Breaking: Lt. Col. Victor Fehrenbach sues to block DADT discharge

Posted on 11 Aug 2010 at 7:44pm

This is big news, and something we can discuss in tonight’s PHB/Servicemembers United liveblog. (NYT):

On Wednesday, Colonel Fehrenbach’s lawyers filed papers in Idaho federal court requesting a temporary order blocking his discharge. The petition contends that a discharge would violate Colonel Fehrenbach’s rights, cause him irreparable harm and fail to meet standards established in a 2008 federal court ruling on don’t ask, don’t tell.

For advocates of abolishing the ban against gay men, lesbians and bisexuals serving openly, Colonel Fehrenbach’s case has become something of a line in the sand. Though President Obama has called for ending the ban and Congress has begun moving in that direction, gay service members continue to face investigations and discharge, albeit at a lower rate than in past years.

Lawyers for Colonel Fehrenbach assert that his case is among the most egregious applications of the policy in their experience. The Air Force investigation into his sexuality began with a complaint from a civilian that was eventually dismissed by the Idaho police and the local prosecutor as unfounded, according to court papers. Colonel Fehrenbach has never publicly said that he is gay.

However, during an interview with an Idaho law enforcement official, he acknowledged having consensual sex with his accuser. Colonel Fehrenbach’s lawyers say he did not realize Air Force investigators were observing that interview; his admission led the Air Force to open its “don’t ask” investigation.

Under new regulations issued by Defense Secretary Robert Gates this year, “don’t ask” investigations must be based on information from credible sources. Colonel Fehrenbach’s lawyers argue that the credibility of his accuser is clearly undermined by the dismissal of the sexual assault case.

His lawyers also assert that his case underscores the ways the ban hurts military readiness, the very thing it is supposed to protect. They say that Colonel Fehrenbach’s performance reviews were consistently glowing, including his most recent one, which says he was a “proven leader” who “raised morale” in his unit, according to papers filed by his lawyers.

Joe Sudbay at Americablog has the legal filing.

You may recall that last year, at the LGBT cocktail reception on June 29, 2009, while so many of our “leaders” were enjoying their cocktails and reveling in their A-list status, Fehrenbach actually had a very important and substantive conversation with President Obama about his situation. According to Victor, who appeared that same night on Rachel Maddow’s show:
[Obama] looked me right in the eye and he said, “We’re going to get this done.” And then he continued to say, you know, everyone seems to be onboard. We’ve got about 75 percent of the public that supports this. He said, but we have a generational issue. And so, there is some convincing to do, that there is a generational gap it seems and some of the senior leadership.

Well over a year later, it hasn’t been done. And, Victor’s lawyers know that his discharge is imminent.

In March 2010, Fehrenbach received the Winchell Courage Award at the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network Annual Dinner and he gave a moving speech about his experience to date. It is below the fold.

Fehrenbach:

First let me say that I am truly humbled, honored, and grateful for this recognition tonight.  

I am especially honored that it was presented by Pat and Wally Kutteles.  I don’t have words to describe what this means to me.  I only hope that I can do honor to Barry’s memory and live up to his legacy.  This fight is for him and the thousands of others who did not have a voice.  Thank you so much!  

Congressman Murphy, thank you – not only for your inspiring words tonight – but more importantly, for your military service and your leadership in Congress.  It’s so important that we have a combat veteran lead this fight, because YOU know first-hand that this is not only about equal rights, but also national security.  Thank you, sir.
Of all the awards  and decorations that I’ve received throughout my career, THIS has the most meaning to me, because it was the most hard-fought…NOT by me, but by the thousands of brave, honorable service members who have came before me, laying the groundwork and giving me the inspiration to speak out.  

No ONE person truly deserves this honor, because no ONE person has earned it alone.  No one has courage ALONE.

I want to thank pioneers like Colonel Margaret Cammermeyer, Commander Zoe Dunning, Sergeant Darren Manzella, and my hero, Major Margaret Witt, to name a few – for giving me HOPE.

