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Trusted and betrayed: Former Air Force cadet fights reputation

Denver7 Investigates decade long battle with the Air Force Academy
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Posted at 9:23 PM, Feb 12, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-03 16:46:39-05

DENVER — Colorado Army National Guard Specialist Adam DeRito was one of a handful from the state who spent part of last month guarding the U.S. Capitol during the presidential inauguration.

“I love this country,” he said. “I think we made history going out there. It’s something I’m never going to forget for the rest of my life.”

The National Guard trusted DeRito to defend the Capitol just weeks after protesters stormed the building. It was an assignment that required a high-level security clearance.

But for the past decade, he’s been battling a different military institution, trying to regain his reputation.

In the shadow of that assignment, DeRito has an ongoing legal battle with the Air Force Academy, which was reviewed by Denver7 Investigates. And while DeRito was trusted by the Colorado National Guard, at the same time he finds himself embroiled in a legal fight with the Air Force Academy.

In 2006, DeRito was accepted to the Air Force Academy, which he called his dream school. But just prior to graduation four years later, he was told he was being stripped of that honor and his degree while his family sat in the stands of the academy’s stadium.

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He said he was told he would not graduate for violating Air Force Academy rules for fraternizing with a subordinate.

“It was the most crushing moment of my life, and it’s a moment I won’t forget,” DeRito said. “It’s like ‘there’s no way this is happening. There’s no way I’m not going to be an officer. There’s no way I’m not going to fly’ and it hurt.”

DeRito admits he was not the perfect cadet, “But did I do anything your average cadet would [not] do in college? No. Absolutely not.”

The Air Force determined DeRito’s record was not worthy of graduating, becoming an officer and joining the Air Force to repay his debt for his four-year education.

He believes he was thrown out because of what he calls a history of retaliation against those who report sexual assault at the academy.

“When I was working as an undercover informant for the Office of Special Investigations, I reported 30 perpetrators of sexual assault and rape at the Air Force Academy.”

The decision by the Academy left DeRito on the hook for more than $200,000 in debt to the federal government for the cost of his education.

The former cadet had moved on with his life, joined the Colorado Army National Guard and thought his conflicts with the Air Force were behind him. But seven years after he graduated, he learned the Academy had made entries on records regarding his mental health.

“I was weeks away from transferring to start training, to get my dream back and move on with my life,” DeRito said. “At that moment, the Army said 'we can’t send you to helicopter training because the Air Force has put multiple mental health diagnoses on your record.'”

Air Force mental health records provided by DeRito show impulse control disorder, personality disorder, narcissistic, anti-social and obsessive-compulsive personality traits. DeRito said they are diagnoses from “a doctor I never met.” They were on a record that is dated more than year after he left the Academy.

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“Some people at the Air Force Academy have declared war on an American citizen: Adam DeRito,” said Herb Rubenstein, an attorney hired by DeRito to challenge the actions of the Air Force Academy.

DeRito hired two attorneys, and together they filed a lawsuit against the U.S.

“We can’t figure it out,” attorney Matt Greife said. “I wish I had an answer, but we don’t.”

DeRito’s legal team challenged the validity of the mental health diagnoses, and an Air Force board ruled the government needed to “correct the record.” In a letter Denver7 Investigates reviewed, the Department of the Air Force specifically directs the removal of all of DeRito’s mental health diagnoses.

“The order was very clear from the Air Force, take the diagnoses out of his records,” Greife said. “Simple as that, and they did. But then they added new stuff in, and he, again, can’t get promoted.”

Those new items prevent DeRito from entering helicopter training with the Colorado Army National Guard.

Now, more than a decade after DeRito was scheduled to graduate from the Air Force Academy, more military red tape prevents him from a promotion with the Colorado Army National Guard.

“We need to fight this in the courts. We need to fight this politically going forward,” Rubenstein said. “This is a lifetime battle. We’re just trying to get Adam what he earned.”

DeRito added, “I think I have proven to this nation that I am willing to do whatever it takes to protect what it stands for. I’m hoping that the Air Force Academy realizes that it made some mistakes in the past and they are willing to move beyond those, and to make sure that what happened to me never happens to anyone again."

The Air Force Academy and the U.S. Attorney’s Office declined Denver7 Investigates’ requests for interviews, citing ongoing litigation between the two sides.