WASHINGTON – The plan to end the ban on gay men and lesbians serving openly in the military is progressing quickly, senior Defense Department officials said here Friday.
Clifford L. Stanley, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, and Marine Corps Gen. James E. Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, spoke to Pentagon reporters in the first of a series of briefings that will chart the department's progress in implementing the repeal of the law known as "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."
"My sense is (we have a) really good working relationship with the services as we do this, not only the service chiefs, but the senior enlisted," Stanley said. "You get good vibes about where we are in terms of cooperation (and) information coming forth."
President Barack Obama signed the repeal into law Dec. 22, with provisions ensuring the repeal will not take place until 60 days after he, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, certify the military services are ready.
During the briefing, officials distributed copies of two memos containing the department's guidance on repeal implementation. The first, signed by Gates, sets a planning deadline of Friday. The second memo, which Stanley signed, outlines policy changes.
"Strong, engaged and informed leadership will be required at every level to implement the repeal properly, effectively, and in a deliberate and careful manner," Gates' memo read in part.
"This is not, however, a change that should be done incrementally. The steps leading to certification and the actual repeal must be accomplished across the entire department at the same time," the memo continued.
Gates' guiding principles for implementation stress respect for individuals and common across-the-services standards, while prohibiting harassment, unlawful discrimination and policies based solely on sexual orientation.
Gates directed that a repeal implementation team lead the process to develop plans, update policies and train the force.
"What you're going to see as we move forward, we have actually three tiers as we get to the training part," Stanley said.
The three levels of training begin with policy makers, chaplains, lawyers and counselors; continue with leaders including commanding officers, senior noncommissioned officers and senior civilians; and culminate with troops across the services.
Cartwright said the tiers don't have to be sequential, and the services can conduct the levels of training as they see fit.
Present at the briefing were Virginia Penrod, deputy assistant secretary for military personnel policy and chairwoman of the repeal implementation team, and Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Steven Hummer, the team's chief of staff.
Penrod said the team has worked for several weeks with service representatives to develop training guidance, modules and plans.
"It's been a joint effort, with not only the military departments but (also) the Joint Staff, to develop consistent training," she said.
Hummer said the team is developing a "standardized commander's toolkit" for the training effort. The services can tailor the toolkit to ensure the training meets their specific needs, he added. Training packets will include videos featuring service commanders, presentations outlining policy considerations, and a series of vignettes trainers can use to spur audience discussions.
The team also is charged with preparing progress reports and updating Gates every two weeks on policy development and training progress.
"We know, when you're dealing with 2 and half million people and a new policy, that we're probably going to have some discovery as we go," Cartwright said.
The two-week updates provide a feedback mechanism that will allow defense and service leaders to track what they have learned, react, and then move forward, he added.
"That will all be considered in the so-called calculus of when we go to the secretary and the chairman to certify," the vice chairman said.
Stanley's memo detailed military policy changes that will happen when repeal takes place. Defense officials emphasized that any changes will not take effect until repeal is implemented, and that all current policies remain in force in the meantime.
Most policies will not change, including those covering standards of conduct, equal opportunity, personal privacy, military benefits, medical treatment and duty assignments. But recruiting, re-accesssions and separation policies will change. Sexual orientation will no longer serve as a bar to enlistment or a return to the military, or as a reason for dismissal.
Stanley said that while the department doesn't see the need for many policy changes, there is a definite need for policy clarification.
"We are fundamentally focused right now on our leadership, professionalism, discipline and respect," he said. "I have to underscore that every person who serves and who wears a uniform – and to include our civilians, who are working within the Department of Defense – they take an oath. And that oath breaks into that foundation of leadership, professionalism, discipline and respect."