WASHINGTON — Defense officials won’t mandate any major policy or procedure changes when the “don’t ask, don’t tell” law is repealed, but they’re instructing commanders to start emphasizing professionalism and respect to all troops before gays are allowed to serve openly.

In a memo released Friday, Defense Secretary Robert Gates called the change a “milestone event,” one that will require “strong, engaged and informed leadership” to implement without disruption.

President Barack Obama said Tuesday in his State of the Union address that gay troops would serve openly this year. The plan unveiled at a news conference Friday set no target date for full repeal, but officials suggested the end of the year was a reasonable aim.

“It’s a good goal,” said Gen. James Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.. “There’s nothing that tells us it’s not reachable but I think we have to allow for the possibility that we discover something between now and then [that slows the process].”

But military officials said they’ll actually change little in terms of rules and procedures, opting instead to emphasize existing regulations about respect and personal privacy.

The department will not offer changes in its standards of conduct, expressions of religious beliefs, military benefits, medical policies or duty assignments. In a memo to the service chiefs, Clifford Stanley, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, said existing rules governing those areas will apply the same to troops even after the repeal.

“It remains the policy of the Department of Defense that sexual orientation is a personal and private matter, to treat all members with dignity and respect, and to ensure maintenance of good order and discipline,” he said.

Gay troops will be able to designate their partners as beneficiaries for certain survivor and caregiver benefits, but will not be able to share housing or medical benefits because of existing federal law barring such a move.

All troops will receive training on treating others with “dignity and respect.” Defense officials said that will include some specific examples of situations involving harassment, including the use of gay slurs or jokes.

The plan also states that separate living and bathing facilities should not be built for gay and straight troops, but that commanders will still have discretion to change rooming assignments “in the interest of maintaining morale, good order and discipline, and consistent with the performance of the mission.”

Congress passed a repeal of the controversial “don’t ask, don’t tell” law in December, but the president and defense secretary must certify the final results of an implementation plan before the repeal takes place. Even then, gay troops will have to wait another 60 days before law is officially abolished.

The repeal outline offered Friday also states that the department will not ask new recruits about their sexual orientation, will not track the private sexual lives of any current troops, and will allow any servicemembers dismissed under the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy to reapply for service, provided they meet other enlistment requirements.

In addition, Gates has asked each of the services to provide to him additional paperwork or training changes they feel will be needed for repeal implementation, due by the end of next week.

Stanley said Friday that he expects units in each of the services to start that training by the end of February.

Stanley also emphasized that until the repeal is finalized, the “don’t ask, don’t tell” law remains in effect. However, no servicemembers have been dismissed under the law since November.

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