As the Pentagon moves forward with its plans to implement the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” US military officials say they are “pretty certain” that they will be able to begin training US troops on the new policy during the month of February.
For now, details about the implementation of the DADT repeal remain hard to come by – despite the fact that the Pentagon produced a comprehensive report in November about how, precisely, the plan allowing gay troops to serve openly in the military would be put in place.
In a recent briefing, senior military officials said only that implementation of the repeal can likely happen at some point in 2011.
But other sources suggest that the Pentagon hopes to have the training done by this summer, perhaps as early as May. Such a timeline would have the benefit of allowing the Obama administration to prepare for 2012 elections without the distraction of implementing the DADT repeal, says Jarrod Chlapowski, field director for Servicemembers United in Washington, D.C., an advocacy group for gay and lesbian troops and veterans.
“It’s in their interest for them to knock this out as quickly as possible," he says.
Mr. Chlapowski estimates that the training will last about three months. “We’ve been hearing 90 days being tossed around for the full length of the training,” he adds. “But I think we’ll have a better idea how this is going to go once each of the service chiefs reports" to Defense Secretary Robert Gates.
The joint chiefs are expected to report to Secretary Gates this week, according to senior military officials.
For their part, senior military officials were less willing to provide even ballpark estimates as to when the new law might go into effect, beyond saying that they believe implementation of the repeal can happen “within the year, based upon what we know right now,” according to Clifford Stanley, undersecretary of Defense for personnel and readiness.
They do say, however, that they expect there to be few wide-ranging changes within the halls of the Pentagon beyond the repeal itself, since many existing regulations also address issues including harassment, for example. “We expect to see essentially not a lot of changes in the policy, but there definitely needs to be policy clarification,” said Mr. Stanley.
Gen. James Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who briefed reporters with Stanley on Friday, added: “We also know that when you’re dealing with 2-1/2 million people and a new policy, that we’re probably going to have some discovery as we go.”
What’s more, senior military officials are hinting that they don’t believe the entire service needs to go through education seminars before the secretary of Defense and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs certify, as Congress requires, that the military is ready to implement the repeal. From that point, it will be another 60 days before the law goes into effect.
“We’re going to try to get to a high percentage of the units as quickly as we can. And that will be our focus initially," says Cartwright, adding, that certification "does not require a hundred percent of people to be trained, OK?” Officials declined to give a target percentage of the force they intended to train before Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen would declare the force ready for repeal.
“We’re going to have some challenges with people like Guard and Reserve that are not on active duty right now – finding them, getting to them, et cetera," noted Cartwright. "So that’s going to have an impact.”
At the same time, they downplayed the idea that the military’s 3,000 chaplains may need to go through any sort of special training. The Pentagon's detailed survey had recommended special attention to this group, noting that a "large number" of the chaplains strongly object to repealing the policy on religious grounds.
In any event, DADT repeal education for all troops “won’t just be a kind of ‘Here, read this and move on,’ ” says Cartwright. “It’ll be a training package [that] they will be accountable for.”