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Service chiefs: ‘Don’t Ask’ repeal proceeding smoothly

Military leaders testify before House committee Thursday

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Gen. Norton Schwartz, chief of staff of the U.S. Air Force, at Thursday's hearing. (Blade photo by Joey DiGuglielmo)

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.

Gen. Peter Chiarelli, vice chief of staff of the U.S. Army. (Blade photo by Joey DiGuglielmo)

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.”

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Autos

Cool compacts: Ford Maverick Lariat, Subaru Crosstrek Wildernes 

The summer fireworks continue with two bangin’ rides

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Ford Maverick Lariat

While the Fourth of July may be over, other fireworks continue with two bangin’ rides: the Ford Maverick pickup and Subaru Crosstrek SUV. Both are affordable compacts, though neither can be considered barebones and each vehicle offers some fresh surprises. 

FORD MAVERICK LARIAT

$35,000

MPG: 22 city/29 highway

0-to-60 mph: 5.9 seconds

Cargo capacity: 33.3 cu. ft.

PROS: Very low price. Peppy. Lotsa storage.

CONS: Spartan base model. Bumpy ride. Pricey options. 

IN A NUTSHELL: When I wrote a few years ago about the Ford Maverick, which was replacing the long-time Ranger, it was a pleasant surprise to learn this new pickup came standard as a hybrid. Such fuel efficiency—42 mpg in the city, 33 mpg on the highway—is still impressive. But this year Ford switched the Maverick’s powertrain availability, which means the hybrid is now a $1,500 option and the more powerful turbo engine comes standard. That’s a downer for fuel-conscious buyers, but a plus for anyone seeking more oomph under the hood. 

Hybrid or no, the starting price of a base-model Maverick is still low: less than $25,000. This makes it the least expensive compact pickup out there. Available only as a four-door crew cab, there’s plenty of passenger and cargo room.The low-slung truck bed—which can carry cargo up to 1,500 pounds—makes loading and unloading easy. And despite its small size, this tough hauler can tow up to 4,000 pounds. Built on the same platform as two popular Ford SUVs—the Escape and Bronco Sport—the Maverick boasts handling more like a sedate sedan than a stiff truck. Well, at least that’s the case on the freeway. In town, the ride is bumpier than expected over potholes and such. 

Three trim levels available: XL, XLT and high-end Lariat, which is what I test drove for a week. The XL is basic—with 17-inch steel wheels, cloth seats and a six-speaker stereo—while the XLT adds alloy wheels, power-locking tailgate and a rear armrest with cupholders. But the Lariat offers unexpected amenities, such as keyless entry, push-button start, synthetic leather upholstery, power-sliding rear window, heated seats, heated steering wheel, wireless charging pad and eight-speaker Bang & Olufsen stereo. 

All Mavericks come with forward collision warning that automatically applies braking when necessary. But the Lariat adds adaptive cruise control, rear parking sensors, blind-spot monitor with rear cross-traffic alert, and evasive steering that kicks in to help avoid collisions. 

For all you alphas, there’s a Tremor Off-Road package, which adds rough-and-rugged features like elevated ground clearance, advanced four-wheel drive, skid plates, off-road suspension, locking rear differential, all-terrain tires, full-size spare, and more aggressive styling and badging. 

Alas, such options add up and can bump the sticker price close to $45,000.

SUBARU CROSSTREK WILDERNESS

$34,000

MPG: 25 city/29 highway

0-to-60 mph: 8.5 seconds 

Cargo capacity: 20 cu. ft.

PROS: Off-road capability. Roomy. Comfy seats.

CONS: Plasticky interior. Bit noisy cabin. No speed demon.

IN A NUTSHELL: Subaru has its own maverick in the showroom: the tiny-but-mighty Crosstrek. Redesigned for 2024, the Crosstrek retains much of its quirky styling and adept handling. That’s a good thing, considering how hot this SUV has been the past few years.  

There’s also a brand-new trim level: the Wilderness. While I was already a big fan of the Crosstrek, the Wilderness ratchets things up a lot. 

Except for the BRZ sports car, all Subarus come standard with all-wheel drive. Yet the off-road prowess of the Crosstrek Wilderness is enhanced by front skid plate, extra drive modes, a tighter suspension and higher ground clearance (9.3 inches versus 8.6 inches on other Crosstreks). No, this is not a Jeep Wrangler or Toyota Land Cruiser, but the Wilderness is no slouch when tackling rutty roads or sandy terrain. 

As for looks, the rugged styling includes hexagonal fog lights, 17-inch black alloy wheels with thick treads, black front and rear bumpers, and black cladding on the wheel arches to protect against scrapes. Faux copper accents—especially on the roof rack and steering wheel—signal that this is not your average Crosstrek. 

With the back seats down, cargo space in all Crosstreks is 55 cubic feet (an impressive two-and-a-half times the area when the seats are up). As for towing, standard Crosstrek models can haul an impressive 1,500 pounds. But the Wilderness can tow even more—a whopping 3,500 pounds. 

