An Air Force officer described as a "war hero" and "superstar" by his commanders is fighting a different war these days -- against a discharge under the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy.
A U.S. Air Force panel has recommended that Lt. Col. Victor Fehrenbach, who has flown on dozens of combat missions over Iraq, Afghanistan and Kosovo as a weapons officer, be discharged immediately after he admitted that he had sex with at least one man. His attorneys are seeking a temporary restraining order to prevent the discharge while they argue the case in court.
This all began in May 2008, when a civilian accused Fehrenbach of sexually assaulting him. Police investigated the matter and later dismissed the charge, saying the accuser had a history of making false allegations.
But during questioning, the 19-year military veteran told police that he did have consensual sex with the man. He did not know that military investigators were also listening.
Fehrenbach's lawyers argue he has never publicly said he's gay and kept his sexuality private as required under "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." But while not commenting specifically about Fehrenbach's case, the Pentagon has made it clear that if someone outs themselves, discharge proceedings can begin.
Fehrenbach said in a statement:
"I have given my entire adult life to the Air Force that I love. I have deployed six times and risked my life for my country. In the two years that I've been sitting at my desk rather than inside my jet, I've offered to deploy numerous times."
The Justice Department, Air Force and Fehrenbach's legal team have been negotiating a temporary stay on the impending discharge to allow the case to play out in court, according to the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, (SLDN), a gay advocacy group.
"Lt. Col. Fehrenbach signed up nearly 19 years ago willing to risk all and die for his country, flying nearly 90 combat missions in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Kosovo," said SLDN's Aubrey Sarvis. "Why and how the hell do we end up firing our best and brightest when we're fighting in two wars?"
Fehrenbach is one of the highest-ranking military officers investigated for homosexual conduct. A discharge before September 2011 would cost him valuable retirement benefits awarded to those who serve at least 20 years.
The House included a repeal of "Aon't Ask, Don't Tell" in its annual defense spending package. The Senate is expected to consider the measure after the August recess.