June 23, 2011 | by Chris Johnson
Gates unlikely to certify ‘Don’t Ask’ repeal before retirement

Defense Secretary Robert Gates (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Defense Secretary Robert Gates is unlikely to issue certification for “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal before his retirement at the end of the month, triggering debate over whether his departure will mean an extended delay for lifting the military’s gay ban.

According to a report in Stars & Stripes, senior defense and military officials have said Gates is unlikely to certify repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” before leaving office on June 30, which would leave the responsibility to his successor, CIA Director Leon Panetta.

Eileen Lainez, a Defense Department spokesperson, was unable to confirm whether or not Gates would certify repeal before retirement, but said the Pentagon remains on track to implement open service by mid-summer.

“The secretary of defense and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff will certify after careful consideration of the views of the secretaries of the military departments, the military service chiefs and the combatant commanders,” she said. “I don’t have information on whether this will occur before or after Secretary Gates departs.”

Under the repeal law signed in December, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” won’t be off the books until pass 60 days after the president, the defense secretary and the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff certify that the U.S. military is ready for open service. Gates has said before issuing certification he wants the armed forces to receive training, which has been taking place since February.

Alex Nicholson, executive director of Servicemembers United, said the chances of Gates issuing certification before his departure are increasingly slim, but added there’s no reason he shouldn’t be able to give the OK before his departure.

“Everything is in place, everything is set, everything is in line with the cautious approach that defense leaders and the administration have taken,” Nicholson said.

Some advocates have said the retirement of Gates before certification could lead to delays if Panetta wants to examine the issue further, but at least one LGBT advocate says certification could happen within weeks regardless of who’s at the helm at the Pentagon.

Winnie Stachelberg, senior vice president for external Affairs at the Center for American Progress, said she expects certification will happen soon, even if Gates isn’t in the position of defense secretary.

“I think it will happen in the next several weeks,” Stachelberg said. “It would have been our hope to have done this under Secretary of Defense Gates, who was secretary of defense while the legislative effort went forward and the survey went forward, but that seems not the way it’s going to end up. But this will happen in a matter of a few weeks after Secretary Gates leaves and Secretary Panetta arrives.”

Nicholson predicted the period for certification would be sometime between Gates’ retirement on June 30 and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen’s retirement on Sept. 30.

“[I've been hearing] different things from different people — informed sources who expressed skepticism about it happening in the next few weeks,” Nicholson said.

Nicholson said the Pentagon could face consequences in manpower if “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” isn’t lifted because gay service members may decide not to re-enlist if they feel the process is being dragged out.

“People make career decisions every day, every month, based upon projections of how likely it’s going to be for the years to come,” Nicholson said. “If someone has to decide in July whether or not to enlist for another four years, and they expected certification to happen by June, and there’s no concrete information being put out on a timeline, they may opt to not re-enlist.”

Additionally, Nicholson said President Obama could face political pressure from supporters of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal if delays in certification continue.

“I think the consequences accrue on the administration, the political side of the house, because there’s no reason left to give why certification has not happened,” Nicholson said. “There’s no longer any reasonable excuse for why it’s stretching out for this amount of time.”

According to Stars & Stripes, one step that remains on the path to implementing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is an Army assessment on the progress of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal training. As the largest service with around 1.1 million soldiers, the Army is scheduled to be behind the other services in the progress made for repeal training.

Stars & Stripes reported that Army leaders said in a message to commanders that this assessment is due Friday. Those reports will help the Army Chief of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey compile final recommendations on repeal, which Gates and Mullen are set to review before issuing certification.

Stachelberg said the process and training for “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal could have moved faster, but maintained the process for training the armed forces isn’t lengthy “because there are problems.”

“It’s taking time because it’s being done in a thorough comprehensive way, and it’s a large force,” Stachelberg said. “[An end to this process] hasn’t happened as soon as some would like, ourselves included, but it isn’t because there are problems and obstacles and issues along the way. It’s because of the sheer size of the military.”

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

6 Comments
  • The Army needs to know that its excuse is pathetic. The size of the military has nothing to do with it. One person’s training isn’t contingent on whether someone else received the training. It took FAR less time to prepare the military to go to war in Iraq and Afghanistan, and it’s pretty simple training: treat everyone with respect.

  • Peter Rosenstein

    It would still be great if this happened before Gates left. He deserves much of the credit for moving it forward. I think that if it doesn’t, Panetta who is a polical person and understands what the President wants will see that it happens quickly. But Gates doing it would still be better.

  • Why the rush? Let’s make sure the processes and procedures are carried out correctly. Time is not of the essence in this matter.

  • Bruce in Missouri

    Has anyone actually seen what the proposed new implementing regulations will be? Is there a procedure in place whereby a service member can report any harassment or discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation? How will same-sex partners of service members be treated? For example, at a military funeral will the service flag be given to the surviving same-sex partner of the deceased service member the same as a surviving spouse? If a service member is seriously injured in combat, will their same-sex partner be able to make medical decisions in a military hospital? Will a same-sex partner be treated the same as a spouse for on-base housing?

  • Peter the saint

    Half of World’s Refugees are Running From US Wars
    Sarah Bufkin, ThinkProgress: “America’s wars are forcing Afghans and Iraqis to flee their homes in greater numbers. According to a recent U.N. High Commission for Refugees study, nearly one half of the world’s refugees are from Afghanistan and Iraq, 3.05 million and 1.68 million, respectively. But neither the United States nor much of the developed world bears the burden of the 10.55 million refugees under the UNHCR’s purview globally. Instead, Pakistan, Iran, and Syria serve as the top host countries. The Economist has charted the numbers.”

    your military tax dollars at work! all praise the great obama/bush/clinton triathlon!

  • Peter the saint

    wow—have i been blocked from leaving comments on the blade website???

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