At DADT repeal training, Marines stress 'nothing will change'
MARINE CORPS BASE QUANTICO, Va. — The theme of Monday’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” training here was less about sexual orientation of Marines and more about what isn’t going to happen when the law is formally repealed.
“Nothing will change. First and foremost, you’re still a rifleman,” said Gunnery Sgt. Anthony Taylor, who ran the training session for about 70 Marines from the base headquarters company. “You are always going to continue doing what you’ve done. So that’s not going to change.”
Over the last few months, military officials from the four services have rolled out their overview training for rank-and-file troops in advance of gays being allowed to serve openly.
Monday’s session was one of several media events across the country designed to show what that involves: a brief message from Commandant Gen. James Amos on respect for all servicemembers, vignettes covering housing and benefits issues, and a chance for Marines to ask any questions about how the changes will affect them.
Few Marines took up the commanders on that last offer. Cpl. Tyler Whisler said that Marines have been discussing the repeal since it was passed by Congress in December, but most of his questions were answered before the training session.
Sgt. Shawn Megill said he wanted to know “how to handle problems properly, if they do come up,” but said the session covered all the basics about reporting issues to the chain of command.
“It was pretty direct,” he said. “I think it answered a lot of little questions that are out there.”
Taylor said in other training sessions he has supervised, most of the questions from Marines have been out of curiosity, not fear.
“I’ve had a lot about housing, but more wanting to know what [gay couples] will qualify for,” he said. “They just want to know how this all works.”
Pentagon officials have downplayed the effect of the repeal since last fall. Rules regarding sexual misconduct and same-sex facilities won’t change. Gay couples won’t be eligible for housing benefits, but will have access to some base facilities.
Marines at this training session were told that the repeal won’t force them to change any religious views about homosexuality, but everyone is expected to be respectful and professional toward their fellow servicemembers. Repeal opponents have questioned exactly what that means, and wondered whether anti-homosexual views would count against some troops in their career advancement.
Gay rights groups contend repeal will have little effect on the military, and have noted that sessions they’ve observed have been professional and bland, with only basic questions about how the changes might affect minor rules and regulations.
A Huffington Post report earlier this month from a training session at Camp LeJeune in North Carolina suggested that some Marines aren’t taking the training seriously, begrudgingly accepting the rules in public but privately seething over the training and culture change.
But Marines at the Quantico training insisted that abolishing “don’t ask, don’t tell” is no big deal for their lives, and that most troops are simply apathetic about what they see as a fairly benign change in the rules.
“We still have a pretty simple mission, and that’s to make Marines win battles,” said Master Sgt. Sal Cardella, a public affairs specialist at the base.
“I’m old enough to remember when we could ask [about a person’s sexual orientation.] Then we got ‘don’t ask, don’t tell.’ We survived that just fine. Now there’s another change. We’re going to relay the orders and follow those orders.”