Implementing the repeal

by on December 19, 2010  •  In Military

The armed forces will face an array of questions large and small as the repeal process moves forward.  From the NY Times, here is the first of what will doubtless be many reports:

You are a commander of a ship, and one of your top-performing officers, who is known to be a lesbian, is at war with her roommate to the point that it is disrupting the entire unit. The officer asks you for new berthing. What do you do?

You are the senior officer at a busy military recruiting station, and your best recruiter has just told you that his religious beliefs prevent him from processing an outstanding applicant who volunteers that he is gay. What do you do?

These scenarios and their solutions — the commander may reassign roommates, and the recruiter could face disciplinary action — are outlined in a detailed and at times explicit 87-page Defense Department plan for carrying out the repeal of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” law.

In the wake of the Senate vote to end the 17-year-old policy, which forced gay men and women in the military to keep their sexual orientation secret or face discharge, military officials said they did not yet have a timetable for putting the change into effect. President Obama is expected to sign the bill early this week.

“There will certainly be pressure to get it done in 2011,” one military official said, indicating that repeal will be a relatively slow but not years-long process, as Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has suggested in recent statements.

Phasing in the repeal by service branch, with some parts of the military affected before others, was “highly unlikely,” said the official, who asked for anonymity to talk more freely about internal deliberations at the Pentagon.

Under the terms of the legislation that passed the Senate on Saturday and the House earlier last week, the Defense Department will not carry out the repeal until Mr. Gates, Mr. Obama and Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, “certify” that the military is ready to make the change. After that, the legislation requires a 60-day period before the change takes place.

Gay rights advocates said Sunday that repeal should be carried out as quickly as possible, preferably in the first quarter of next year.

Mr. Gates has acknowledged that the president will be watching closely “to ensure that we don’t dawdle or try to slow-roll this” and that Mr. Obama expects the military to prepare “as quickly as we properly and comprehensively could.”

To that end, the military’s plan for the repeal — little noticed when it was released at the same time last month as an exhaustive nine-month Pentagon study on the effects of ending “don’t ask, don’t tell” — demands education and training for commanders as well as combat units, but notes that training “should be efficient and should not burden the force.”

The plan also calls for new Defense Department guidelines to prohibit separate bathrooms and housing assignments on the basis of sexual orientation, although it recommends that commanders be allowed the discretion to make changes. In the case of bathrooms and bathing facilities, the plan says that “commanders have the authority to accommodate privacy requests on an individualized, case-by-case basis, in the interest of maintaining morale, good order and discipline, consistent with performance of mission.”

The plan, written by Jeh C. Johnson, the Defense Department’s general counsel, and Gen. Carter F. Ham, commander of the United States Army in Europe, does not specify how privacy requests might be carried out.

In a frank, lengthy section at the end of the plan, various hypothetical problems and solutions are posed, including what a commander should do about two junior male service members in civilian clothes seen kissing and hugging at a shopping mall, or how to handle reports that another service member has been seen “hanging around” a gay bar.

In the case at the shopping mall, the plan says that if the kissing and hugging “crosses acceptable boundaries” of standards of conduct for the commander’s unit, “an appropriate correction should be made.” The plan notes that “public displays of affection are orientation-neutral” and that the standards should apply equally to gay and straight service members.

In the case of the gay bar, the report says commanders at a military base may place establishments off limits “for certain reasons,” like known or suspected criminal activity or drug use. But, it says, “an establishment would not be placed off-limits just for catering to a gay clientele.”

In the case of the recruiter whose religious beliefs prevent him from processing an openly gay applicant, the plan says that although he could face disciplinary action, if his performance and professionalism “are otherwise high,” he might be reassigned to another job.

The plan offers few specifics on the substance of the training to be provided, although it recommends that commanders “keep it simple” and work it into existing programs whenever possible. The report also warns that for service members deployed overseas, training and education “must not in any way impede the operations of forces directly engaged with the enemy.”

The plan also warns that until repeal takes effect, openly gay service members still face expulsion from the military, even though the Defense Department has a de-facto moratorium in place, which gay rights advocates called on Mr. Gates to make official.

“I fail to see how we can be preparing for open service and conducting education and training for open service and during the same time period have ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ investigations and discharges,” said Aubrey Sarvis, an Army veteran and the executive director for the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network.

Mr. Gates and Admiral Mullen repeatedly urged Congress in recent weeks to move forward on repeal, but some military service chiefs said now was not the right time because the United States was at war. The commandant of the Marine Corps and the service chief most opposed to repeal, Gen. James F. Amos, suggested last week that repeal could cost Marine lives because it would be a “distraction” on the battlefield.

On Sunday, General Amos said in a statement that “the Marine Corps will step out smartly to faithfully implement this new policy.”

The DoD report referred to in the article is the Support Plan for Implementation


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