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NAPLES, Italy — Troops who took part in the Defense Department’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” working group meetings on Monday were mostly concerned about practical issues, such as military benefits and living arrangements, according to those who attended the sessions.

One of the main questions for servicemembers was how implementing a repeal of the law would affect members’ jobs, especially at the lower levels, Chief Petty Officer Terry Rapper said after the session.

“If the policy does change, how will this affect the deckplate? Also, someone brought up the issue of berthing, whether or not [straight and gay] will have to share tight quarters,” Rapper said. “There weren’t any answers. The group was there to listen to what our concerns were.”

Before the sessions began, forum leaders reminded troops that the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy is still in place, so they should not expect confidentiality, according to those who attended.

The forums are part of a yearlong study directed by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, on possible impacts of the repeal of the 17-year-old DADT.

The Comprehensive Review Working Group held three sessions in Naples, attended by about 900 military members on Capodichino, the main operational base. A session for spouses drew about 150 people. The working group is made up of about 65 senior officers, civilians and enlisted personnel.

All sessions were closed to the media by direction of DOD, according to base officials, and working group members declined a request for an interview with Stars and Stripes. However, some troops did describe the discussion after the sessions.

Some attendees asked whether marriage certificates issued in states that allow gay marriage would be valid in the U.S. military, and whether gay couples would be entitled to dependents’ benefits, according to Petty Officer 1st Class Roger Starcher.

“It was a calm discussion, good points were raised,” said Navy Airman Edward Flores. “But it doesn’t really matter because it’s up to Congress to change the law.”

The House of Representatives, along with the Senate Armed Services Committee, voted for a delayed repeal of the law following an extensive review of its possible implications. The full Senate is expected to take up the measure in September.

Efforts to get feedback from troops and families on repeal of the law may do more harm than good, according to the Palm Center, a California research group.

“The Pentagon is asking questions about gays and lesbians that would not be asked about any other group in the 21st Century,” said Aaron Belkin, the Palm Center director. “Can you imagine asking a servicemember’s spouse, ‘How would you feel living next to a Chinese family on base?’” Those questions, Belkin said, risk relegating gays to second-class citizen status.

The same arguments made against racial and gender integration have resurfaced in this debate, said Maggie Lynn, an Army spouse who attended the working group session Monday afternoon.

“It was ridiculous then, it’s ridiculous now.” said Lynn. “We teach our children diversity, we should mirror a diverse community for them.”

novakl@estripes.osd.mil

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