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'Don't ask, don't tell': Repeal signed, sealed, but when will it be delivered?

At signing, Obama says repeal of 'don't ask, don't tell' will 'strengthen our national security.' But the lack of a clear timetable for implementation is already frustrating some gay rights advocates.

By Anna MulrineStaff writer / December 22, 2010

President Barack Obama signs the Don't Ask, Don't Tell Repeal Act of 2010, on Dec. 22, at the Interior Department in Washington.

Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

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Washington

President Obama signed the bill Wednesday to end the 17-year ban on openly gay troops serving in the military, declaring at a White House ceremony that the legislation will “strengthen our national security and uphold the ideals our fighting men and women risk their lives to defend.”

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But it remained unclear how long it would take the Pentagon to phase out the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. Whether it will be months or the better part of a year is an estimate that the Defense Department is resolutely declining to make.

“I don't think anybody has any idea yet how long this will take,” Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell told reporters this week.

The lack of a concrete timetable is frustrating some gay rights advocates who point out that quickly implementing orders is generally a military forte – and question why putting the repeal in place should take much longer than one month.

IN PICTURES: The US Marine Corps

“If leaders set clear deadlines and monitor progress, training can be accomplished quickly,” concluded a study by the Palm Center, a research institute at the University of California, Santa Barbara, which has advocated for the repeal. “Whatever preparations are ultimately deemed necessary, the Pentagon ought to be able to pull them off faster than it did the implementation of DADT in 1994, which took approximately 40 days.”

Even supporters of the repeal acknowledge, however, that the legislation has only been in effect for a matter of hours.

“Let’s give them a few days to tell us what their timeline is,” says Aaron Belkin, director of the Palm Center. “The fact of the matter is that if they wanted to, they could repeal immediately. The troops do not have to be trained to interact with gays” – as it’s something they’ve long been doing, he adds – “but let’s see how much time they ask for.”

Education called key

The military argues that the key to a smooth implementation is educating troops about the new law. Once they do this, officials explain – and once Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen have consulted with the heads of the services branches and are confident that the repeal will not harm readiness, recruitment, or retention – they will send a letter to Congress “certifying” that the military is ready.

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