Top Pentagon officials on Friday gave assurances that the U.S. armed forces would implement “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal swiftly and that training need not be instituted throughout the entirety of the military before an end to the gay ban is certified.
During a news conference, Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel & Readiness Clifford Stanley and Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. James Cartwright briefed reporters on Pentagon plans for moving ahead with open service.
Cartwright noted that ending the gay ban doesn’t require “100 percent of the people to be trained” and said troops in the Reserves and National Guard may not receive the new education before going forward.
“We’re going to try to get as a high percentage of the units as quickly as we can — and that will be our focus initially — because that’s the way we manage deployments,” Cartwright said. “But it doesn’t require 100 percent of the people, and we’re going to have some challenges with Guard and Reserve that are not on active duty right now, finding them, getting to them, etc.”
In a statement, Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, said he concurs with Cartwright’s assessment that training need not be instituted throughout the entire military before going ahead.
“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,” Sarvis said. “The training and education plan need only be in place. The fact is education and training around open service can be accomplished in the first and second quarter of this year.”
During the news conference Stanley echoed comments made earlier this month by Gates and said he envisions the implementation of repeal being a three-step process. The first step would be changing policies and regulations; the second, issuing new training; and the third, educating the actual force.
“As we do that, and we’re doing it expeditiously,” Stanley said. ”We’re doing it quickly in terms of the first parts of that.”
Stanley said the military services will start the training in February, but noted each service is going to approach training differently.
Cartwright similarly said the military service chiefs feel the best way to move forward with repeal is move as quickly as possible — even as he acknowledged that process of educating 2.2 million in the U.S. military means “we’re probably going to have some discovery as we go.”
“The service chiefs — the one key activity that has probably common to all of the meetings has been feeling that moving along expeditiously is better than dragging it out,” Cartwright said. “We’ve learned that from other services, other nations that have moved down this path.”
Cartwright said the Pentagon has instituted a “feedback mechanism” in which the service chiefs would meet every two weeks to discuss changes and concerns as the implementation process moves forward.
In a statement, Alex Nicholson, executive director of Servicemembers United, said the speed with which the Pentagon is moving with implementation of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal is “promising.”
“We will continue to monitor this process and communicate any concerns that arise to the military leadership as the process unfolds, but overall we are pleased with the Pentagon’s good faith effort to move with deliberate speed to end this chapter in our history,” Nicholson said.
In a memo issued Friday, Defense Secretary Robert Gates tasked Stanley with producing for implementing repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal no later than Feb. 4. Also on Friday, Stanley issued policy guidance to the military services directing them to identify regulations that would be affected by repeal of ”Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and to draft changes to conform to an end to the law.
“We expect to see essentially not a lot of changes in the policy, but there definitely needs to be policy clarification,” Stanley said.
President Obama signed legislation allowing for “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal on Dec. 22, but the gay ban won’t be off the books until he, the defense secretary and the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff certify the military is prepared. After certification takes place, an additional 60-day waiting period must pass before gays can serve openly.
In his State of the Union address, Obama committed to implementing open service in the military this year. Gates has said he wants to implement new training before moving forward.
Asked whether there’s a target date for when certification will take place, Stanley declined offer a specific time and said the conditions on the ground will “dictate how fast we go.”
“To even imply that we have a target to do it by this date would be a misnomer,” Stanley said. “In essence, we’re going to move responsibly, quickly, but deliberately as we go through the process.”
Despite Obama’s commitment to make repeal happen by the year’s end, Cartwright said the military reserves the right to withhold certification for longer if a service chief hasan objection or if an unforeseen issue arises.
“If there’s an outstanding issue that we just didn’t anticipate, we certainly would reserve the right for that service chief, one, to have a voice in it, and two, to potentially … delaying activity,” Cartwright said.
Until certification takes place, Stanley said gay service members could still be discharged under current law. He added he’s heard “nothing about” a moratorium from within the Pentagon that would prevent discharges until that time, despite calls from lawmakers and activists to issue such an order.
In October, the Pentagon issued new regulations raising the discharge authority under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” which seem to have brought expulsions to a halt.
One lingering concern is whether the benefits that gay service members will receive will be on par with the benefits afforded to their straight counterparts.
Stanley’s guidance states that the Defense of Marriage Act prohibits the U.S. military from affording many benefits to same-sex partners of service members, but other benefits, such as death benefits, would still be available.
During the news conference, Stanley said the Pentagon plans no policy changes for benefits, but added leadership still may look at “emerging things” that may come forward as open service is implemented.
“There could be some things we aren’t anticipating,” Stanley said. “That’s why this is not so locked in and concrete. We’re saying, ‘Right now, no policy changes dealing with benefits.” But there could be something we don’t know about and that’s what aperture kind of remains slightly open.”
In a statement, Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said Stanley’s memo was too limited in proposing new benefits and protections for gay troops.
“While this implementation plan is a step in the right direction, it is critical that the Department address benefits issues and non-discrimination protections so that all service members are treated equally,” Solmonese said.
The HRC statement says that greater parity in benefits could be accomplished by revising regulations to add same-sex partners to the definitions of “dependent,” “family member,” or other similar terms in military regulations.
Further, HRC asserts that the Military Equal Opportunity program could be amended so gay servicemembers have a way to address discrimination complaints.
“Equalizing benefits and non-discrimination programs will ensure that gay, lesbian and bisexual service not be seen as different from their colleagues but rather on an level playing field,” Solmonese said.
Richard Socarides, president of the watchdog group Equality Matters, said he was disappointed non-discrimination protections by way of executive order or regulatory change weren’t mentioned during the news conference as a way to move forward.
“For implementation to succeed, the President must set a clear non-discrimination rule as President Truman did in 1948 when he desegregated the armed forces,” Socarides said. “That is the kind of leadership we need today.
Asked during the news conference what legal recourse gay service members would have if they faced discrimination, Stanley said the military code or principles already troops from being treated unfairly.
“The remedies you have are the remedies that already exist,” Stanley said. “There’s no need to create new remedies for that.”
Cartwright added service members have the right to speak to a superior officer if they feel they are being treated unfairly.
“We make sure that an individual has a way to remedy, even if they’re not sure that this was a law or a policy that was broken,” Cartwright said.
Pressed on whether a service members could assert discrimination based on sexual orientation to a superior officer, Cartwright said he would defer comment to a lawyer on the “exact right language” in addressing the issue.
Download Stanley’s guidance here.