'Don't ask, don't tell' ban on gays won't change immediately

By Ed O'Keefe and Craig Whitlock
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, December 21, 2010; A04

President Obama is scheduled to sign legislation Wednesday that will end the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy, officially shifting to the Defense Department the political pressure surrounding the repeal of the 17-year ban on gays serving openly in uniform.

Even after Obama scrawls his signature, the law won't actually change until the Pentagon certifies to Congress that the military has met several preconditions, including education and training programs for troops. On Monday, Pentagon officials repeatedly declined to predict how long they would need, saying only that they would proceed at a "methodical" and "deliberate" pace.

"I don't think anybody has any idea yet how long this will take," Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said.

As senior military leaders prepare to integrate openly gay men and lesbians, they are drawing on conclusions of a Pentagon study outlining tricky scenarios that might arise. Among the hypothetical situations in the report: A chaplain's sermon includes several direct statements calling homosexuality a sin. An applicant informs recruiters that he is gay. Troops are heard making jokes about using the same showers as gay colleagues.

Some commanders who oppose the repeal warned in the days before Saturday's historic vote to end the ban that such incidents could compromise the military's ability to fight two wars. But the 300-plus-page report provides potential solutions for each, and reminds commanders that such issues should be treated the same as incidents of harassment, racism or sexism.

The sermons and teachings of the chaplain could not be restricted, unless he publicly maligned military leaders, the report said. The applicant who shares his sexual orientation should be handled like any other recruit. Commanders should remind the joking troops that discrimination or harassment against gay colleagues is inappropriate, but could grant a service member's request not to shower among them.

The process of ending the ban should not be "overly burdensome," White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Monday.

In an e-mail sent Sunday night to airmen, Air Force Chief of Staff Norton A. Schwartz said: "The standards of conduct we expect of all Airmen will not change. Moreover, we will continue to treat each other, as members of the Air Force family, with dignity and respect."

Clifford L. Stanley, the undersecretary of defense for personnel, will lead the policy overhaul, the Pentagon said. The change will not occur until Obama, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mike Mullen inform Congress in writing that the military is prepared for implementation and has drafted the necessary policies and regulations. Those changes must not affect troop readiness, cohesion, or military recruitment and retention, according to the law. Once the written notice is submitted, 60 days must elapse before "don't ask, don't tell" is officially repealed.

Gay rights leaders who pushed to end the policy think the military could end full enforcement in a matter of weeks.

"The troops already know how to interact with gays because they do so every day," said Aaron Belkin, executive director of the Palm Center, a think tank at the University of California at Santa Barbara that is devoted to the study of gays in the military.

Some gay rights activists are urging Obama and Gates to issue an immediate moratorium on the discharge of gay troops. Morrell said Monday that doing so was unlikely, but he noted that Gates previously tightened the rules under which service members can be kicked out of the military for being gay.

The new rules, which took effect Oct. 21, require the secretaries of the Army, Navy and Air Force to review all discharge cases. Since then, no one has been forced out under the new policy, Pentagon officials said. Cases that were in the bureaucratic pipeline before October, however, have resulted in some recent discharges; Pentagon officials said they could not say how many.

Frank Barrett, a professor of management and organizational behavior at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif., predicted that the military will move quickly to implement the new law, but that the ease of doing so will vary widely among the different branches.

"The real challenge of repealing 'don't ask, don't tell' is that it challenges the warrior ethos, what it means to be a warrior," Barrett said. Warriors, he said, forge a "bonding love" during combat and preparation for war. The question that arises, he said, is: Can people who are uncomfortable with gays continue to form those close warrior bonds with openly gay troops?

"The Marines are going to have the hardest time, and the Air Force is going to have the easiest time," he said. "The Air Force doesn't do eye-to-eye combat. But Marines, they are close-knit in close quarters, and the identity of hyper-masculinity is so core to their mission."

Gen. James F. Amos, the Marine Corps commandant and one of the chief critics of ending the ban, said Sunday that Marines "will step out smartly to faithfully implement this new policy."

Among many Army officers, news of the repeal yielded more of a shrug than celebration or outrage.

"The talk among most of my soldiers is, 'We don't care,' " said one Army officer at Fort Stewart, Ga. "The perception has been for a while that this is a done deal and is going to happen sooner or later."

Most officers said that repealing the law would at least bring some clarity to the murky situation surrounding it. One officer who recently went through a pre-command course to prepare him to lead a combat arms battalion said the possibility of ending the law barely came up during several weeks of courses.

"Culturally, it will be okay - especially with the younger soldiers," the officer said. A worry that he and many others share is that the Pentagon would overreact to perceived problems in a unit and institute some form of military-wide training.

"My biggest concern is how stupid the bureaucracy gets if something happens," the officer said. He and other officers were spoke on the condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to discuss the matter on the record.

ed.okeefe@washingtonpost.com whitlockc@washpost.com

Staff writer Greg Jaffe contributed to this report.

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