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Board urges discharge of gay Iraq vet

/ Source: The Associated Press

A military administrative board recommended Tuesday that a National Guard officer who publicly announced he's gay should be discharged for violating the military's policy against homosexual conduct.

Lt. Dan Choi would be the first New York National Guard member discharged for violating the so-called "don't ask, don't tell" policy, said Lt. Col. Paul Fanning, a spokesman for the New York Army National Guard.

Choi, 28, appeared in Syracuse before a Federal Recognition Board, a panel of four military officers, which deliberated four hours before deciding to recommend the Army no longer recognize him as an officer. In essence, that amounts to a discharge, Fanning said.

Choi, a combat veteran, said it amounted to firing him "for nothing more than telling the truth about who I am."

"I'm a leader. A setback is an opportunity to keep fighting, and I'm going to do that through my actions," said Choi, who on Sunday was a celebrity grand marshal in San Francisco's Gay Pride Parade.

‘Not a completed act’
The recommendation must be approved by the First Army commander and the chief of the National Guard Bureau before Choi is discharged, a process that could take anywhere from a few weeks to a year, said Maj. Roy Diehl, who represented Choi. Until then, Choi remains an active member of the National Guard, he said.

"It's a recommendation, not a completed act," Diehl said, adding he hoped military commanders would reconsider Choi's value as a soldier.

Choi likely will receive an honorable or a general discharge and could lose some of his veteran educational benefits, Diehl said.

"They are taking effective troops ... and kicking them out, removing them from the force just as effectively as if al-Qaida was blowing them up," said Diehl, who claimed the military is more tolerant of drug abusers, malcontents and adulterers.

Choi, a 2003 West Point graduate, outed himself in March in the Army Times newspaper and on a MSNBC's "The Rachel Maddow Show" to protest the military's policy, which he said forces soldiers to lie.

"It's an immoral code that goes against every single thing we were ever taught at West Point with our honor code," Choi said at the time.

His declaration was part of the launch of Knights Out, the first association representing gay and lesbian alumni of West Point. Already, Knights Out has at least 50 members who have publicly identified themselves on the group's Web site. Choi is the only one still active in the military.

‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’
The "don't ask, don't tell" policy was put in place in 1993 by former President Bill Clinton and forbids military recruiters from asking someone about his or her sexual orientation, but it also prohibits a service member from revealing if he or she is gay. About 10,500 military personnel were discharged for violating the policy between 1997 and last year, the Department of Defense said.

President Barack Obama has pledged to work to end the policy, but he has made no specific move to do so since taking office in January. The White House has said it won't stop the military from dismissing gays who admit their sexuality.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Supreme Court turned down a challenge to the Pentagon policy forbidding gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military. The court refused to hear an appeal from former Army Capt. James Pietrangelo II, who was dismissed under the military's policy while in the Vermont National Guard in 2004.

Fanning, the New York Army National Guard spokesman, said the law is the law.

"The military has no choice but to follow it," Fanning said. "We don't pick and choose what regulations to enforce."

Combat patrols in Iraq
At West Point, Choi, a native of Tustin, California, majored in Arabic language and environmental engineering.

He served in Iraq with the 10th Mountain Division for 15 months in 2006 and 2007, leading combat patrols through a region called the Triangle of Death and serving as a translator and language instructor. He also helped rebuild schools and hospitals.

In 2008, he left the Army and joined the 1st Battalion, 69th Infantry of the New York National Guard, based in Manhattan.

The closed hearing was held in Syracuse because it is the headquarters of the 27th Brigade Combat Team, which overseas Choi's National Guard unit, Fanning said.