WASHINGTON – Gay members of the armed forces could serve openly and keep their jobs legally by the end of the summer, Pentagon officials told Congress on Friday.
The Defense Department expects by midsummer to have completed enough “don’t ask, don’t tell” repeal training that it can ask the president, defense secretary and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to certify the results and begin the congressionally mandated 60-day countdown to full repeal.
Just 200,000 troops, about 9 percent of the force, have gone through the training so far, according to Vice Adm. William Gortney, director of the Joint Staff. But the first progress reports coming in from service commanders over the past six weeks show “no issues or problems,” said Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Clifford Stanley.
“All is going well,” he told a House panel.
Stanley said Defense Secretary Robert Gates has met twice with the service chiefs and combatant commanders to monitor the progress. Gates earlier this year told DOD to “accelerate” the training process, and Gortney reported the department was moving “expeditiously, but in a careful and responsible manner.”
Though the “don’t ask, don’t policy” remains in effect, on Thursday a Navy panel in California voted unanimously to retain Petty Officer 2nd Class Derek Morado, an openly gay sailor who was brought under charges for violating the policy in 2009.
In October, Gates signed orders saying only the service secretaries can approve discharges under the policy; no one has been discharged since.
On Friday, the officials addressed a number of concerns raised by repeal opponents. Gortney said the training process has had no impact to combat troops, who most opposed the repeal in a survey last year. Training was pushed forward to catch some personnel before they deployed, and commanders in the field can decide to wait until they redeploy home.
Stanley said it was too early for data to indicate any effects on recruitment or retention. Gortney said that units that have completed the training report nothing adverse.
Still, some congressmen continued to protest the repeal and call for its reversal.
“I felt the repeal was rushed through Congress,” said Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., chairman of the Military Personnel Subcommittee. “I believe the lame-duck session was undemocratic in that dozens of defeated congressmen adopted a law with significant consequences. … It was a violation of the principles of representative democracy.”
One new member of the panel, freshman Republican and Tea Party favorite Rep. Austin Scott, of Georgia, said, “I hope that as we move forward that we’re able to undo some of these things.”
Scott said a servicemember in his district told him that he and his brother, both trained in bomb detection, would not reenlist because of the repeal.
“You are going to lose, and this country is going to lose a lot of very, very valuable members of our military because of this social policy.”