January 28, 2011 at 7:07 pm EST | by Chris Johnson
Pentagon maps out way ahead for open service

Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel & Readiness Clifford Stanley and Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. James Cartwright (Blade photo by Michael Key).

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.

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

1 Comment
  • Friday’s briefing was a multiple vehicle car wreck, some driven by Pentagon representatives who knew too little about what they are in charge of implementing, and some driven by members of the media who were either too ignorant of the facts or too afraid to challenge Stanley, et al., on their ignorance and illogic—all adding up to the likelihood that the destination of open service is far off. Unknown territory???? One would have thought it was a presentation by NASA on the first space shuttle rather than actualizing a change that really comes down to nothing more than “yesterday we kicked gays out, tomorrow we won’t.”

    When Cartwright said that “the certification required by the DADT Repeal Act ‘does not require 100 percent’ of the servicemembers to be trained, why did no one point out to him that the Act does not require ANY training of ANY kind BEFORE certification?

    Why did no one challenge them with the Palm Center’s December 19th report that found that:

    “Any claim that [implementation cannot happen] until after the completion of exhaustive training is inconsistent with DoD history and not based on military necessity. Whatever preparations are ultimately deemed necessary, the Pentagon ought to be able to pull them off faster than it did the implementation of DADT in 1994, which took approximately 40 days. [Case studies demonstrate that training can take place quickly, even in combat zones, and that policies are generally implemented BEFORE OR CONCURRENT WITH training. The Pentagon’s request for up to a year to train the troops prior to the repeal of DADT is unprecedented. Training is not a prerequisite…to claim otherwise is a vote of no confidence in members of the armed forces, is not supported empirically, and is suspiciously dilatory. Training, like the formal publication of instructions, can occur (and has occurred) ex post facto.” Emphasis mine.

    Or with DADT expert and Palm Center Director Aaron Belkin’s recent statement as reported in the Blade, January 6th:

    “It shouldn’t be a long process because the Pentagon ALREADY ESTABLISHED A POLICY TO ALLOW GAYS TO SERVE OPENLY in the military when [in the LCR case] a California federal court in October issued an injunction that temporarily enjoined enforcement of the law. Although they haven’t acknowledged this in public, THE REPLACEMENT REGULATIONS HAVE ALREADY BEEN WRITTEN, and so the Pentagon could easily repeal the ban TODAY if there was the political will. [Army Chief of Staff] Casey in particular is leaving soon and doesn’t want to be known as the Army chief of staff who let gays in on his watch. The foot-dragging is not about some sincere or legitimate sense that the troops need to be trained on how to deal with gays; it’s because they don’t want to be around when the policy happens.” Emphasis mine.

    As for the substance of that training, in addition to the military scenario vignettes already created by the Working Group, why did no one ask why the modules applying to gays that the Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute has been using for decades to train managers of 700,000 civilian DoD employees couldn’t be used rather than wasting further time trying to reinvent the proverbial wheel?

    Stanley and Cartwright’s responses about already existing legal remedies for gays who are discriminated against post repeal, for instance, in promotions was so much bull. In 2004, SLDN said:

    “There is no available avenue for service members who would typically report discrimination [based on sexual orientation] through an equal opportunity office. … In reality when a service member does report it through the chain of command it is rarely taken seriously. There’s no consequence for commanders who ignore anti-gay harassment. The environment has created second-class citizenship for gay and lesbian service members and it permeates all military.”

    And I was surprised that no one pointed out that the recent scandal of videos starring no less than the XO of the 6000 troop aircraft carrier Enterprise was glaring proof of an absence of understanding and enforcement of respect for everyone among military leaders Stanley seemed so proud of.

    Maybe if, rather than first class equality for gays in the military, overdue by several decades, the news was that it might be the end of the 3rd year, or into the 4th year, of Obama’s presidency before the Pentagon stops killing baby seals, more would give a damn & demand an end NOW. HELLO OUT THERE???!!!

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