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Aviator Lt. Col. Victor Fehrenbach, fighting discharge under 'don't ask' gay ban, to retire

By JESSIE L. BONNER, Associated Press

BOISE, Idaho -- An aviator fighting his discharge under the "don't ask, don't tell" policy has been granted his request to retire from the U.S. Air Force with his full rank and pension.

Lt. Col. Victor Fehrenbach told The Associated Press on Thursday he is scheduled to remain on active duty until Oct. 1.

Fehrenbach is stationed at the Mountain Home Air Force Base in Idaho and filed a federal lawsuit last year seeking to block the Air Force from discharging him under the Clinton-era law that banned gays and lesbians from openly serving in the armed forces.

President Barack Obama signed the law repealing the "don't ask, don't tell" policy in December.

Fehrenbach said the Air Force notified him in January that his request to end his 20-year career with his rank and benefits intact had been granted.

"It was a big relief," Fehrenbach said. "There was actually a light at the end of the tunnel and that was the first time I felt that."

The winner of nine air medals for distinguished service in flight, including one for heroism the night U.S. forces captured Baghdad International Airport in 2003, Fehrenbach disclosed he was gay in 2008 as he defended himself against allegations investigated by the Boise Police Department that he sexually assaulted another man.

Fehrenbach acknowledged that he had sex with the man, but said it was consensual and he was cleared of the assault allegations.

But he still faced ouster from the military under the "don't ask, don't tell" policy, which prohibited the military from asking about the sexual orientation of service members but requires discharge of those who acknowledge being gay or are discovered to be engaging in homosexual activity.

Fehrenbach, the son of Air Force veterans, was devastated when he learned he might not retire with full military honors or his pension. The Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group seeks equal treatment of gays in the military, represented Fehrenbach in his legal fight to keep his job and filed a federal lawsuit on his behalf in August.

A week after the lawsuit was filed, Fehrenbach reached an agreement with the Air Force to temporarily block his discharge. The agreement prevents the military from discharging him until a hearing on a court order to stop his ouster from the military is held.

M. Andrew Woodmansee, who served as lead counsel for Fehrenbach, said the federal lawsuit is still open. But the legal fight will not be pursued unless the Air Force tries to discharge Fehrenbach before his scheduled retirement later this year, Woodmansee said.

The decision to grant Fehrenbach's request for retirement makes it unlikely the military will pursue his ouster under "don't ask, don't tell," Woodmansee said.

"My assumption it's kind of an acknowledgement that they're not going to pursue the case," he said.

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