Inside, the high roofline makes the cabin feel surprisingly large. The gauges and displays—functional but not glitzy—are the same across the Crosstrek lineup. Notable options include power moonroof, 10-way power driver’s seat and 10-speaker Harmon Kardon audio. 

The main difference between the Wilderness and other Crosstrek trims are the comfortable, water-resistant seats (made of synthetic leather upholstery) and the rubber floor mats emblazoned with the Wilderness logo. 

All in all, this Crosstrek turned out to be a practical urban ride that also brought out my inner Paul Bunyan on weekends. 

Subaru Crosstrek Wilderness
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Real Estate

Prepare your rental property for the back-to-school market

Strategic pricing is critical to standing out

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The rental market explodes in August and September as schools return to session.

As we approach August and September, the rental market in Washington, D.C. undergoes a significant transformation. The supercharged demand earlier in the year resulting from the influx of families wanting to move in before the new school year and higher ed students returning for their studies starts to wane. For landlords, this period is a crucial time to ensure their properties are appealing and priced competitively. A well-prepared rental property can make all the difference in securing a successful lease. Here are some tips to help you get your property ready for the back-to-school season.

Be Wise, Compromise: Navigating Pricing Strategies

The adage “Be Wise, Compromise” rings especially true as we head into August and September. It’s a period where strategic pricing becomes critical to stand out among a glut of rentals on the market and the tendency to “fire sale.” The rental market demand starts slowing down in August, but it is taking steep hits by September. If your property remains without a lease by the end of August, consider adjusting your rental price to attract tenants.

Lowering your price during August can be a smart move to avoid vacancies, but don’t wait too long. By September, you might face tougher competition as other landlords drop their prices too. Meeting the market demand head-on with a competitive price ensures you don’t miss out on securing a tenant before the academic year begins.

What Renters with School-Age Children Want

Families with school-age children have specific needs and preferences when searching for a rental property. Here are some key features to focus on:

  1. Proximity to Good Schools: If your property is within a highly regarded school district you are ahead of the game. Make sure the rental ad includes correct links and updated public information on school districts but be cautious from sounding like you are searching only for families with small children. That could run afoul of Fair Housing laws.  
  2. Functional Space: Families need ample space. If your rental property offers enough bedrooms, storage areas, and a functional layout that accommodates the needs of a family with children you might seriously consider that market segment as a desirable tenant.
  3. Outdoor Areas: An ample yard or nearby parks and play areas are big selling points. Outdoor spaces provide areas for children to play and families to enjoy.
  4. Community Amenities: Proximity to community centers, libraries, recreational facilities and splash parks can make your rental more attractive to families than others.

Timing is also critical. Families with school-aged children wish to move in before the school year starts, so aim to have your property ready and listed for rent early.  I recommend counting on 6-8 weeks before a move-in date.. This gives you a better chance of finding those tenants who are planning ahead and interested in signing a lease well before the targeted move-in date, settling in before the first school bell rings.

The D.C. Higher Education Hub

In addition to families with young children heading back to school on Aug. 26, the Washington, D.C., metro area boasts a remarkable concentration of higher education programs. According to a recent discussion on The1A.org, this region is home to an inordinately high number of prestigious educational institutions, including my alma mater, Johns Hopkins University, which has consolidated its graduate programs in D.C. into one location at the old Newseum location on Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W. All higher education institutions residing here bring a reliable and annual stream of new students in need of housing, particularly before the new academic year approaches.

Attracting Student Tenants: Essential Preparations

With a considerable student population in D.C., attracting this demographic requires understanding their unique needs.  Remember to refrain from sounding like you are searching only for students to avoid going against Fair Housing laws.  

  1. Affordability: Students are often budget-conscious. Offering flexible lease terms, such as 9-month leases that align with the academic year, can be very appealing.
  2. Proximity to Campuses: If the rental is located particularly close to a school, highlighting it in a list of what is nearby in the community can help those searching for rental housing off campus.  The convenience of a short commute is an important factor for students.
  3. Amenities and Furnishings: Students appreciate furnished or partially furnished rental homes, high-speed internet, and study-friendly environments. Ensuring your property has these amenities can give you a competitive edge, particularly if your rental is relatively close to a campus geographically.
  4. Roommate-Friendly Layouts: Properties with multiple bedrooms and shared common areas are ideal for student roommates. If the layout supports a co-living arrangement with a one bedroom to one bathroom ratio, all the better!
  5. Public Transportation Access: Easy access to public transportation is crucial for students who may not have their own vehicles. A short commute on public transportation or by using bike-friendly streets is also very desirable. 

