Rachel Maddow’s interview with Lt. Col. Victor Fehrenbach, who has spent 19 years as a fighter pilot in the Air Force and is in the process of being discharged from the military because he’s gay, is the personification of the failure of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy and a test case for the Pentagon’s new “more humane” approach towards discharging gay and lesbian servicemembers:
FEHRENBACH: And we also don`t know if they`re taking extra time because Secretary Gates, as you know, announced new, more lenient, more humane enforcement standards in March. So maybe they`re taking the extra time to apply those standards. We hope so. As you know, those standards – some of the things you now see, my case meets all those standards. For instance, it was not credible information that was presented. It was not from a reliable source. And my chain of command did not take into consideration how that information was gained.
And then finally, it was clearly malicious intent involved by the person who outed me. So my case should be, you know, basically the poster case for the new enforcement standards. My case meets every one of those criteria. So really, the Air Force has the opportunity to do the right thing here, to dismiss my cases and retain me. And I hope they do that under these new enforcement standards.
On Monday, Pentagon spokesperson Geoff Morrell couldn’t understand why some gay troops would find the survey or its questions insulting. Here, Fehrenbach explains: “[Y]ou know, there are things in combat that we just don`t think about. You think about where your next meal is going to come from. You think about your next mission. You think about your family back home. And you just don`t think about who`s showering next to you.” “Questions like that – they got specific – seem somewhat insulting.”
Fehrenbach also argued that polling the troops was not effective way of ensuring effective implementation. “You know, if we wanted to see if everybody was comfortable, you know, we could ask them if they wanted to go home for Christmas or stay in a tent in Afghanistan. You`d probably get 90 percent that said they`d rather go home for Christmas,” he said. “And nobody asked me if I was comfortable while I was getting shot at eight times over Baghdad. Nobody if I was comfortable in my 13-hour mission over Afghanistan.”
The Pentagon however, insists that these questions are necessary for effective repeal. “Do you want us to put our head in the sand and ignore concerns that have been voiced to us by the force?” Morrell asked me. “It is better for us to ask some of these questions up front in as candid a manner as possible, to get as much information as possible, so we are prepared for this eventuality. It would be irresponsible of us to do otherwise.”
These two views seem irreconcilable: gay service members believe that some of the assumptions made about “homosexuals” are offensive, but the military believes that it needs to make these assumptions to garner enough information to implement repeal effectively. For now, it seems like gays will just have to feel offended.