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An Air Force spokesman confirmed today that the secretary of the Air Force approved a discharge under the military’s ”Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy on April 29 of this year. The discharge, according to a Pentagon spokeswoman, is the only such discharge since the Pentagon on Oct. 21, 2010, directed that DADT discharges would require the approval of the service branch secretary.
At a January news conference, Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Clifford Stanley said that no DADT-related discharges had occurred under the new procedure requiring the approval of the service branch secretary, Stanley and Defense Department general counsel for discharges. Prior to October 2010, a one-star general or the equivalent could sign off on a discharge.
Asked by Metro Weekly at the time to clarify the circumstances under which an individual would be discharged currently under DADT, Stanley said then that he could not answer with any specificity because he must consider ”the gestalt of all of what that individual is or is about.”
Pentagon spokeswoman Eileen Lainez wrote today to Metro Weekly, ”The only separation approved following the Oct. 21, 2010 policy change is an Air Force separation, approved Apr. 29, 2011.”
Air Force Major Joel Harper, an Air Force spokesman, clarified the specifics of the discharge to Metro Weekly, writing, ”On April 29th, 2011, the Secretary of the Air Force approved the discharge of an Airman under the provisions of 10 USC 654, after coordination with the DoD General Counsel [Jeh Johnson] and the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness [Stanley].”
Harper continued, ”Each of these officials evaluated the case carefully, and concluded that separation was appropriate. The Airman in the case asked to be separated expeditiously.”
Servicemembers United executive director Alex Nicholson, who stated that he was unfamiliar with this case, wrote, ”[T]he Department of Defense has made it abundantly clear that it is now virtually impossible to discharge someone who does not want to be discharged.”
Harper did not immediately respond to a request for further information about the Airman and the circumstance of the Airman’s discharge, including whether a voluntary statement by the servicemember was the basis for the discharge.
Nicholson, however, noted, ”We know that servicemembers have sometimes requested their own discharges and have used the fact that the law is on the books to force a discharge through despite a command or service preference for retention.”
Nonetheless, the development stands in contrast to two documents put out by the White House this week pointing to the passage of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Repeal Act in December 2010 as one of the administration’s successes for advancing LGBT equality.
President Barack Obama’s proclamation for 2011 LGBT Pride Month, which was issued on May 31, and a White House fact sheet released on June 1 detailing ”The Obama Administration’s Commitment to Winning the Future for the LGBT Community” both discuss the repeal, with Obama stating in the proclamation, ”I was proud to sign the repeal of the discriminatory ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy.”
Despite this, as the discharge shows and as Harper reiterated in his email, ”Until repeal occurs, ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ remains the law.”
Repeal will not occur under the DADT Repeal Act until the president, defense secretary and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff certify to Congress that the changes needed to implement repeal are ”consistent with the standards of military readiness, military effectiveness, unit cohesion, and recruiting and retention of the Armed Forces.” At that point, a 60-day congressional review period must pass before 10 U.S.C. 654 – the DADT law – is taken off the books.
A White House spokesman was unavailable to provide immediate comment.
Informed of the Airman’s April 29 discharge, Servicemembers Legal Defense Network executive director Aubrey Sarvis told Metro Weekly, ”This discharge underscores the need for the President, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and the Secretary of Defense to certify ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ repeal and put this ugly chapter in American history behind us. It also highlights the undeniable and unfortunate fact that service members remain under investigation and at risk of discharge.”
[UPDATE ON JUNE 3: The Air Force provided more information about the Airman’s discharge on Friday. Read here.]