March 10, 2010 | by Chris Johnson
Discharged officers to testify on 'Don't Ask' before Senate

Jenny Kopfstein, a former Navy surface warfare officer, will testify on "Don't Ask, Don't Tell' (photo courtesy sldn.org).

Two former service members who were discharged under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” are set to testify on the law at an upcoming Senate hearing.

The Senate Armed Services Committee will hear from Jenny Kopfstein, a lesbian and former Navy surface warfare officer separated under the law, and Michael Almy, who’s gay and served as an Air Force communications officer for 13 years before his discharge.

The hearing is set for March 18 at 9:30 am and will take place in Room 216 of the Senate Hart Office Building.

In a statement, Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, commended the discharged service members for coming before the Senate.

We are pleased the committee has decided to hear from Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who have been impacted by ['Don't Ask, Don't Tell'],” he said. “Both were dedicated and skilled members of their units, who should not have been kicked out.”

In addition to the two discharged service members, retired Marine Corps. Gen. John Sheehan, a former commander-in-chief for U.S. Atlantic Command and former Supreme Allied Commander for the Atlantic, will also testify. According to SLDN, he’ll speak in favor of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

Born in 1940, Sheehan has 35 years of military service. He participated in the Vietnam War and the First Persian Gulf War before retiring 13 years ago, according to SLDN.

In 1996, Sheehan made comments during a Defense Department press briefing on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” according to a transcript of his remarks.

During the conference, after a reporter asked whether the then-two-year-old law had affected the statistics for discharges, Sheehan said he hasn’t paid attention to those numbers.

But, I will tell you, from a troop perspective, they understand what the policy is and I don’t know of anybody that has purposely subverted the process,” he said.

Asked further whether he knew of any harassment as a result of the law, Sheehan said he didn’t know of any.

And, I spend a lot of time talking to troops, and I’ve got to tell you something, today’s young kids, if they think they’ve got a problem, they’ll come and find you and tell you,” he said.

The stories of the discharged service members slated to testify at the upcoming Senate hearing have often been told in the media.

At the press conference earlier this month unveiling the Senate repeal bill, Almy was present and described how he was separated from the Air Force in 2006. He said discharge proceedings started after he had finished a deployment leading of team of nearly 200 service members in Iraq in charge of command-and-control equipment.

Shortly after I left Iraq, someone in the unit that had replaced mine found my personal e-mails I wrote in the stress of the combat zone in Iraq during the height of the insurgency,” he said. “The Air Force conducted a search of my private e-mails solely to determine if I had violated ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ and to gather whatever evidence they could use against me.”

Almy said his private e-mails were forwarded to his commander, who called him into his office and demanded an explanation. Refusing to make statement, Almy said he wanted first to speak with an attorney.

I was relieved of my duties leading nearly 200 airmen, my security clearance was suspended, part of my pay was terminated and I was forced to endure a grueling, 16-month legal ordeal before I was ultimately discharged from the Air Force,” Almy said.

On his last day of active duty, Almy said he was given a police escort from his base “as if I were common criminal and were a threat to national security.”

Almy said he was discharged from the Air Force even though throughout his 13 years of service he never made a statement to the military violating “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

To say that this policy is working is to completely discredit my four deployments to the Middle East, my 13-year career as a decorated officer,” he said.

Kopfstein has a similar experience of being separated in 2002 under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” during her service in Afghanistan.

According to her bio on SLDN’s website, Kopfstein realized that during her first duty, which took place on the U.S.S. Shiloh, that “concealing her sexual orientation from others was inconsistent with her strong values of honesty and honor.”

Kopfstein found it difficult to answer casual questions about her personal life without lying or concealing the whole truth,” her bio states. “After a few months on board, Kopfstein gave her Commanding Officer a letter saying that she was a lesbian, and also saying that she wished to continue service.”

Despite this admission, Kopfstein wasn’t immediately discharged. She served on a second six-month deployment and ultimately was retained on the ship for 22 months. Kopfstein even received distinctions, several awards and a promotion after she disclosed her sexual orientation.

Still, 19 months after she admitted her sexual orientation, a board of inquiry convened to review her case. Both of her captains testified on her behalf, saying they understood she was a lesbian, but wanted her to remain in service. Despite these recommendations, the board voted to discharge her.

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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