The Defense Department says it expects mandatory training programs about the end of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy will be completed by August, allowing President Obama to begin the process of officially ending the ban on gays serving openly in the military by mid-summer.
Top Pentagon officials are instructing military service chiefs to take whatever time necessary to instruct the troops, “but not one minute more,” Clifford L. Stanley, undersecretary of defense for personnel told a House hearing Friday.
He said about 9 percent of U.S. troops, or 200,000 service members, had completed the training courses as of Friday.
Obama in December signed a law requiring the Pentagon to train military commanders, chaplains and the rank and file about ending the ban on gays in the military. The policy will formally end 60 days after Obama, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen certify that the force is ready to end enforcement of the ban.
Navy Vice Admiral William E. Gortney, director of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told lawmakers that Gates and Mullen will not agree to certification until they believe the forces are ready to move forward; he did not elaborate.
Training is occurring in three phases, beginning with instructions for military chaplains, lawyers and civilian personnel, followed by commanding officers and the rank-and-file. Top commanders in the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines began courses in February; the Coast Guard began in March.
Each service is now training the rank and file on the personnel changes, according to Stanley’s prepared testimony. Naval training programs began in late February; the Army, Marines and Air Force’s efforts began last month; the Coast Guard started on Friday. Training for the Navy and Marines should be completed by June 1 and the Air Force and Coast Guard should be completed June 30.
Army training for active-duty soldiers should be completed by July 15 and for reserve troops by Aug. 15. The fact that the Army needs more time “is just a function of numbers that have to be trained,” Gortney said.
Military commanders are reporting no issues or problems with the training, Gortney said, adding, “We’re not anticipating any show-stoppers.”
Several Democratic lawmakers pushed the military to move faster in order to quickly end the ban, but Gortney demurred, cautioning, “Any faster and we might miss something.”
Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN), said Friday that the training “should be done in 30 days. We should have full certification by May 1.” He said training programs could continue after Obama’s formal certification since the repeal wouldn’t officially occur until two months after.
House Republicans expressed skepticism Friday about the ongoing training and Obama’s push to end the ban. Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.), chairman of the House subcommittee on military personnel, called the December vote to end the ban “undemocratic,” because “dozens of defeated congressmembers adopted a law with significant consequence” during a lame-duck session that failed to pass a budget.
Other Republicans said they’ve heard from troops who will not reenlist because they disagree with ending the ban.
Stanley said it’s too early to tell if the impending changes are impacting retention or recruitment efforts.
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