Get Ready for Back to School

August is the perfect time to prepare your rental property for the back-to-school season. Here’s a checklist to ensure you’re ready:

  1. Conduct Maintenance Checks: Ensure all appliances, plumbing, and electrical systems are in top condition. Address any repairs or maintenance issues promptly.
  2. Enhance Curb Appeal: First impressions matter. Make sure the exterior of your property is well-maintained, with trimmed lawns, clean walkways, and fresh exterior paint if needed.
  3. Safety Upgrades: Install or upgrade smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors, and ensure a fire extinguisher is wall-mounted and readily accessible in the kitchen.
  4. Deep Cleaning: A thorough cleaning can make your property shine. Consider hiring professionals to ensure every corner is spotless including windows.
  5. Marketing and Listings: Update your property listings with attractive photos and detailed descriptions. 

The Rental Market Dynamics: August and September

Understanding the rental market dynamics during August and September can help you strategize effectively. August typically sees a slowdown, but September’s drop in demand means if rental properties have not yet closed the deal on a rental agreement, you will need a sense of urgency to price it right to rent.

Lowering your price slightly or with a stair-step approach every few weeks starting at the end of August can help attract those prospective tenants who are still looking and those making last-minute decisions on their housing needs. 

Preparing your rental property for the back-to-school season in Washington, D.C. involves a combination of strategic pricing, understanding tenant needs, and ensuring your property is in top condition. By focusing on strategic pricing you can navigate the market dynamics of August and September successfully. Remember, be wise and compromise where necessary to ensure your property stands out and attracts those tenants who reach the peak of their search in late summer, just in time for the academic year.

(This article was written with some assistance from AI.)

Scott Bloom is owner and Senior Property Manager, Columbia Property Management. For more information and resources, go to ColumbiaPM.com.

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Dining

Union Market’s Last Call Bar a welcoming oasis for all

Mixologist Britt Weaver expresses her pride and identity every day

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Britt Weaver is head mixologist at Last Call Bar.

Amid the development of the fast-growing Union Market district, spanning dozens of eateries (including a duo of Michelin stars), embracing and inclusive spaces are tough to come by. Last Call Bar is one of those — and head mixologist and proud member of the LGBTQ community Britt Weaver is making sure this divey spot stays that way.

While buzzy restaurants take the spotlight, Weaver and Last Call are embracing the different.

“I’ve made it a personal mission to ensure that the bar continues to be a place where everyone feels welcomed and accepted,” she says. “Being behind the bar, I see a lot of people — I try to make sure every guest feels safe, seen, and cared for when they visit.”

Last Call exudes a laid-back spirit, aiming to fill that neighborhood-style gap that might be missing among prix-fixe tasting menus and shiny boutiques. Eccentric décor that includes painted lockers, old posters hung from the ceiling, artfully peeling paint, and arcade games feeds into the homey spirit. Patrons are welcome to bring in stickers and slap them on the bar, adding even more personality to the space.

Launched in 2019 serving sub-$10 drinks and having survived the pandemic, Last Call still maintains an unconventional vibe that extends to the menu. It’s one of the few bars that serves flavor-changing Jello shots, with the option to add nostalgia-inducing pop rocks; as well as an hour-long “teeny tiny ‘tini hour” for those who want a taste but not an entire glassful of liquor. Keeping things cool: koozies are also for sale. The food menu’s grown since opening, with sandwiches in addition to bags of chips and shareable dips.

Last Call welcomed Weaver in 2023. While working as a bartender during grad school, Weaver was drawn to the excitement of the bar scene. After COVID, she says, she leaned into her career in the hospitality industry.

In the freewheeling, demanding bartending industry, Weaver has fought to be seen.

“Previous jobs and ownership teams have urged me to conceal my identity, but that is something I refuse to do. It is so incredibly important for me to be able to express my pride and identity every day,” she says.

Last Call has a pedigree from its ally owner Gina Chersevani, who also runs decade-old Buffalo and Bergen stall inside Union Market and a sister Buffalo and Bergen on Capitol Hill. Chersevani is deeply rooted in the D.C. hospitality industry, which Weaver says has a culture that celebrates creativity and expression.

Chersevani ensures that “I’ve been celebrated and encouraged to express my identity,” says Weaver. “She has given me the freedom to cultivate a space that is welcoming of the LGBTQ+ community while also still remaining true to the Last Call spirit.” This year, during Pride month, Chersevani launched a Pride punch card, in which patrons who visited all of her spots won free drinks.

Weaver further notes that being proud of her identity and committing to it behind the bar and in the fast-paced service industry “opens more space for other LGBTQ+ industry members to feel safe to express their own identities. Visibility is so critical in making safe spaces for the queer community.”

Looking forward, Weaver remains steadfast in her commitment to learning and growing in the space and in D.C. She promises that Last Call Bar has plenty of events and programming, new cocktail menus, and a welcoming community spirit.

To celebrate the summer, Weaver offered a cocktail recipe to have at home with friends: Strawberry Piña Colada.

Ingredients

· 2 ounces silver rum

· 1 ounce strawberry purée

· 1 ounce fresh pineapple juice

· 1 ounce coconut milk

· .5 ounce lime juice

Combine all ingredients, then shake. Serve in a Collins glass, over crushed ice, and

garnish as desired.

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