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Navy readies training for end of 'don't ask, don't tell'

By Ed O'Keefe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, March 7, 2011; A11

Four documents - a 24-slide PowerPoint presentation, a two-page pamphlet, an eight-page "frequently asked questions" form and 14 written vignettes - are being used by naval commanders and senior enlisted officers to train "deck hand sailors," or the rank and file, on what will happen once President Obama and top military leaders certify that the military is ready to end its enforcement of the "don't ask, don't tell" policy.

Over the course of training sessions lasting 90 minutes to two hours, the four documents help trainers reinforce the same general themes: The military's code of conduct will continue to apply without explicit regard to sexual orientation; potential violators may be punished for disobeying orders, dereliction of duty or breaking the law; and those not following the rules may be involuntarily separated for violating the policy.

Gay rights groups that pushed to end the ban are divided over whether the military's standards of conduct should explicitly mention sexual orientation and worry that service members will lack ample opportunities to speak with officials outside the chain of command about potential violations of the new policy.

The Washington Post obtained a copy of the PowerPoint presentation from sources familiar with the military's training programs; naval officials provided the additional documents once queried about the slides.

The slides also remind sailors they may not be discharged for opposing the repeal. Early discharges will be granted "when in the best interest of the Navy," according to the slides.

Notably, information sailors receive about their overseas deployments will now include information on a host country's laws regarding homosexual conduct, according to the slides. Because of the federal Defense of Marriage Act prohibiting recognition of same-sex marriages, the military will not provide funding or country clearances for same-sex partners to relocate.

"A Sailor requests emergency leave after receiving a Red Cross message concerning the critical condition of his same-sex partner," reads one of the vignettes. "Issue: Benefits. Is the Sailor eligible for Emergency Leave?"

"The Sailor may be eligible for emergency leave," according to the document. "The sexual orientation of the Sailor's partner has no bearing on the decision." The answer then lists the appropriate circumstances for granting emergency leave.

"I think the Navy's on the right track here," said Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, who has received extensive briefings on the military's training plans after the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell.'' The other military services - the Army, Marine Corps and Air Force - are using similar slides and training methods, Sarvis said.

Naval training on the change in policy should be completed by June 30, according to officials.

But the timeline should be accelerated, Sarvis said: "I think the entire military could have certification and full repeal by June 30."

Congress last year passed legislation ending the 17-year-old policy. The law requires Obama and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates to certify the military is ready to end the gay ban before it formally ends. Obama and Gates have vowed to do so this year but have not set a specific date.

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