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Qualified Soldiers Discharged, Despite Coming End Of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

By Igor Volsky  

"Qualified Soldiers Discharged, Despite Coming End Of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell"

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Last night, Rachel Maddow dedicated the better part of her program to three servicemembers who are leaving the military because of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy, which prohibits gays and lesbian from serving openly in the armed forces. Despite the pending legislation to begin the process of repealing the ban and Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ new “more humane” standards for discharging gay servicemembers, highly trained and decorated soldiers are still being pushed out of the service because of their sexual orientation.

Capt. Jonathan Hopkins — a graduate of West Point and a veteran of three combat deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan — was discharged on Tuesday after being outed for being gay. Cadet Katherine Miller is voluntarily resigning from West Point, because she can no longer put “the personal aspects” of her identity “on the back seat.” And Lt. Col. Victor Fehrenbach — a 19 year veteran of the Air Force, who has been cited by his fellow service members for raising morale — is now suing the federal government to stop his imminent discharge and force the military to apply the new discharge guidelines and the Ninth Circuit’s Witt standard to DADT cases. If they don’t, qualified members will continue to leave the institution:

CAPT. JONATHAN HOPKINS: “My battalion commander brought me in, it was the same day that I was announced that I was on promotion for — to ‘major’ a year early, which only a small minority of the Army receives. At the same time, he said, but also you`re under investigation for being gay. It`s really kind of exemplifies the paradox here that some of the people the Army judges to be among the best also might be taken out by this policy that isn`t based on your performance but instead on how you were born.”

CADET KATHERINE MILLER: “I knew that I really wanted to go to West Point and I really wanted to serve my country.
And I was able to put my – personal aspects of my identity in the backseat….But being re-closeted has been a much bigger challenge than I ever anticipated. It`s taken a much bigger toll socially, mentally, emotionally than I could have imagined.”

LT. COL. VICTOR FEHRENBACH: “And when the secretary announced these new standards in March, he said that they did apply to open cases, and my case is still open to this date. And those — each one of those factors that he announced applies to my case. And if they don`t apply to my case, then, Rachel, they don`t — they don`t apply to any case.”

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In the Witt case, the court reviewed the constitutionality of DADT in light of the United States Supreme Court decision in Lawrence v. Texas and found that for soldiers like Fehrenbach, who are discharged within the geographical confines of the Ninth Circuit, the military must “demonstrate that the individual ‘undermined good order and discipline’ in his or her unit and that “the only way to preserve good order and discipline” would be to discharge the soldier. The Pentagon still refuses to apply the Witt standard or the new “more humane” policy to Fehrenbach’s discharge.

And while the only way to permanently change the law is through Congressional action, Fehrenbach believes that President Obama could do more to stop the discharges of gay soldiers. As he notes above, Obama could issue an executive order, declare a “stop-loss,” or create very high requirements for enforcement. “He looked me right in the eye, and he said, ‘We`re going to get this done,’ Fehrenbach recalled. In March of 2008, Obama also told the Advocate Magazine, “We’re spending large sums of money to kick highly qualified gays or lesbians out of our military, some of whom possess specialties like Arab-language capabilities that we desperately need. That doesn’t make us more safe.” In November of 2009, he added, “We should not be punishing patriotic Americans who have stepped forward to serve the country. We should be celebrating their willingness to step forward and show such courage … especially when we are fighting two wars.”

Perhaps keeping those commitments in mind, Fehrenbach told Maddow, “We definitely need the president to step forward and to lead this fight to end this discrimination, this unconstitutional law.”

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