Navy Awards Medal to Gay Aviator It's Trying to Expel
KIM I. MILLS
Feb. 28, 1995
WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Navy awarded an achievement medal Tuesday to a lieutenant it is trying to expel because he's gay.
Lt. Tracy Thorne, 28, received the Navy Achievement Medal in a ceremony at Naval Air Systems Command in Arlington, Va., his last active-duty posting. Thorne, a reservist living in Richmond, Va., has been waiting since July for Navy Secretary John Dalton to rule on the discharge recommendation.
Thorne said he didn't know how the Navy could have approved the citation given that it's been trying to oust him since he publicly disclosed his orientation in May 1992 on ABC's ``Nightline.''
``I'm still befuddled by it all,'' he said Tuesday. ``My commanding officer said, `What are we doing here? On the one hand, we're kicking you out, on the other, we're giving you a medal.'''
Thorne said he did not know exactly how far up the chain of command the medal recommendation went. But he noted that the citation was signed ``For the Secretary'' by Vice Adm. W.C. Bowes, commander of Naval Air Systems Command.
Lt. Cmdr. Kenneth Ross, a Navy spokesman, said Thorne's award ``reflects what he did at that command and what his commander thought of his work.'' Ross declined to say whether there was any irony in Thorne's receiving a medal while the service was trying to discharge him.
The citation recognizes Thorne's ``professional achievement in the superior performance of his duties'' between January and October 1994, while he was director of the Help Desk at Naval Air Systems Command information and technology division.
``Lieutenant Thorne's superb leadership, exceptional professionalism and total devotion to duty reflected credit upon himself and upheld the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service,'' the citation reads.
Thorne said his former commanding officer, Cmdr. Craig Luigart, recommended him for the medal.
``My commanding officer had a lot of integrity and all that mattered to him was whether you did you job in a professional manner and advanced the needs of the Navy,'' Thorne said.
Earlier Tuesday, a group that supports lifting the ban on gays in the military issued a report charging that military officials are violating the Clinton administration's ``don't ask, don't tell'' policy.
The Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, a Washington-based group that assists men and women affected by the military's policy on homosexuals, collected what it said were 340 violations of the policy. A Pentagon spokesman said the Clinton administration's defense advisers view the policy as a success and declined to comment on the unofficial data contained in the report.
Thorne was assigned to Luigart's command after he had gone public with his orientation.
``I showed up as `The Gay Bomber,''' Thorne recalled. ``I walked in the door with a reputation and to a lot of people, it wasn't a good reputation.''
But Thorne said he fell back on his naval training to do the job heading up a team of computer technicians.
Last July, a naval board of inquiry recommended that Thorne be discharged for violating the ``don't ask, don't tell'' policy. He has been waiting ever since for the Navy secretary to rule on the recommendation.
Dalton is not required to act within a specific amount of time, but ``the idea here is to do this as expediently as possible,'' Navy spokesman Lt. Bill Spann said in July.
Thorne has said that if Dalton upholds the discharge, he will go to federal court to challenge the administration's anti-gay policy.
In the meantime, Thorne continues to serve in the naval reserves. He was forced to leave active duty in October because of budget cuts. He has been trying to get a job with a reserve unit while he attends law school at the University of Richmond.
``I love the Navy and want to continue to be part of it,'' he said.