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Before birther row, Lt. Col. Lakin racked up medals as flight surgeon

By Eliott C. McLaughlin, CNN
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Soldier questions Obama's birthplace
  • Lt. Col. Terrence Lakin accused of missing a plane, refusing to deploy to Afghanistan
  • Foundation: Certification, birth announcements not the same as birth certificate
  • Honolulu newspapers, Hawaii's Republican governor have said Obama was born there
  • Military law expert: It's unlikely court will address Obama's birthplace during court-martial

(CNN) -- Lt. Col. Terrence Lakin is a poster soldier for the so-called birther movement, but for 17 years prior to his court-martial proceedings, the flight surgeon served around the globe, racking up a chest full of medals.

Military prosecutors allege that the Colorado native intentionally missed a plane in April after disobeying four lawful orders from superiors. Lakin has said he refused to deploy to Afghanistan until he sees proof that President Obama was born in the U.S.

In a YouTube explanation posted before he was charged, Lakin said he had no choice but the "distasteful one of inviting my own court-martial."

"If [Obama] is ineligible, then indeed, all orders are illegal because all orders have the origin with the commander in chief," he said.

The Uniform Code of Military Justice says the maximum punishment for both offenses -- missing his plane and disobeying lawful orders -- is a dishonorable discharge and up to two years in confinement. A guilty verdict could also result in forfeiture of his pay, which totals $7,959 a month, according to a charge sheet provided by a group sponsoring his defense.

Lakin is among 27 percent of Americans who doubt or deny that Obama is American-born, according to a recent CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll. They compose the birther movement, which demands that Obama present a birth certificate signed by the doctor who delivered him in 1961.

Obama has made public an unsigned "certification of live birth," which birthers claim is not the same as a birth certificate. However, two Honolulu, Hawaii, newspapers have presented birth announcements for Obama, and the state's Republican governor has confirmed that the president was born in the Aloha State.

In December, Col. Robin Swope, chief of the Army's administrative law division, told Lakin in a letter that his Article 138 complaint, the avenue by which troops report perceived wrongs by their commanding officers, was "deficient."

The complaint incorrectly targeted Gen. George Casey, Army chief of staff, Swope wrote. Not only was Casey not Lakin's commanding officer, Swope wrote, but "the wrongs you complain of relate to matters of law and not the discretionary acts or omissions of a commanding officer."

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Lakin wrote Obama in March, saying presidential contender Sen. John McCain willingly provided his own birth certificate and accusing the president of failing to do the same. Lakin alleges in the letter that Kenyan citizens claim Obama was born in Mombasa, Kenya's second-largest city.

He further wrote that the birth certification provided by Obama is merely a 2007 computer-generated testament that the original birth certificate is on file.

"An original birth certificate is the underlying document that presumably includes a hospital and attending physician's or midwife's name that should lay to rest the 'natural born' dispute," Lakin wrote.

Until such a document is provided, the letter said, "I cannot in good conscience obey ANY military orders."

In his YouTube statement, Lakin called the privacy invasion inherent in producing the birth certificate "minimal."

Addressing Obama directly in the video, he said that providing such a document is the only means by which "I and all other servicemembers may then continue to serve our country at risk of injury or the ultimate sacrifice, knowing we do so for our country, the Constitution and a legitimate leader of the greatest free republic ever."

On the campaign trail this year, politicians have used the issue of Obama's birth when it resonates with their constituents. It has backfired regularly, as many of their opponents have used it against them.

One group that has not wavered in its insistence that Obama was born abroad is the American Patriot Foundation, which is collecting donations for Lakin's legal defense.

The group has devoted significant space on its "Safeguard our Constitution" website to Lakin's case. Under a banner proclaiming, "The Truth Matters," the group says Lakin is being targeted unfairly for making a legitimate request.

Lakin, according to the foundation, was a model soldier before he began questioning Obama's birthplace in October 2008.

He served in Afghanistan (under President George W. Bush), Korea, Bosnia, Germany, Honduras and El Salvador before taking up an occupational and environmental medicine residency in Maryland, according to a service record provided by the Army and a résumé posted on the foundation website.

In June 2009, he became the chief of primary care at the Army's DiLorenzo TRICARE Health Clinic at the Pentagon. Eight doctors served under him, handling about 180 patients a day, the résumé said.

A biology major who graduated from Colorado College in 1989, Lakin earned his doctorate in osteopathic medicine at the University of Health Sciences in Kansas City, Missouri. He finished a masters in public health from the Uniformed University of the Health Sciences in Maryland in 2006.

Bottom line is, that's obviously going to be his defense, but I don't know that it's going to go anywhere in the court-martial.
--Military law expert Jonathan Tracy, on Lakin challenging President Obama's legitimacy

His training includes courses or certifications in acupuncture, family medicine, toxic chemicals and combat casualty care, and he holds medical licenses in Maryland and Colorado, according to the résumé.

The CV states that he was selected for promotion to full colonel in 2011, and his service record states that he received more than 20 medals and commendations, including a Bronze Star, a meritorious service medal and three Army commendation medals.

Before joining the Army as an intern at the now-closed Fitzsimons Army Medical Center in Aurora, Colorado, Lakin served as a 911 dispatcher, paramedic and volunteer firefighter in Greeley, about 50 miles north of Aurora.

It is "rather rare" for someone of Lakin's stature (lieutenant colonel is two ranks below general) to be court-martialed, said Jonathan Tracy, assistant director of the National Institute of Military Justice at American University in Washington.

Though Lakin has repeatedly stated he is not beholden to any orders because he believes Obama's presidency is illegitimate, Tracy said it's unlikely the court will address the matter.

The prosecutors have to prove only that he missed his plane intentionally or through neglect and that he disobeyed lawful orders from superiors, said Tracy, a former Army judge advocate who served in Iraq.

"He'll have to prove he didn't violate these things," Tracy said. As for the issue of Obama's birthplace, the "bottom line is, that's obviously going to be his defense, but I don't know that it's going to go anywhere in the court-martial."