ON PAPER, Dan Choi is everything the US military could hope for: a graduate of West Point academy, he has served in Iraq and is fluent in Arabic and Korean.
Despite his talents and experience, the army is seeking to get rid of Lieutenant Choi because of a personal quality it considers incompatible with military life: he is openly gay.
In one of the last instances of government-sanctioned discrimination, the military allows gay men and lesbians to serve in the military only if they keep quiet about their sexuality. For more than a year after meeting his boyfriend and falling in love, Lieutenant Choi was forced to lie or risk joining a list of almost 13,000 gay and lesbian personnel discharged in the past 16 years under the "don't ask, don't tell" policy.
"What if I deploy and he can't come to the tarmac to wish me goodbye," he asked himself, "or kiss me when I come back?" If he were to fall in combat, to whom would the army present the flag that draped his coffin?
"I started my first relationship ever in life at age 27," Lieutenant Choi said. "I'm understanding finally what love is. I have to make the decision: am I going to continue lying?"
He decided the answer was no. In March he announced on television he was a gay soldier. The military responded with a letter saying he would be charged with violating army regulations. Lieutenant Choi faces a disciplinary panel.
"You admitted publicly that you are a homosexual," the letter read. "Your actions negatively affected the good order and discipline of the New York Army National Guard."
"It's an insult to their professionalism," Lieutenant Choi said of the insinuation that fellow soldiers cannot abide a gay comrade. "They care about what a person can do for the team. We're in a time of war. We have bigger things to worry about than people being gay."
The discharge of thousands of people because of their sexuality over the past 16 years has generated strong criticism that the military is diminishing its strength when the country cannot afford it.
The Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns make onerous demands on manpower and relations remain tense with Iran and North Korea. But lawyers say the army has discharged 59 gay Arabic linguists and nine gay Farsi linguists in the past five years.
Lieutenant Choi will probably be offered an honourable discharge. But he intends to fight. If he loses, he risks forfeiting his military pension and health benefits.