after this all came to light I was expected to deploy.
MADDOW: You were expected to deploy two weeks they told you they were going to take you out.
MADDOW: So, you were informed in September and I know that the possibility of president Obama winning the election, again, you were told in September the election was in November factored into how you decided to proceed with your appeal here. How did it factor in?
FEHRENBACH: Absolutely. This — first, these allegations first came to light in May and I wasn’t served my paperwork until September and my initial reaction was I just wanted this all to go away. I wanted a quick, quiet, fair, honorable discharge. But the more I thought about it, about how wrong this policy is, I thought that I had to fight and perhaps with my unique perspective, I could speak out and help other people in the meantime.
MADDOW: Did you think that president Obama, if he were elected, was going to end the policy?
FEHRENBACH: I did. I had tremendous hope around September and that was actually when I did reverse my decision and decided to fight because I did have hope that president Obama would follow through on his commitment to change the policy and — and initiate a policy of non discrimination.
MADDOW: There’s obviously a great sense of urgency in your life right now to don’t ask, don’t tell. And you saw the pent bon spokesman speaking today and hear all the talk how this is discussed in Washington and there definitely doesn’t seem to be that same urgency among the policymakers and politicos on this. One of the things that’s been proposed even if the policy can’t be changed through congress immediately, president Obama could show an act of good faith and do a lot of good by people like you by just taking executive action not to end the policy but to stop implementing it, to have a moratorium on the implementation of this policy until can be reviewed. Would you support something like that?
FEHRENBACH: Well, Rachel that would be an immediate solution for me and that would help my case. But the way I understand it, that’s sort of a temporary solution. I think we need a permanent solution from congress. I would hope that they would act and I would hope that the president moves fast and fulfills his promise to us. And proposes a policy of non-discrimination.
MADDOW: What’s your response to the overall argument underlying this policy? I mean the proponents of the policy say that you personally, you being gay, has a negative affect on your squadron’s good order and discipline. How do you feel about that?
FEHRENBACH: Well, it’s absolutely false. Basically, I went to my board and one of the board findings was that my presence was inconsistent with good order, discipline and morale and the fact of the matter is, for the last 369 days, I have been going to work every day and doing my duty with absolutely no impact on morale, discipline and good order.
For about 4,000 people assigned to mountain home air force base and about ten people on the entire base even knew about my case up until this very moment. And those were my immediate chain of command, this we a couple of the attorneys in the legal office and couple investigators in the office of special investigations. Not one single person that I’m assigned with in my squadron or that I fly with in my fighter squadron knew about this case until this moment.
MADDOW: I’d like to ask about something that’s not related don’t ask don’t tell because I want people to remember you and I want people to think about you when they think about this policy. Can I ask you, and I hope you don’t mind me asking because I didn’t ask in advance if this was okay could you tell me of the circumstances of the air medal you won for heroism?
FEHRENBACH: Sure, I think I can tell you the basics it was April 3rd, 2003 and basically the army was making the initial advance on Baghdad to first take Baghdad international airport and we were initially tasked with taking out basically any enemy positions we found that could stop their advance and so, after we had destroyed a couple missile launchers, actually found an Iraqi ambush site of about — it was about 12 armored personnel carriers that were just less than a mile from the army advance. We could see the army advance moving towards the airport.
At the time, my wingman had a major aircraft malfunction and was unable to deliver his weapons. So, in a short span of time, it was about 15, 20 minutes, we were able to employ all the weapons from my aircraft as well as I guided all the weapons from my wingman’s aircraft while under — it was constant triple-A fire and I believe we were fired upon approximately eight times by surface-to-air missiles.
MADDOW: And you took out the enemy position completely.
FEHRENBACH: We took the entire position out and that night the army took Baghdad international airport.
MADDOW: Lt. Col. victor fehrenbach 18-year veteran of the air force received a discharge letter September 2008, good luck to you. Thank you for talking with us tonight.
FEHRENBACH: Thank you, Rachel.