Defense Secretary Robert Gates set Feb. 4 as the deadline for officials to deliver their plan to integrate gays into the military.
That won't happen until 60 days after the president, Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, certify that the military is ready to implement repeal without harming readiness, effectiveness, unit cohesion, and recruiting and retention.
Gates ordered that implementation "be timely, deliberate, comprehensive ... and consistent across all services," and set forth a three-tier process to dismantle the current policy.
Military lawyers, counselors and chaplains responsible for training others will get their marching orders first through PowerPoint presentations and videos and by acting out possible scenarios laid out in a 95-page implementation plan released along with the Pentagon report that set the stage for repeal.
Next, leaders at all levels -- from generals to company commanders to platoon sergeants -- will be trained. Finally, the troops will be told what is expected of them in their professional and personal conduct.
Most troops are expected to get some training this year, although Pentagon officials said some on the front line in Afghanistan and other remote areas may not be briefed until later.
Gen. James Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said at a briefing today that the military will be ready to be certified for the change when "the bulk" of troops have gone through training.
"If we get good vibes about where we are," said Clifford Stanley, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, officials will know they are ready. But, he added, leaders will have to make a "subjective" judgment as to when that will happen.
In a memo for the civilian secretaries of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps, Stanley ticked off the changes once repeal is final:
- Discharges for homosexuality will end. All pending investigations and separation proceedings will cease.
- Homosexuality will no longer be considered a bar to military service or admission to service academies and ROTC. Sexual orientation will be treated as "a personal and private matter."
- Service members kicked out solely because of "don't ask, don't tell" -- more than 14,000 gay men and lesbians -- will be able to apply to re-enter the military. But they will not get preferential treatment and will have to meet the same standards as other prior-service members seeking to rejoin.
- Existing standards of conduct will apply to all regardless of sexual orientation and will be immediately reviewed to ensure that they apply uniformly to all personnel. The review will include "special emphasis" on "public displays of affection, dress and appearance, nepotism, unprofessional relationships, conflict of interest, and zero tolerance for harassment and hazing."
Gay service members will be able to designate their partners as beneficiaries if they are killed or wounded and as designated caregivers if they are hospitalized.
What About Gay Jokes?
One reporter asked whether the new rules would forbid gay jokes, which he said in his experience with front-line combat units accounted for nearly a quarter of informal banter.
"Leadership, professionalism, discipline and respect are supposed to be there now," Stanley said in a nonanswer to a question on the many minds.
The new rules also make clear that there will be no changes regarding the exercise of religious beliefs or policies concerning the chaplain corps, members of which have been among the most vocally opposed to open service by gays. Stanley noted that military clergy already serve troops "who may hold different views and beliefs."
The new policy states that "harassment or abuse based on sexual orientation is unacceptable and will be dealt with through command or inspector general channels." But it adds that "sexual orientation will not be considered along with race, color, religion, sex and national origin" as a legally protected class under the Military Equal Opportunity program.
When asked repeatedly by reporters whether that was good enough to protect service members from gay bashing and discrimination based on their sexual orientation, Cartwright said "you got redress" but refused to go further into what he said was "a legal area."