News (USA)

Pentagon says certification on ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ likely mid-summer

Pentagon officials told a House subcommittee Friday that training for implementation of repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” has gone “extremely well so far” and that certification to Congress might come by mid-summer.

Republicans on the Military Personnel Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee used the hearing to reiterate concerns from previous Congressional debates that the military might rush to jump through the hoops necessary to actually implement repeal of the law.

Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.), for instance, said he was concerned that military leaders might be pressuring service members to respond with “political correctness” during the repeal process, calling it “social engineering.”

Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.) said he has “no confidence” in the process because, he said, “this is a political decision made by the executive branch and the military will follow it.”

Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-Missouri) said she is “very concerned …we’re making such a radical major shift in our policy, jeopardizing missions and putting people in harm’s way.”

“How does this increase our mission of being able to win wars in doing this?” asked Hartzler.

Vice Admiral William Gortney said it was the judgment of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, that repeal “won’t have an impact.”

“And I happen to believe that as well,” said Gortney.

Rep. Austin Scott (R-Texas) asked how much money had been spent on implementation of repeal that could have been spent on the war effort. He later expressed surprise when Admiral Gortney told him that a servicemember was dismissed just for saying he was gay.

“Not because of a violation of the standard conduct?” asked Scott.

“No,” said Gortney.

“That’s not the answer I was expecting,” said Scott.

“Do you think in most cases there’s a violation of the standard of conduct,” pressed Scott.

“I think in very few instances,” said Gortney.

Undersecretary Clifford Stanley said about $10,000 had been spent for training materials and that no calculation had yet been made for how much staff time had been used.

In response to a question from Rep. Niki Tsongas (D-Mass.) both Undersecretary Stanley and Vice Admiral Gortney said they expect the Pentagon will be ready to submit in mid-summer its required written certification to Congress that the military is prepared to drop implementation of the federal law banning openly gay people from the service.

President Obama, too, must submit written certification to Congress, saying he is confident the military is ready to implement repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. Then, 60 days after his certification, and that of Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen, is submitted, the law will be repealed in practice.

“We don’t want to rush…and we don’t want to take forever,” said Stanley, adding that, “if something we didn’t anticipate” comes up prior to then, the military would take the time necessary to address it.

Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC) repeatedly expressed his concern that military chaplains might lose their First Amendment right to freedom of expression and religion. He also asked whether gay servicemembers were made aware of when they were in a country that considers same-sex sexual relations illegal. Military officials responded that all service members are given information about the cultural norms and laws of countries into which they are going.

Rep. Coffman suggested that, since separate housing for gay and straight servicemembers is not being mandated, perhaps the military should end its practice of providing separate housing for men and women.

Stanley said that sexual orientation is a “private and personal” matter, different from gender, and that commanders do have the authority to assign servicemembers to separate billeting if they believe it’s necessary.

“It’s the commander’s call,” said Stanley.

Hartzler asked why men and women were provided with different shower facilities.

“What’s the difference? Seems you have a double-standard here,” said Hartzler.

“Gender is very public and sexual orientation is very private,” said Gortney, echoing Stanley’s response earlier.

She also asked whether the children of servicemembers were being provided with training concerning the repeal.

Stanley said such training is available for parents who want to access it for their children.

Hartzler asked whether children attending military schools would have any alternatives where pro-LGBT curricula would not be mandated.

“The question is pretty heavy,” said Stanley, saying he wanted more time to look into what the curriculum provides for.

Both Houses of Congress in December passed, and President Obama signed, a bill to repeal the 1996 law prohibiting openly gay people from serving in the military. The measure stipulated that, before actual repeal of the law takes place, the Defense Department would conduct training to prepare its forces for the change.

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