Pentagon's training for ‘Don’t ask’ repeal to start next month, but timeline unclear

The U.S. military next month will begin preparing troops for the end of the “Don't ask, don't tell” (DADT) era, though top leaders might not green-light the formal end to that policy this year, senior Pentagon officials said Friday.

"The implementation of the repeal of ‘Don't ask, don't tell’ is a milestone event for the department," Defense Secretary Robert Gates wrote in a Pentagon memo dated Friday. He added that taking steps to set in motion repeal would not be done incrementally.

Each of the four military services will be allowed to tailor its own DADT training package, Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Clifford Stanley told reporters Friday. Those guides, which the services have crafted with the input of civilian and uniformed Pentagon officials, should be finalized next week.

Top Defense Department officials have talked about completing the training and certification of most of the U.S. force by the end of 2011.

But during a Pentagon briefing Friday, Stanley and Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. James Cartwright made clear that is merely "a good goal" and not a deadline.

Pentagon and service officials still do not have a clear picture of how long it will take to train individual troops and entire units — some of which are deployed and engaged in heavy combat.

They will have a better view of the required training time in a few months, the officials said. "There will be some discovery" during the early months of the training program, lessons that could alter the end-of-year goal, Stanley said.

Under the Pentagon's DADT repeal implementation law, officials will start training entire units. The goal will be to train units before a deployment, and administer the program to units already abroad as conditions allow.

Officials hope that approach will allow officials to train "a bulk of the force" when the Defense secretary and chairman of the Joint Chiefs certify to the president that the military is ready for the DADT law to be formally repealed.

President Obama signed a repeal measure into law Dec. 22. It requires only the approval of the secretary, chairman and president to scrap the 1990s ban on openly gay men and women in the armed forces.

After the president signs off, the DADT law will expire in 60 days.

Because that law is still on the books, the DoD officials said, it is still possible for troops to be removed if they violate its rules.

Since each service has unique practices for administering any kind of training, Pentagon officials "did not tell them how to do this," Stanley said.

But the preparation will consist of more than "a 'Read this and move on,' " Stanley said, adding it will be a "training package."

Also on Friday, Stanley issued new guidance to the services that will take effect once the DADT law is officially scrapped.

Once that has occurred, "service members will no longer be subject to administrative separation based solely on legal homosexual acts, a statement by a service member that he or she is a homosexual or bisexual ... or marriage or attempted marriage to a person known to be of the same biological sex," that guidance states.

Also, once the ban is no more, Stanley has ordered the services to halt all pending investigations and discharges related to the DADT law.

Statements or actions about homosexuality also, upon repeal, no longer prohibit an individual from serving in the military or attending a military service academy.

Some in Congress fought the Obama administration's repeal effort and are seeking to hold up implementation. Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), for example, has introduced legislation designed to slow repeal.

The measure would add the four military service chiefs to the list of those who must sign off on scrapping the ban.

Hunter is concerned that repealing the DADT policy unjustly “excluded the service chiefs from the certification process,” said one congressional aide.