LT. DAN CHOI and Lt. Col. Victor Fehrenbach are the kind of military officers the United States needs more of. But they soon will be kicked out of the military because they are gay and didn't hide it.
Choi, an officer in the National Guard, is a 2003 West Point graduate, an Arabic speaker who spent 18 months in Iraq. Fehrenbach is an 18-year Air Force veteran who has flown 88 combat missions and is two years from retirement.
Unless President Obama steps in, Choi and Fehrenbach will join 13,000 service members forced out of the military in the 16 years of "don't ask, don't tell" policy. At least 260 of them have been removed since Obama took office.
The word from the White House - at least this week - is that Obama still is committed to repealing "don't ask, don't tell." Yet he won't stop the forced discharge of good military people - and with it, the waste of millions of dollars the U.S. government has spent on their training.
It wasn't surprising that the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday refused to hear an appeal of a case challenging the policy's constitutionality. Neither is Congress' reluctance to do anything that takes political courage, even though a recent Gallup poll shows 69 percent of Americans favor allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military.
That shouldn't keep the president from issuing an executive order to prevent the forced discharges of gay military right now. In fact, an executive order now likely would make it easier to gain full congressional repeal of the "don't ask don't tell" policy later, says a recent study by the Palm Center of the University of California at Santa Barbara.
It says the commander in chief has the authority to "retain members of the armed forces serving under his command when essential to the national security." In the recent past, this so-called "stop-loss" program was used to force members of the military to serve beyond their tours of duty in Iraq because there weren't enough skilled replacements. In this case, the president would stop the loss of qualified soldiers who are desperately needed, reducing the need for replacements.
The study's authors believe that when gay and lesbian soldiers serve openly for a period, it will bolster the case that equal treatment not only doesn't detract from "unit cohesion," but adds to it. That will provide more impetus for full repeal of the policy in Congress.
"Don't ask, don't tell" is not only a gay issue, it's a national-security issue. In a time when the armed forces struggle to meet recruitment goals, kicking out 13,000 experienced troops reduces military readiness and makes us all less safe.
It's wrong, and it's dishonorable. As Lt. Choi points out, it forces soldiers to deceive and lie and others to tolerate deception and lying. And that "poisons a unit and cripples a fighting force."
Political "reality" may prevent quick congressional action on "don't ask, don't tell." But Obama has the power to stop the hemorrhaging of good soldiers from our military.
He should use it.