The military service chiefs testified on Thursday that “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal implementation was proceeding smoothly and that they don’t anticipate major problems with moving toward open service in the long term.
In a hearing before the Republican-controlled House Armed Services Committee, uniform leaders of the military services said “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal implementation was proceeding in a way that they felt was favorable.
The chiefs of the Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force — Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Gary Roughead, Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Amos and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz — spoke on behalf of their services while Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Peter Chiarelli represented his service.
Many of the service chiefs — especially Amos, who said he feared open service could be a distraction that could cost Marines’ lives on the battlefield — voiced opposition to legislative action to end the anti-gay before law last year before Congress took action to pass allowing for repeal.
However, following the passage of repeal legislation, each of the chiefs committed to working toward repeal and issued guidance on implementing open service to their subordinates — a sentiment they voiced in testimony before the committee.
Roughead, who was among the chiefs to favor “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal last year, said he doesn’t think repeal would have a measurable impact on the Navy.
“The United States Navy can successfully implement a repeal of the law,” Roughead said. “Combat effectiveness is what we provide the nation and repeal will not change who we are or what we do.”
Roughead said he’s established July 1 as time for when the Navy will be complete training for open service and said the service is on track to achieve that goal.
Amos noted that despite his earlier opposition to repeal, he issued guidance to the Marine Corps on the path toward open service and created a video to prepare Marines for “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal.
“I’m looking for issues that might arise specifically coming out of the … training, and to be honest with you, chairman, we’ve not seen it,” Amos said. “There’s questions about billeting for Marines — I mean, the kinds of questions you would expect — but there hasn’t been the recalcitrant pushback, there’s not been the anxiety over it from the forces in the field.”
Amos said the Marine Corps has completed 100 percent of Tier 1 and Tier 2 training — which includes training of service leadership — and said Tier 3 training, training of the total force, is 41 percent finished and would be complete June 1.
Echoing the notion that repeal implementation is proceeding smoothly, Chiarelli, who’s superior Army Chief of Staff Gen. George Casey opposed repeal in testimony last year, said the training to prepare soldiers for open service is effective.
Chiarelli maintaining training “is not disruptive” to the Army, but said the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal implementation process for the service “will take time.”
“The chain teaching program facilitates thoughtful, constructive dialogue between leaders and subordinates,” Chiarelli said. “This dialogue is hugely important, especially at the lowest levels, where ownership and consensus are most critical.”
Chiarelli said he participated in the first session along with Casey and other four-star generals” and “can attest the process works.”
Schwartz, who testified last year that he didn’t want “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” implementation until 2012, said the Air Force is also moving toward open service in a deliberate but expeditious manner.
“We will rely on steady leadership at all levels to implement this change in a manner that is consistent with standards of military readiness and effectiveness, with minimal adverse effect on unit cohesion, recruiting and retention in the Air Force,” Schwartz said.
Schwartz added his service has trained about 15 percent of all airmen — some 117,000 of the force — is on track “to train the remainder within the project training window.”
Despite their generally favorable view of moving toward open service, both Chiarelli and Schwartz identified “moderate risk” with implementing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal, although they said they were mitigating the risk through educating service members.
LGBT advocates following the hearing that “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal said the testimony demonstrates training is on track and further congressional hearings are unnecessary.
Alex Nicholson, executive director of Servicemembers United, said the testimony demonstrates the service chiefs are “comfortable with this policy change.”
“This should be the last waste of their time and taxpayers’ resources to try to undo the inevitable,” Nicholson said. “‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ is going away, and we will have a stronger military and a stronger nation as a result.”
No committee hearings specifically devoted to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal are planned in the Senate. Tara Andringa, a spokesperson for Senate Armed Services Committee Chair Carl Levin (D-Mich.), said his committee has asked the chiefs to inform panel members about the progress of repeal as part of the hearing on the fiscal year 2012 budget.
Despite the confidence that chiefs expressed in moving toward open service, Republicans on the committee voiced concerns about “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” or griped about the process that led to passage of legislation allowing for repeal of the anti-gay law.
