Original Post on SFBayTimes.com
The US military embarked upon a massive new training program as of Feb. 1 as it adjusts to the repeal of "Don't Ask/ Don't Tell," the ban on queers serving openly in the military. It will be months before the changes make their way through the entire military, but the process has begun.
The first step is implementing change in policies; then training changes; and eventually training the actual force. This will occur in three phases, officials have said. Military chaplains, lawyers and civilian personnel will go first; followed by commanding officers; then the rank and file. The services will focus on training troops before they deploy, but some training may take place at the battlefront. While service members will no longer be discharged for their sexual orientation when the repeal is fully implemented, other facts will not change. There will still be no medical, travel, or housing benefits for same-sex partners of out military personnel because the federal Defense of Marriage Act prohibits the military from recognizing the marriages of same-sex couples.
It is still uncertain how long implementation will take. "When you're dealing with two and a half million people in a new policy, we're probably going to have some discoveries as we go," said General James Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Cartwright said he expects the services will know within the first month of training how well they are doing and how quickly they will be able to proceed. He said it will be up to individual unit commanders to make sure their troops are professional and respectful.
In a five-page memorandum dated Jan. 28, Defense Secretary Robert Gates gave the order to Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Clifford Stanley to devise a strategy to "facilitate the timely and orderly realization" of DA/DT repeal by Feb. 4
In the memo, Gates said a guiding principle is that "all personnel will be treated with respect." He emphasized, "Harassment or unlawful discrimination of any member of the armed forces for any reason will not be tolerated." He said that he wants the implementation done in a timely, comprehensive way.
"This is not, however, a change that should be done incrementally," Gates wrote. "The steps leading to certification and the actual repeal must be accomplished across the entire Department at the same time, and consistent with the standards of military readiness, military effectiveness, unit cohesion, and recruiting and retention of the Armed Forces."
What is certain is that repeal will take effect 60 days after President Barack Obama, the defense secretary, and Joint Chief Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen certify the military is ready. Activists for equality hope the change will be soon. But the "Don't Ask/ Don't Tell" law is still in effect, meaning we can still see discharges for sexual orientation.
Senior Pentagon leaders said there is no intent to delay but would not guarantee full implementation of the repeal this year. The evasion on scheduling came despite assertions by President Obama in his State of the Union speech last week that the repeal of the 17-year-old ban will be finalized in 2011.
Servicemembers Legal Defense Network was established in 1993 when "Don't Ask" originally passed. In addition to working on repeal, SLDN offers free, confidential legal services to those impacted by the discriminatory law. Last year the organization received its 10,000th call for assistance on its legal hotline.
"Servicemembers Legal Defense Network is pleased the Pentagon is taking thoughtful steps to move toward certification and implementation of open service," said Aubrey Sarvis, Army veteran and executive director for Servicemembers Legal Defense Network. "SLDN continues to believe open service can be achieved sooner rather than later." He said, "I agree with General Cartwright that all of the troops, from top to bottom, do not need to undergo a comprehensive training and educational program before there is certification. The training and education plan need only be in place." He added, "The fact is education and training around open service can be accomplished in the first and second quarter of this year. In addition, much of the training can continue to take place during the 60-day period following certification."
The Palm Center is a research institute at the University of California, Santa Barbara, which supports the DA/DT repeal. "This is an historic day for the Defense Department and a new day for gays in the military," said Aaron Belkin, director of the Palm Center.
It is no secret that at first certain Marines balked at repeal; but through an official recorded message to all Marines, Commandant of the Marine Corps General James S. Amos and Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps Carlton W. Kent assured there would be no resistance to implementation. Their words are inspirational. "Our fidelity to one another is our moral compass that guides us ... above all else, we are loyal to the constitution, our commander in chief, Congress, our chain of command, and the American people," said General Amos. "The repeal of ‘Don't Ask/ Don't Tell' will take effect after our nation's senior leadership has determined an appropriate timeline for implementation," said Sergeant Major Kent.
Kent added, "Throughout the history of our corps, Marines have always been professional, carrying on our warrior ethos and maintaining our core values." He underscored, "The Marine Corps is a diverse force, and ALL have earned the privilege to wear the eagle globe and anchor. As Marines, we are confident you will continue to treat each other with dignity and respect."
Amos emphasized, "I want to be clear to all Marines, we will step out smartly to faithfully implement this new law. It's important we value the diversity of background, culture, and skills that ALL Marines bring to the service of our nation." He concluded, "As we implement repeal, I want leaders at all levels to reemphasize the importance of maintaining dignity and respect for one another throughout our force. We are Marines, and we respect the rights of ALL who wear this uniform."