ARLINGTON, Va. — Defense Secretary Robert Gates has instructed the Defense Department to accelerate a plan to end the “don’t ask, don’t tell” ban on openly gay military personnel and start rolling out its training within a “very few weeks.”
President Barack Obama signed the repeal of the 17-year old law on Dec. 22 with a promise not to “drag our feet.” But the repeal language passed by Congress states that the president, defense secretary and Joint Chiefs chairman must certify the military is ready to lift the ban and then wait 60 days before gay troops are safe to speak openly of their sexual orientation.
Until Thursday, Pentagon officials refused to provide any details on the department’s plan as it was being developed.
Gates in a Pentagon press conference revealed a three-step plan: finalize changes in related regulations and policies, and get clearer definitions on benefits; prepare training materials for chaplains, lawyers, commanders and troops; and then begin to train servicemembers worldwide.
“We’re trying to get the first two phases of that process done as quickly as possible,” Gates said, adding he has instructed Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Clifford Stanley to accelerate his efforts. “My hope is that it can be done within a matter of a very few weeks so that we can then move on to what is the real challenge, which is providing training to 2.2 million people. And we will do that as expeditiously as we can.”
In the previous two months, the Pentagon’s working group studying policy repeal and the joint chiefs recommended training to prepare troops for serving alongside openly gay servicemembers. Advocates for repeal have insisted no such training is required, and have warned the Pentagon against slow-rolling final certification to end “don’t ask, don’t tell.”
Still, Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, advised gay servicemembers to exercise just a bit more patience.
“Now is not the time to come out,” Mullen said. “We certainly are focused on this and we won’t dawdle.”