SAN FRANCISCO – A three-member review board at a California naval base voted Thursday against discharging a 26-year-old petty officer who was investigated for violating the military’s ban on openly gay servicemembers, according to the sailor at the center of the probe.
Petty Office Second Class Derek Morado said the three-member board composed of two officers and a fellow enlisted man voted unanimously after a six-hour hearing at Lemoore Naval Air Station to allow him to serve out the remaining three years of his current enlistment.
The board’s recommendation still must be reviewed by the navy’s Military Personnel Command, but Morado said he thinks that is more of a formality than an obstacle that could still end the career he started straight out of high school.
“It’s much harder to keep me out than it is to keep me,” he said. “Obviously, I will have to continue to meet the Navy’s standards from here on out. As long as I can do that, I can continue to have a very good career.”
Navy officials did not immediately confirm Morado’s account or comment on it.
Morado is one of a handful of servicemembers who have been subject to discharge proceedings — and one of very few to go public with their stories —- since Congress voted to repeal the “don’t ask, don’t tell” ban on openly gay troops in December, according to Servicemembers Legal Defense Network.
The Pentagon has said that no troops have been fired under the 1993 policy since then, although “don’t ask, don’t tell” remains in effect until military leaders certify the armed forces are ready to integrate openly gay troops.
Morado, a Sacramento native who has been stationed at Lemoore near Fresno for three years and is transferring to San Diego next week, said he had been under investigation for violating the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy since 2009, when someone reported seeing a picture of him kissing a male friend and that he described himself as gay on his MySpace page.
“I’ve kind of served since the beginning comfortably. I’ve never gone out of the way to hide who I was,” he said. “Throughout my career I’ve met nothing but support or people not really caring, which is why I got complacent. But I finally crossed paths with someone who cared.”
During his discharge hearing on Thursday, two active duty personnel and two civilian co-workers testified as character witnesses on his behalf. His Navy lawyer told the board that in his closing argument that with “don’t ask, don’t tell” on its way out, ending Morado’s career now would not be morally sound, according to Morado.
The review board did not say if the status of the policy factored into its decision, but simply stated that it was in the navy’s interet to retain Morado, he said.