DADT could stay in effect through May, despite repeal

Active duty servicemember, vets say few among the rank and file care whether someone is gay, but repeal will lift the burden of secrecy

DAVID TAFFET | Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

Even though the military’s anti-gay “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy was repealed in December, remains in place until military are able to decide how best to implement repeal and what benefits will be offered to spouses of gay and lesbian military personnel.

Defense Undersecretary Clifford Stanley and Gen. James Cartwright held a press conference Friday, Jan, 28, at the Pentagon to give the first report on progress toward implementation, offering only a hint of an actual schedule. They said then that training is set to begin in February and should take three months.

Under those conditions, DADT will remain in effect at least until May, and gay and lesbians servicemembers can still be discharged under the policy.

In January, the U.S. Government Accountability Office issued the report Military Personnel: Personnel and Cost Data Associated with Implementing DOD’s Homosexual Conduct Policy evaluating the cost DADT has had on the military.

Over the past five years 3,664 people have been discharged under DADT at an average cost of $52,800 per dismissal.

Jeffrey S., an airman first class based at Beale Air Force Base in Northern California, said that from his experience, recent discharges under DADT involved people the armed forces were trying to get rid of for other reasons as well.

(Because DADT is still in effect and, according to Stanley, new cases continue to be processed under the law, the airman’s name and the names of over gay servicemembers interviewed for this article have been disguised to the extent he requested.)

Jeffrey said that since graduating from basic training, he has lived fairly openly in the Air Force. The GAO report shows, however, that almost three-quarters of all DADT discharges were from the Army and Navy.

Jeffrey also said that he was trained for specific technical duties and would be hard to replace. But that hasn’t stopped discharges from other branches where service members were pursued despite their language specialties and other skills. The report indicates that of the total number of people dismissed under DADT over the past five years, 39 percent had critical occupations.

The statistics do indicate that many who were separated from the service had additional issues. Only 57 percent of those released during that period received an honorable discharge.

The other 1,580 service members were given a general discharge or worse, indicating additional situations, whether real or trumped up.

Sean T. was recently honorably discharged from the Army after serving five years, including two tours of duty in Iraq. He had been based at Fort Hood in Texas during part of his enlistment. But after not finding a civilian job, Sean is trying to reenlist and is currently in the Army Reserves.

He said his sexual orientation is more of an issue in the Reserves than in his Army unit. He knew a number of other gay soldiers while serving and no one he knew personally were discharged under DADT.

“There were usually other reasons,” he said of those he had heard were discharged under DADT. “Patterns of misconduct.”

In his Jan. 25 State of the Union Address, President Barack Obama said, “Starting this year, no American will be forbidden from serving the country they love because of who they love.”

At the press conference Cartwright said that they learned from the experience of other military organizations that began allowing gays and lesbians to serve, faster integration was better.

Jeffrey said he has seen little opposition among enlisted personnel. But, he said, one person in his unit did not re-enlist because of the DADT repeal. Others, though, simply didn’t care, Jeffrey said.

Sean said that he felt the least amount of pressure from DADT while in Iraq.

“It wasn’t an issue because you deploy with people you’ve known for a long time,” he said. “It’s more like family.”

Before the repeal is implemented, Cartwright said, most troops will have to complete a training session.

Jeffrey said his understanding was that the training would be a sort of sensitivity class. While attitudes couldn’t be changed during a short session, Jeffrey said he expects the sessions to enumerate forms of inappropriate speech.

Service members are written up for using racial epithets, for example, and Jeffrey said he assumes the same would happen after the repeal is in effect.

But while attitudes might not change, respect between service members could be expected and required.

The vote on the repeal was delayed more than six months in the Senate while the military studied a variety of related issues, including spousal benefits. Studies delayed implementation again after the repeal was signed.

But Stanley announced that no partner benefits would be offered, citing the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which prevents the federal government from recognizing same-sex couples.

Sean, who has a partner, wants to re-enlist despite the lack of benefits and recognition of his partner.

“They’ll come eventually,” he said.

Among military personnel, the most vocal opposition to repeal of DADT was among the chaplain corps. Cartwright said no changes in rules would apply to chaplains.

Jeffrey said that he believed most military chaplains would be professional enough to refer someone that they couldn’t help to someone else. He said it was unthinkable, however, for a chaplain to turn someone away because of that person’s race or religion, and he believes a chaplain who couldn’t be professional with gay and lesbian service members might not belong in the military.

“They should be required to serve everybody,” Jeffrey said.

In an odd twist of the regulations, the decision to not change any rules for the chaplains might require them to do just that.

As bad as DADT has been for some, several retired military personnel said the previous policy was worse.

“I was paranoid about a dishonorable discharge,” said Jim from Phoenix, a gay veteran who was stationed at Fort Bragg. He was honorably discharged in Jan. 1990, three years before DADT was adopted.

While serving, he said he had one member of his unit that was quite flamboyant.

“Everybody liked the guy,” he said. “It’s more of a problem with politicians and with the higher ups.”

But those who weren’t liked were referred for dishonorable discharge for lying on their service applications.

Bill Royal, another veteran, said, “Most people on active duty don’t care.”

He said he believes the military brass disliked the change because it was one less way they could control those under them.

But even Jeffrey, who said he has had little problem with people around him knowing his sexual orientation, said the repeal would be a big relief.

“The threat of losing my job will be gone,” he said. “If somebody asks, I can say I’m gay. I can be myself. I don’t have to worry about keeping things secret. Integrity is a core value and I don’t like having to lie.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition Feb. 4, 2011.

—  John Wright

Pentagon provides update on DADT repeal

Clifford Stanley

Few spousal benefits will be available to gay and lesbian servicemembers after the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” is implemented, according to Defense Undersecretary Clifford Stanley and Gen. James Cartwright.