I want to thank Aubrey Sarvis and the hundreds of SLDN volunteers who have served over the years, and especially now.  Some of us have been called “the voice,” but SLDN has always been “the heart and the soul” of this fight.  For years, you faced the tough challenges, did the hard work, got your hands dirty, trying to make life better for thousands of brave, patriotic Americans.  And you do all of this with no fanfare, and too often, very little thanks.  I have received thousands of messages from all over the world, thanking ME for speaking out.  But really, ALL of those messages were for YOU!  Without SLDN, I would have never had a voice and I would have never had the courage.  

I want to give another special thanks to Rachel Maddow.  Not only did she give me a voice, but she was perhaps the only person in the national media who kept this issue on the front burner-on ANY burner-for years.  She publicly pressed policy makers to keep their promises and she made sure this struggle was consistently in the public consciousness.  Rachel:  Thanks so much for your leadership, your voice, your dedication, and most of all, your friendship!

At the end of the day, I don’t think anything I have done was due to courage on MY part.  I simply did the right thing-did what my mama taught me, as they say-and I felt I had an obligation and duty to speak out.  People have courage, because of the love, strength, and faith of those around them.  No one has courage ALONE.  

Few people know this, but for a year, while I was going through this struggle very privately, only five of my closest friends knew what was going on in my life.  The day I was informed of my possible discharge, still in utter shock, I called Mike Almy.  He went through this pain 3 years earlier.  After a long, panicked conversation, he advised me to go to SLDN’s website and read everything I could, and then call them as soon as I could.  He told me that SLDN could help.  And so I have to thank Mike for, really, EVERYTHING since then.  The next week, I called my four other best friends-Mike, Jenny, Jimbo, and Nick-told them my story and asked for advice.  I told them I just wanted a quick, quiet, fair, honorable discharge….I wanted to make this ALL go away, get a job, and move on with life.  They all agreed.  After days of soul searching, I had a change of heart.  I thought that perhaps I could tell my story, and make a positive impact and help others.  When I mentioned this to my five close friends, they ALL admitted that’s what they wanted me to say from the first day.  From that point, every time a major issue or decision came up, I called them for their advice.  They helped me make the ultimate decision to go public last spring.  Just saying thank you to these five can never be enough.  This honor is for them-it is for THEIR courage.

My last, and most important, thanks goes to my family:  to my mom-the greatest, strongest person I’ve ever known, to my 7 brothers and sisters, and to my 17 nieces and nephews.  Without THEIR courage, strength, and love, none of this would have ever happened.  Because, you see-very few people know this as well-but every single one of them got a vote.

Last May, when I contacted Kevin and Emily at SLDN and told them I had made the decision to go public, they were excited and made all the arrangements in just a few short days.  I was scheduled to appear on The Rachel Maddow Show on Tuesday, but there was a catch:  it was Friday, and I hadn’t even COME OUT to my family yet, let alone told them I was getting thrown out of the military, let alone that I was going on national TV to talk about it.  

Now, I drop bombs for a living, but these were three really big bombs!  

So I told Kevin and Emily that I would tell my family over the weekend, and if any ONE person in my family had any ONE reason to say NO, the deal would be off.  I was not about to drag any member of my family through all of this.  One by one, they ALL agreed, not only SHOULD I do this, but I HAD to do this-it was a duty….an obligation.  
After this support structure was set up on Monday, I told my mom.  She simply said that we were ALL in this together, and that she loved me, was proud of me, and supported me.  This honor is for her and for them-it is for THEIR courage. No one has courage ALONE.  

To all of the amazing people I’ve acknowledge tonight, I owe a tremendous debt that cannot be measured, nor fully repaid.  I can only MAKE one simple promise:  to pay it forward-to help others the way you’ve helped me.  And I can KEEP another simple promise, in the words of my Commander-in-Chief:  ”WE WILL GET THIS DONE!”

     Thank you for this incredible honor.  God bless you, and God bless America!

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