DoD Updates Congress on DADT Repeal Implementation
DoD Updates Congress on DADT Repeal Implementation; New Law’s Opponents Use Hearings as Soapbox
By D. Small
In the midst of a government wide shut down threat over a budget impasse, the Republican-controlled House Armed Services Committee (HASC) held two hearings in April on the status of the Department of Defense’s implementation plans to repeal the law banning gays and lesbians from open uniformed service.
The hearings were to serve as a progress report on each services’ efforts conducting training on implementation of the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” but instead, resulted in a frenzy of rhetoric from repeal opponents. Despite this, DoD representatives ultimately said they expect to complete training by midsummer and that it is going well.
To the chagrin of the Republican opposition looking for holes in the implementation plan, the process has had no impact to combat troops said Joint Staff Director Vice Adm. William Gortney, at the first hearing April 1 to the HASC’s Subcommittee for Military Personnel.
Those combat troops (Army infantry and Marine Corps) were the ones who most opposed the repeal, according to the 2010 DoD survey released in December. Despite this, some committee members used the hearing to voice discontent.
“It is essential that Congress ask some of the questions that were glossed over,” Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC), the chairman of the subcommittee said at the April 1st hearing. “We must ensure that we do not make a mistake by allowing the repeal to move ahead when there is any possibility that it will put the combat readiness of our force at risk at a time our nation is in three wars with worldwide instability.”
Others pushed the opposition further, like freshman Tea Partier Rep. Austin Scott (R-GA), who said, “I hope that as we move forward that we’re able to undo some of these things.”
The HASC chairman, Rep. Buck McKeon (R-CA), was a vocal foe of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal last year, casting “no” votes each time measures came to the House floor. He held a second hearing April 7th for the full committee, with the uniformed heads of each service testifying. Represented were Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Gary Roughead, Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Amos, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz, and Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Peter Chiarelli.
Public statements by each since the Christmas vote have shown all service chiefs are on board with repeal implementation.
“It’s not the first time in history it has occurred to somebody that they are serving with gays and lesbians,” said HASC ranking member Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA), applauding the efforts of each service chief. “The debate on whether to allow gays and lesbians to serve in uniform has ended. It is time to focus on preparing the force and ensuring that leadership, professionalism, and respect is the hallmark in how we treat all members of the Armed Forces.”
Gay rights advocates said they don’t anticipate these hearings will have any impact on the repeal process. Alexander Nicholson, Executive Director of Servicemembers United, said the hearings were “another blatant waste of resources. Troops are more worried about seeing that a government shutdown does not happen so that they can still get paid next week than they are about the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy coming to an end.”
Ironically, the April 7th hearing had to pause so members could vote on extending the budget. “We have to go vote so we can keep paying you,” Rep. McKeon told the service chiefs.
Mr. Nicholson went on further to say, “This issue has been settled, the Department of Defense has embraced this change, and trying to re-open this debate is a waste of both taxpayer money and the valuable time of these senior defense leaders in the midst of multiple overseas conflicts. The Joint Staff has made it clear that prior predictions of doom and gloom following repeal were misguided and that their respective services are more than capable of handling this change in policy.”
The training itself is designed for three groups: tier 1 (the experts, such as chaplains, recruiters, lawyers, human resources, etc); tier 2 (commanders, leaders in DoD – both military and civilian); and tier 3 (the force at large). Each military service designed its own training slides with a focus on four principles: leadership, professionalism, discipline, and respect.
As of April 1st, only about 9 percent of the force (or 200,000 troops) had been trained so far, said Admiral Gortney. However, most Tier 1 and 2 training in each service has been completed since then.
Clifford Stanley, the Pentagon’s Undersecretary for Personnel and Readiness, told members at the April 1st hearing that the process underway will not be rushed, “because we want to make sure that it’s done right, but at the same time, we don’t want to take forever to do it.” He also said the training “was going well.”
Stanley further said it is too early to indicate any effects on recruitment or retention, but that nothing adverse has occurred in units who have completed training. Admiral Roughead echoed these same comments, saying that no effect on recruiting or retention has occurred.
The Army is tracking to complete training for 565,000 active duty soldiers by July, and 567,000 Guard and Reserve members by August. The Navy is scheduled to complete training by July 1st, Marine Corps by May 31st, and the Air Force and Coast Guard by the summer. Depending on the length of time it takes to accomplish the training, certification could most likely happen this fall.
Revealed during the hearing is Secretary of Defense Robert Gates’ involvement. He personally met with service chiefs and combatant commanders twice to monitor progress, reporting that there have been no issues thus far with the repeal.
For those in the service opposing repeal, the training doesn’t clarify what may happen to any objectors. Thus far, no requests have become public. According to the Navy slides, “Consistent with the new policy, sailors may not be discharged early for opposing the repeal of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell.’ Early discharges will be granted ‘when in the best interest of the Navy.’”
Admiral Roughead said one of the problems with his service was that too many people want to stay in the Navy, implying that anybody who did want to come forward and resign due to the implementation may help end-strength.
All testified they are using the “Support Plan for Implementation: Report of the Comprehensive Review of the Issues Associated with a Repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’” report in implementing their training programs.
General Amos said that even after the training was complete, he would use subjective measurements, including surveys, before recommending certification.
Chairman McKeon asked each of the service chiefs their opinion on the level of risk they feel the implementation will cause. The Army, Navy and Air Force chiefs still said there was moderate risk to repeal, but no issues have arisen thus far.
“We are mitigating the risk, but I’m more comfortable with implementation than I was in December,” said General Schwartz.
Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-MO) questioned why the service chiefs are allowing risk in changing a policy, and asked them when they have ever recommended a policy putting military forces at moderate risk? Generals Schwartz and Amos both responded that going to war places a heavy risk on servicemembers.
Ironically, the chief most opposed to repeal last December, General Amos, seems to have developed a new opinion since then. “There’s not been the anxiety over it from the field,” said General Amos. “Quite honestly, they’re focused on the enemy,” referencing the views of his Marine commanders in Afghanistan.
When asked about standards of discipline, Admiral Roughead said the same rules under the Uniformed Code of Military Justice will apply equally to homosexuals as they do to heterosexuals with regard to sexual harassment and other regulations.
“It’s not as if we have to create new policies,” he said.
Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-CA) questioned General Schwartz regarding the 14,000 gays and lesbians forced out under the 17 year-old policy to find out how members can appeal for reentry into the force. General Schwartz responded that each case would be looked at on an individual basis with regards to the needs of each service.
After decisive action by the lame duck Congress at Christmas, President Obama signed the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal into law, but the actual policy change won’t take effect until military training is completed and leadership certify readiness, recruitment and retention will not suffer by the law’s enactment.
“You can rest assured that each one of us will give our best military advice to the Chairman,” said General Schwartz.
Once that recommendation is given by each Service, and ultimately, the President, there will be a 60-day waiting period before implementation occurs.
“I’m absolutely confident that good order and discipline will prevail at the end of the day,” said General Amos during testimony, also noting that “persistent leadership” by NCOs and officers will ensure readiness.
Freshman Rep. Allen West (R-FL), an Army Reserve Lieutenant Colonel who served in Iraq, said, “We don’t have to sit up here and banter. This is going to happen.”