Pentagon: Training on end of 'don't ask, don't tell' to start in February

By Ed O'Keefe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 28, 2011; 10:51 PM

Using lectures, videos and PowerPoint slides, the Pentagon plans to start training commanders, chaplains and troops next month for a new reality: a military that allows gays and lesbians to serve openly in uniform.

The training moves the armed forces closer to eliminating the "don't ask, don't tell" policy, officials said Friday.

President Obama signed legislation in December that overturns the 17-year ban and requires the military training. "Don't ask" will formally end 60 days after Obama, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, inform lawmakers in writing that the military is ready to do away with the policy.

Training should focus on reminding troops to treat each other with respect, that no policy will be established solely based on sexual orientation and that harassment or unlawful discrimination of any service member is prohibited, Gates said in a memo. The services must submit detailed training plans to him by Friday.

"Moving along expeditiously is better than dragging it out," Gen. James E. Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs, said this week in a briefing with reporters.

Each of the military services will be responsible for the specifics of its training, which will occur in three phases, officials said. Military chaplains, lawyers and civilian personnel will go first, followed by commanding officers, then the rank and file. The services will focus on training troops before they deploy, but some training may take place at the battlefront, officials said.

Training may include written materials, videos, vignettes describing different elements of military life, and PowerPoint slides outlining the changes. Each individual will need to certify that they have completed the training, Cartwright said.

Obama, Gates and Mullen should be able to certify that the military is ready to end the ban before every service member has been trained, Cartwright said. But neither he nor Clifford L. Stanley, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, would say how long they thought individual training sessions would last.

"When you're dealing with 2.5 million people, we're probably going to have some discoveries as we go," Cartwright said. Military leaders will meet every two weeks to review potential concerns or delays.

"We do take it seriously," the general said. "It won't be a 'Here, read this' and move on."

Stanley said few if any changes to military personnel policy and benefits programs are required because the Defense of Marriage Act prohibits extending most medical, housing and travel benefits to same-sex partners. The Pentagon will continue to explore whether gay troops could designate same-sex partners as beneficiaries, he said in a memo outlining changes.

Once the ban is lifted, the military will no longer be able to remove troops for being gay and will cease investigations of personnel who allegedly violated the policy, the memo said. Current military policy on free speech, religious expression and equal opportunity is also adequate, he said.

Service members discharged for violating "don't ask, don't tell" will be eligible to reenlist, but "there will be no preferential treatment" for them. Troops dismissed for violating the ban will not be eligible for retroactive pay, Stanley said.

There will be no new policy for releasing service members opposed to repealing the gay ban, but those in opposition may request voluntary discharges. Service members may already seek voluntary discharges if they wish to go to school or object to transfer to a different location. Service secretaries could grant a discharge based on opposition to ending the ban if it's in the best interest of the service, Stanley said.

Officials did not know the expected costs of the training programs, but Gates promised to provide "adequate funding."

Gay rights groups hailed the Pentagon's plans.

"There is more work to be done regarding some important details and clarification of the timeline, but this is certainly a moment to step back, take a pause, and salute the armed forces for a job well done," said Aaron Belkin, executive director of the Palm Center, a California think tank that endorses the new policy.

But Elaine Donnelly, founder of the Center for Military Readiness and a vocal opponent of changing the policy, said "scores of complicated issues and problems involving human sexuality" remain unresolved. "All of these problems will be loaded on the backs of trainers and field commanders, who will be expected to divert valuable time to deal with all of the negative consequences in the midst of ongoing wars," she said.

Regardless, in his State of the Union address Tuesday, Obama said he expects to end the policy sooner rather than later. "Starting this year, no American will be forbidden from serving the country they love because of who they love," he said.

The next day, Gates said in an interview: "We will move as fast as we responsibly can."

© 2011 The Washington Post Company