House Armed Services Committee Chair Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) said he disapproved of the way the Democratic-controlled House last year proceeded with repeal legislation after the Pentagon published its study in November on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
“As a result of the rush to judgment that bypassed this committee, Congress was denied the opportunity to ask questions and identify weaknesses in the repeal implementation plan,” McKeon said. “Now, we’re confronted by an implementation process that is moving quickly to completion of the education and training phase.”
McKeon maintained that the “one outcome that must be avoided” is a path for the U.S. armed forces that would “put the combat readiness of our military forces at risk.”
Following the hearing, McKeon told the Washington Blade that the chiefs’ testimony didn’t allay his concerns — but insisted they were based on the congressional repeal process as opposed to open service itself.
“My views of established from the way it was handled in the first place to get to this point,” McKeon said. “They’re just doing their job.”
Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, chided for McKeon for holding the hearings and for asserting that insufficient discussion led to repeal.
“It’s particularly unfortunate that the full committee chairman, Mr. McKeon, has decided to become a party to this ugly cabal to play politics with our men and women in uniform,” Sarvis said. “This has traditionally been a bi-partisan committee, but under the current leadership of McKeon and [House Armed Services Subcommitee Chair Joe] Wilson, that sane and sensible approach is at risk.”
While Republicans voiced concern about the passage of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal legislation or implementing open service in the U.S. military, Democrats on the panel indicated support for the repeal legislation Congress passed last year.
Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), ranking Democrat on the committee, said the issue of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” has been “hotly debated” since its inception in 1993 and disputed the argument that Congress didn’t undertake sufficient discussion before acting — adding lawmakers “made the only logical choice” last year by enacting repeal.
“I believe we have analyzed this at enormous length over an enormous period of time, and at some point you have to make a decision about what the best way to go forward is,” Smith said.
Smith added the longtime service of gays in the military is well known — although they’ve been serving in secret because of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” — and said he’s “yet to meet a service member who wasn’t abundantly aware of somebody that they were serving with [who] was gay or lesbian, and yet we have the finest military in the world.”
Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.) said when Congress was going through the process of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal she had no doubts the U.S. military could handle open service.
“I did not believe that our military units were so fragile that finding out having somebody next to you that was openly gay would be disruptive to the mission of our units,” she said. “I am very proud so far, as you’ve discussed today, of all men and women in uniform, who not only go out and fight for us everyday but who are also working through this new policy that you’re trying to implement.”
Sanchez asked whether service members discharged would be able to re-enter the military if there was no other reason for their separation.
Schwartz replied that discharged service members would be able to re-enlist based on the needs of the services to which they apply and there is no guarantee for returning at the same grade.
Pressed by Sanchez on what options are available to gay service members if they feel they’re harassed upon seeking re-entry, Schwartz replied an appeal process is available both through an inspector general and the Board of Corrections.
Could legislation disrupt certification?
In December, President Obama signed legislation allowing for repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” but the anti-gay law will only be off the books after 60 days pass following certification from the president, the defense secretary, and the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Defense officials have said certification is anticipated mid-summer.
But Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) has introduced legislation in the House that could complicate or delay certification by expanding the certification requirement to include direct input from each the chiefs.
Following the hearing, Hunter told the Blade he still thinks legislation to expand the certification requirement is necessary despite the chiefs’ testimony because of “the same reason [he] put it up in the first place.”
Hunter said he’s been talking with McKeon’s staff about having a vote on his legislation in committee and is expecting a vote during the panel markup for the FY2012 budget.
McKeon seemed unaware of any plans to hold a vote on Hunter’s legislation or didn’t want to disclose his plans. Asked by the Blade whether he was expecting a vote, McKeon replied, “I don’t know. We’ll have to look at it and see.”
Nicholson said Hunter was probably referring to the FY-2012 defense authorization bill — legislation over which the House Armed Services Committee has jurisdiction.
Additionally, Nicholson said Hunter may have enough votes to attach the measure as part of the House version of the defense legislation, but won’t have a shot of passing it through the Senate or having Obama sign the legislation.
“Of course, the reason we’re not worried about it is because it’ll never pass the Senate,” Nicholson said. “So I wouldn’t necessarily be surprised and I wouldn’t necessarily be alarmed even if it passed as part of the House defense budget.”