Page last updated at 13:15 GMT, Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Viewpoint: Gay US airman

Lt Col Victor Fehrenbach beside a military aircraft
Lt Col Fehrenbach has been an air force pilot for 18 years

After the top US military commander, Adm Mike Mullen, tells senators it is right to lift a ban on openly gay personnel, Air Force pilot Lt Col Victor Fehrenbach - who is currently in the process of being discharged for being gay - tells BBC News what reversing the ban would mean to him.

In May of 2008, my world ended.

For 17 years, I had served my country in the Air Force honourably. I had deployed overseas five times and participated in seven major combat operations. I had been highly decorated and had risen to the rank of lieutenant colonel. In addition, I had abided by the military's corrupt, senseless "don't ask, don't tell" policy. I played by the rules. I kept my private life very private… even from my family. All that came to an end when I was "outed" by a third party and reported to my military superiors.

Lt Col Victor Fehrenbach
When you discharge people with critical combat skills... this law harms our overall national security

In September of 2008, I received notification that I was going to be discharged for being gay. In April of 2009, I faced a military discharge "board" (a modern-day witch trial) that recommended me for an honourable discharge and came to a baseless conclusion that my continued service was "detrimental to good order, discipline, and morale".

After that year-long nightmare, I had nothing else to lose - they had taken my job, my livelihood, my career, my pension, my life as I knew it - but I came to the conclusion that they could never take away my honour and my sense of right and wrong.

With that, I decided to come forward and speak out in the media. I felt that telling my story might have a positive impact and help change this law. In all this time, even after I came out publicly in the national media, I have continued to serve in the Air Force, in the same job, in the same squadron, as an openly gay man - with no negative impact on good order, discipline, and morale.

Nearly one year later, in his State of the Union Address, President Barack Obama reaffirmed his promise to end this discriminatory policy in 2010.

Over the course of these months, heating up in recent weeks, I have heard proponents of this policy put forth one simple argument, with absolutely zero justification based on facts, data, scientific study, nor reason of any kind.

One of their arguments is that "it's working, it's successful". Another is a stall tactic: "This is not the time, while we are in the middle of two wars." Neither of these arguments is based in fact.

An F15E jet over Alska (file picture)
Decorated with nine medals for distinguished service in flight
Decorated for heroism the night US forces captured Baghdad International Airport in 2003
Flew F-15E jets

I can show how this law is unconstitutional - constitutional rights of privacy, due process and equal protection are violated in almost every case. I can show how this law is blatant discrimination. I can show how this law negatively affects the combat effectiveness of a military unit.

More importantly, I can show that, when you discharge people with critical combat skills, 13,500 times over, during two wars, to the tune of billions and billions of dollars in training and replacement costs, this law harms our overall national security.

Finally, I can show how this law goes against every value and principle that this great nation was founded on, that it compromises the integrity and honour not just of the individuals who are forced to serve under it but of the military institution as a whole.

"Don't ask, don't tell" is wrong - plain and simple.

I agree with President Obama, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Adm Mullen. I support their calls for repeal and I agree that it is simply "the right thing to do".

After the Senate hearings, I have never been so proud to wear my uniform. I am proud to serve with Adm Mullen and I am proud to serve under his command.

Today represents a small step on a long journey to justice and equality but it is still a historic step nonetheless. I am optimistic. I look forward to putting my uniform on tomorrow and in days to come.

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