Soapbox: Lt. Col. Victor Fehrenbach gets the last word
Monday, 25 October 2010
Since being an Instinct Leading Man in 2009, Lt. Col. Victor Fehrenbach has been more prominent and vocal than ever, tirelessly advocating for the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" repeal while continuing to battle his own discharge proceedings. In light of the recent developments regarding DADT, we invited our former cover guy back to tackle the Soapbox as only a true Leading Man can.
This past March, I was recognized at the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network's annual dinner with the Barry Winchell Courage award. I was humbled to receive this recognition. In my 19 years of military service, I have never received a greater honor!
For those unfamiliar with Winchell, he was a highly regarded Army soldier who was brutally murdered on Fourth of July night in 1999. Fellow soldiers suspected he was gay and harassed him for months before his attack, but Barry felt he couldn't report this for fear of opening up an investigation under "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."
Since his death, his parents, Pat and Wally Kutteles, have fought tirelessly to repeal DADT so that no other brave service members would be victims of this unconstitutional law. When I first met his mother, all I could see in her eyes was sadness, loss and heartache. No one should ever feel that kind of pain. I never want to see the sadness I saw in Pat's eyes in another mother's eyes. But in the midst of that sadness, there was also a sense of determination and hope. This woman is a true hero in every sense of the word!
In September, DADT repeal efforts suffered a setback when the U.S. Senate failed to end John McCain's filibuster of the National Defense Authorization Act. In the weeks leading up, we were sure we had the votes to finally end this unjust law.
When the vote finally came, I was devastated. These so-called "leaders"—whether they agreed with DADT repeal or not—simply played politics with our civil rights. After 17 years of injustice, our rights (and my career) came down to "process," "procedure" and politics. How could this be?
Just three days later, I was fortunate to be present at the ruling in the federal court trial of Maj. Margaret Witt, a highly decorated combat flight nurse who was discharged under DADT in 2005. Judge Ronald B. Leighton (a George W. Bush appointee) ordered her immediate reinstatement, citing that her discharge did not advance an important government/military interest and that DADT violated her constitutional due process rights. At the end of the proceeding, Judge Leighton did something unsolicited and unexpected—he made a personal statement, fighting back tears, suggesting that the best thing to come out of all this was the love and support Witt received from her family. Following a temporary defeat, a major victory.
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Maj. Witt gives hope to tens of thousands of courageous service members currently serving in silence and in fear, just as she gave me hope days after I was confronted with my own DADT battle. You see, Margaret Witt has been my personal hero since May 2008. When my ordeal began, I was ready to give up—not just on my fight and my career, but more than a few times, on life itself. I was ready to sign it all away—I wanted a quick, quiet honorable discharge. I wanted no one—particularly my family and military friends—to know why I "left" the Air Force. (After all, I had been in the closet my entire life.) But just one week later, Witt won her appeal and created what became known as the "Witt Standard." When I read about her case and her fight, I had my first glimpse of hope and I had the first idea that I could speak out, fight and possibly win. Following what seemed like total darkness came a glimmer of light.
Today is no different. We still have the power to end DADT this year by pressuring our senators and demanding that they stop playing politics with our civil rights! After the midterm elections, the Senate must pass the NDAA (military spending bill) and they can still attach DADT repeal as an amendment. We can still make a difference by pressuring our senators to pass the bill by December. And we can demand that they stop playing politics with our civil rights! Call, write, e-mail your senators and other key senators (Reid, McCain, Collins, Snowe, Brown, Voinovich, Lugar, among others), then call again! We must take action now! Our rights are not up for a popular vote, and they are not determined by the result of some biased survey or poll—they are fundamental and guaranteed. They are the rights that I and tens of thousands of gay service members have risked and given their lives for, in all our country's wars. I've given half of my life to the country and the Air Force I love. I've literally risked my life in battle—dodging enemy missile and artillery fire—to fight for rights that we are denied.
We cannot let Barry Winchell's death, his parents' sacrifice and Maj. Witt's long-fought battle be in vain. This is our time to truly make a difference, and we cannot let it go to waste. We must turn this sadness into hope, this anger into determination and this defeat into victory! In the fighter pilot tradition, I say: "FIGHT'S ON!"