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Pentagon Reveals DADT Repeal Plan

Pentagon Reveals DADT Repeal Plan


Pentagon officials updated reporters Friday afternoon on progress in implementing repeal of the "don't ask, don't tell" policy.

During the 45-minute briefing, Gen. James E. Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Clifford L. Stanley, the undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, answered questions about the time line, content, and guidelines for the implementation process.

The Pentagon has yet to set forth a comprehensive timetable for implementing repeal, but officials said that the process would move "expeditiously and quickly," conceivably within a matter of months.

"I think we leave the year there because it's a good goal," Cartwright said. "There is nothing that tells us it's unreachable. But we have to allow for the fact that we may discover something between now and then," he said, noting that the service chiefs would provide feedback every two weeks on requirements such as troop training that could affect the pace of the process.

"We believe we can do it within this year," Stanley added. "But there's no artificial target put down because that would create artificiality that just wouldn't be real."

DADT repeal becomes official only 60 days after the president, the secretary of Defense, and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff sign off that policy changes are "consistent with the standards of military readiness, military effectiveness, unit cohesion, and recruiting and retention of the Armed Forces." In his Tuesday State of the Union address, President Obama said, "Starting this year, no American will be forbidden from serving the country they love because of who they love."

Friday's press conference coincided with the release of two Pentagon memos: one addressed to all military service chiefs, and another from Defense secretary Robert Gates to Stanley, who is tasked with implementing a repeal strategy. Among the "guiding principles" that Gates ordered Stanley to follow are that "no policy will be established that is solely based on sexual orientation" and that "harassment or unlawful discrimination of any member of the Armed Forces for any reason will not be tolerated."

Gates gave Stanley a one-week deadline to establish "a timely and orderly" strategy for the repeal process, one that applies to the "entire Department at the same time."

In Friday afternoon statements, service member advocacy groups generally welcomed the progress on repeal implementation thus far.

"Servicemembers Legal Defense Network is pleased the Pentagon is taking thoughtful steps to move toward certification and implementation of open service," said executive director Aubrey Sarvis. "SLDN continues to believe open service can be achieved sooner rather than later. I agree with General Cartwright that all of the troops, from top to bottom, do not need to undergo a comprehensive training and educational program before there is certification. The training and education plan need only be in place. The fact is education and training around open service can be accomplished in the first and second quarter of this year. In addition, much of the training can continue to take place during the 60-day period following certification."

Alexander Nicholson, executive director of Servicemembers United, said, "The speed with which the Defense Department is moving on the requirements for certification and implementation of the repeal of 'don't ask, don't tell' is promising. We will continue to monitor this process and communicate any concerns that arise to the military leadership as the process unfolds, but overall we are pleased with the Pentagon's good faith effort to move with deliberate speed to end this chapter in our history."

In his memo to the service chiefs, Stanley wrote that same-sex partners of gay and lesbian service members won't be eligible for benefits such as medical care and housing allowance -- a result of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act -- nor will service members discharged under the policy be entitled to apply for retroactive full separation pay. "We also are required by law to abide by the scripture of DOMA, the Defense of Marriage Act, regardless of what's shaping up in different states, we haven't changed that," Stanley said at the press conference. "We still reserve the right to look at emerging things. There could be something we don't know about."

Human Rights Campaign president Joe Solmonese called for parity in benefits for gay service members and their families, which could be accomplished by adding same-sex partners under definitions of "dependent" or "family member," he said in a statement. "Such a step would be consistent with President Obama's June 2009 memorandum that all federal agencies take steps to extend benefits equally to lesbian and gay employees, where permitted by law," Solmonese said.

In his memo, Secretary Gates wrote that Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen and all secretaries of respective military branches are required to assist Stanley in forming a concrete plan for implementing repeal. That would include Marine Corps commandant Gen. James F. Amos, a vocal critic of DADT repeal (however, after the Senate passed a stand-alone repeal bill last month, Amos said that the Marines would "step out smartly to faithfully implement the new policy").

"Strong, engaged and informed leadership will be required at every level to implement [repeal] properly, effectively, and in a deliberate and careful manner," Gates wrote to Stanley.

Conduct standards related to dress and appearance, as well as public displays of affection, will be sexual orientation neutral under the new policy. Stanley further ordered service branch chiefs to "immediately review" all conduct policies having to do with those standards, as well as policies regarding "zero tolerance for harassment and hazing." The creation of separate living or bathroom facilities based on sexual orientation also will be prohibited.

But such changes will not be immediate. "The 'don't ask, don't tell' law is still in effect and we are obligated to follow that law, and to say anything other than that at this time would be inappropriate," Stanley told reporters Friday.

Until then, Log Cabin Republicans executive director R. Clarke Cooper said his organization would not halt its lawsuit against the policy (in its case, a federal judge ruled DADT unconstitutional last year).

"All along we've said, 'Suspend the discharges and we'll drop the suit,'" Cooper said. "The reason why the suit is alive is that there are still folks being processed for discharge," though any pending discharge now requires the direct approval of a service chief, as well as Undersecretary Stanley and the Defense Department's general counsel -- an unlikely scenario.

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