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Republicans keeping close tabs on plans to end ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’

Congressional Republicans — still seething from last year’s repeal of the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy — are hoping for a progress report Thursday from the military’s top service chiefs about training programs designed to inform the rank and file about ending the ban on gays in the military.

The heads of the Army, Air Force, Marines, Navy and Coast Guard are set to provide to the House Armed Services Committee their first public status update since President Obama signed a law in December authorizing the Pentagon to train military commanders and the troops about repealing the 17-year-old ban before it officially ends.

During last year’s lame-duck session, Congressional Democrats rebuffed a request by the panel’s Republicans to meet with the service chiefs after the Pentagon published a report on the potential impact of ending the ban. Republicans now controlling the committee are vowing to keep close tabs on the process.

On Friday, Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.), chairman of the panel’s subcommittee on military personnel, called December’s vote “undemocratic” because “dozens of defeated Congress members adopted a law with significant consequence” during a lame-duck session that failed to pass a budget.

“It is now essential that the Congress ask some of the questions that were glossed over” last year, he said during a hearing with Pentagon officials regarding the training programs.

Some Republicans said Friday that they’ve heard from troops who will not reenlist because they disagree with ending the ban.

Other Republicans said Friday that they’ve heard from troops who will not reenlist because they disagree with ending the ban.

But Clifford L. Stanley, undersecretary of defense for personnel issues, said it’s too early to tell whether the impending changes are affecting retention or recruitment efforts.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates is instructing the service chiefs to take whatever time is necessary to instruct the troops, “but not one minute more,” Stanley said Friday.

He said about 9 percent of U.S. troops, or 200,000 service members, had completed the training courses as of Friday.

The policy will formally end 60 days after Obama, Gates and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, certify that the force is ready to end enforcement of the ban.

Vice Adm. William E. Gortney, director of the Joint Chiefs, 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 instruction for military chaplains, lawyers and civilian personnel, followed by commanding officers and the rank and file. Each service is now training the rank and file on the personnel changes, according to Stanley. Training for the Navy and Marines should be completed by June 1, and the Air Force and Coast Guard should be completed June 30. Training the Army’s reserve forces should last into Aug. 15, because of “the numbers that have to be trained,” Gortney said.

“We’re not anticipating any showstoppers,” Gortney said, noting that military commanders are reporting no issues or problems with the training.

Several Democratic lawmakers Friday pushed the military to move faster in order to quickly end the ban, but Gortney demurred, cautioning, “Any faster and we might miss something.”

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Ed O’Keefe is covering the 2016 presidential campaign, with a focus on Jeb Bush and other Republican candidates. He's covered presidential and congressional politics since 2008. Off the trail, he's covered Capitol Hill, federal agencies and the federal workforce, and spent a brief time covering the war in Iraq.

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