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WASHINGTON - The Air Force has enforced the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) policy banning gays from serving openly, discharging an airman on April 29.
So far, the identity of the airman is not known. The Air Force uses the term “airman” to describe both male and female servicemembers.
This is the first DADT discharge since President Barack Obama signed a bill that will end the ban, and the first since Secretary Robert Gates mandated a tougher standard for any firing under the policy.
In October, Gates ordered that all DADT dismissals would be decided by the person's service secretary in consultation with the military's general counsel and Gates' personnel chief. He said that would ensure uniformity and care in the enforcement during a time of legal uncertainty.
DADT was under assault in the courts at the time and a federal judge in California had ordered the military to stop enforcing it, and that ruling remains under appeal.
Currently, all American troops are being trained on the repeal of DADT. The president and top defense officials must still certify the repeal won't hurt the military's ability to fight, and repeal would be official 60 days after that.
Aubrey Sarvis of Servicemembers Legal Defense Network said on Friday that the Air Force and the Pentagon are saying that the airman outed himself.
“Though unfortunate, this discharge highlights the need for certification this month, and in fact, does nothing to diminish our concern that service members remain under investigation and are at risk of being discharged," Sarvis said. "At SLDN, we have clients facing administrative board hearings right now. Some of these clients have 10 to 18 years of military service and are not looking to be separated under ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’ In fact, they are fighting these investigations and board proceedings today. It’s critical that certification happen in the month of June. ”
Alexander Nicholson, executive director of Servicemembers United, also lamented the discharge.
"While the specific circumstances surrounding this airman's decision to intentionally out himself or herself remain unclear, this appears to be a classic case of someone simply trying to use the fact that the 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' law is still technically on the books to get out of his or her service obligation," Nicholson said.
"This has always been yet another argument that we have made over the years as to why 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' is flawed and harms the military - it can also be abused to allow someone to receive expensive training and then skip out on their commitment to serve, or it can simply be used to quit the military early by forcing an early separation," he said.
"The overwhelming majority of gay and lesbian servicemembers are serving, have served, or have tried to serve out their service obligations despite the unnecessary extra burden of the 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' law. This is all the more reason that repeal should be certified before Secretary Gates departs, as is expected, so that this misguided chapter in our history is finally over."
Meanwhile, the Army has launched its DADT repeal website to provide servicemembers and their families the resources to deal with the upcoming change.
The website features the latest news articles, key facts, frequently asked questions and other resources. It is just one of the many training resources the Army implemented to educate the force and minimize misconceptions about the repeal.
"It's a way for the Army to provide the latest and greatest information about the repeal to Soldiers, family members and the public," Lt. Col Timothy M. Beninato, public affairs advisor to the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Manpower and Reserve Affairs and Army G-1, told Army News Service.
"Currently, the chain of command is the primary means for asking questions, which can significantly limit non-military individual's ability to ask questions about the repeal," Beninato said.
And in a video posted by the Pentagon Channel, Gates and other senior military officers noted that the DADT repeal training is in its final stages.
The DADT policy, which was established in 1993 during the Clinton administration, is just weeks or months from being lifted. Still, the Pentagon has not said when it will start the implementation process or when the 60-day clock will begin ticking.