Pentagon: 'Don't ask, don't tell' could be gone by September

Pentagon officials told Congress on Friday that 'don't ask don't tell' – regulations prohibiting the service of openly gay or lesbian troops – could cease being military policy within six months.

Alex Brandon / AP
Defense Undersecretary for Personnel and Readiness Clifford L. Stanley, co-chair of the Don't Ask, Don't Tell Repeal Implementation Team (l.) testifies with Navy Vice Adm. William E. Gortney, director of the Pentagon’s Joint Staff, at the House Military Personnel Subcommittee's hearing on implementation plans for the repeal of law and policies governing service by openly gay and lesbian service members, April 1.

If the US military maintains its current pace of training, the end of “don’t ask, don’t tell” could become official Pentagon policy as soon as September, say senior defense officials, even as some conservative lawmakers continue to decry as "undemocratic" the overturn of the ban on openly gay soldiers in the armed forces.

Pentagon officials answered written questions from Congress last week that ranged from whether the Pentagon would allow same-sex couples in the military to adopt children to whether sexual assault surveys will be changed to reflect whether the perpetrator was gay to whether those who have been discharged under "don’t ask, don’t tell" would receive preferential treatment for rehiring should they choose to reenlist in the military.

The questions came in conjunction with congressional testimony last week in which Pentagon officials reported that they have finished training about 200,000 troops, or about 10 percent, of its forces in advance of repeal of the ban.

The remainder of US military service members should be trained by midsummer, said Clifford Stanley, undersecretary of Defense for personnel and readiness and cochairman of the team tasked with implementing the repeal. “So far it’s been very good. The training’s gone very well,” he added in testimony before the House Armed Services personnel subcommittee Friday that was largely overshadowed by events in Libya.

Defense officials testified they have seen no impact on recruiting since Congress voted in December to repeal the ban.

Yet some lawmakers continue to express concern about particular points, including whether chaplains will be required to counsel gay troops if they are personally opposed to homosexuality. “If that chaplain can’t come to grips” with counseling a gay soldier, then “we’ll get a chaplain to meet his or her needs,” Mr. Stanley said. “We’re not asking anybody to change their beliefs. We’re not asking anybody to change their feelings.”

In working group discussions with chaplains, “while many expressed opposition to a change in policy, nearly all indicated that they were willing to continue their ministry in the military,” according to written responses the Pentagon provided to Congress.

Troops previously discharged under "don’t ask, don’t tell" will be eligible to reapply for military service “just like anyone else,” based on the number of people needed for their particular occupational specialty and their physical qualifications. “There will be no preferential treatment for service members separated [from military employment] solely under DADT,” Pentagon officials wrote.

There will be no back pay for those discharged under DADT. The Pentagon questionnaire response emphasized no “compensation of any type, including retroactive full separation pay, for those previously separated under DADT.”

The Defense Department will use the same rules for both heterosexual and same-sex couples who adopt children. “DOD will continue to recognize legal documentation, such as a court order, of adoption or custody in determining a child’s status as a dependent,” according to the questionnaire, “and consequently a service member’s eligibility for benefits on behalf of the child.”

Defense Secretary Robert Gates is currently meeting “at least twice a week” with service chiefs and other US military commanders to assess the progress of "don’t ask, don’t tell" repeal training, according to officials.

They add that while recruiting has not been affected at this point, and they do not expect to see any effect, they will continue to monitor the results of overturning the ban.

Surveys “are only so accurate,” Vice Adm. William Gortney, director of the Pentagon’s Joint Staff, told the subcommittee.

He added that it is unlikely the Pentagon will be able to implement the new policy any earlier than September. The remainder of the training will take until midsummer. Secretary Gates must then certify to Congress that the Pentagon is ready to implement the repeal. From that point, it will take 60 days before the law goes into effect.

Trainers also need time to to be able to “go back and address” any concerns that may come up in training, Gortney told the subcommittee. “Any faster,” he added, “and we might miss something.”

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