Stanley and Cartwright spoke at a press conference this afternoon on the progress of implementing the repeal of DADT.

In his State of the Union address this week, President Obama said, “Starting this year, no American will be forbidden from serving the country they love because of who they love.”

Stanley said the Pentagon is still working through the process of drafting new policies needed to implement DADT repeal.

Asked to pinpoint a timetable for implementing the repeal beyond “expeditiously” or “quickly,” neither Stanley nor Cartwright was specific.

However, Cartwright said, “Expeditiously is better than dragging this out,” citing the experience of other countries in allowing gays and lesbians to serve in their armed forces. Training, they agreed, should begin in February.

Stanley and Cartwright addressed chaplains — one of the largest and most vocal groups opposing the repeal of DADT — saying they practice their own faiths and no rules changes would be needed. The two officials did not address chaplains refusing to serve gay and lesbian troops.

—  David Taffet

After Senate hearing, DADT repeal still up in air

Service chiefs all say they can implement end to ban on gays

Lisa Keen  |  Keen News Service

The second and final day of the Senate hearing on repealing “don’t ask don’t tell” has adjourned, and the battle lines are still very much where they were at the beginning, with one exception.

Massachusetts Republican Sen. Scott Brown said he’ll vote for repeal, once it reaches the floor. But Brown didn’t say whether he’d be willing to rebuff Republican Party leaders to help bring the measure to the floor.

And there’s the rub. Unless 60 votes can be mustered to call the Defense Authorization bill to the Senate floor, Brown’s statement of support for repeal is of minimal consequence.

Thursday and Friday’s hearing made clear that the military leadership concedes — if not agrees — that the current ban on gays in the military should be repealed. The service chiefs of all four branches of the armed forces, plus the Coast Guard, believe repeal can be implemented without sacrificing readiness and unit cohesion. They believe the Pentagon report released Nov. 30 provides a solid plan for implementation.

But not everyone agrees on timing, and discussion during the hearings went a long way to muddle exactly which timing everyone doesn’t agree on: Timing for implementation, timing for full implementation, and timing for a Congressional vote on repeal.

This much is clear concerning implementation: Army General George Casey said “not now,” Air Force General Norton Schwartz said “not until 2012,” and Marine General James Amos said it should begin “when our singular focus is no longer on combat operations or preparing units for combat.”

“At that point,” said Amos, “then I’d be comfortable with implementing repeal.”

Other military leaders are comfortable beginning the process now. That includes Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen, Joint Chief Vice Chairman General James Cartwright, Navy Admiral Gary Roughead, and Coast Guard Admiral Robert Papp. It includes at least 56 senators, 234 members of the House, and 50 to 70 percent of Americans (depending on which recent poll you look at). And, according to the Pentagon study, at least 70 percent of servicemembers say repeal would have a “positive, mixed, or no effect” on task cohesion.

The sticking point for senators is the timing of the Senate’s vote on whether to repeal. Republicans, led by Arizona Sen. John McCain, are steadfastly against allowing a vote and have vowed to prevent the underlying Defense Authorization bill to the floor. They say it’s because the nation has more urgent matters — taxes, job creation — with which the Senae should concern itself with in the waning days of the 111th Congress. Others say it’s because they want to stall issues they oppose – such as DADT repeal — from reaching the floor until next year, when they take control of the House and have a stronger posture in the Senate.

Most military leaders expressed concern during the hearings that Congress should take a vote now and they expressed enormous and unanimous confidence that Secretary Gates and Chairman Mullen would not sign the necessary papers for repeal implementation to begin until they were certain the service chiefs agreed the military’s readiness would not suffer. Their urgency was driven by concern that lawsuits are making their way through the federal court system now that have the potential to force the military to accept openly gay people immediately. Such a sudden demand, they said, would be seriously detrimental to military readiness.

The focus now shifts back to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, and whether they will be able to come to an agreement that will allow the defense authorization bill to the floor. Prior to Dec. 1, such an agreement seemed to pivot on whether Reid would allow Republicans to proffer numerous amendments to the bill, including one to strip DADT repeal from the measure. But on Dec.. 1, McConnell and all 41 other Republicans in the Senate signed onto a letter to Reid, saying they would not vote to proceed on consideration of “any legislative item until the Senate has acted to fund the government and we have prevented the tax increase. …”

Rep. Barney Frank says the annual defense authorization bill is not one of those bills that fund the government and that the letter is aimed at killing DADT repeal.

Other Democrats and the White House have tried to downplay the significance of the letter, saying it was nothing new and they weren’t going to get hung up on it.

But supporters of repeal have taken the letter seriously.

“If the 42 GOP senators — including several who support repeal of ‘don’t ask’ — stand with their party on process and procedure, their vote will be an endorsement of the discrimination that has cost 14,000 men and women their jobs and put our country’s national security at risk,” said Aubrey Sarvis, head of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network.

“A clear majority of the service chiefs support repeal this year,” said Sarvis. “Now, it’s up to the Senate. The National Defense Authorization Act, which includes the repeal provisions, must be called up in the Senate early next week under a reasonable approach that insures senators on both sides of the aisle a fair shot at amendments and debate. No debate on the merits of the bill will happen unless a handful of Republicans break off and support funding our troops.”

© 2010 Keen News Service

—  John Wright

Despite opposition from some, service chiefs all say they can make DADT repeal work

We haven’t had a chance to tune in for day two of the Senate Armed Services Committee’s hearings on “don’t ask don’t tell.” We’ll have a full story coming later today from correspondent Lisa Keen, but for now here’s a response to developments thus far that just came across from the Human Rights Campaign:

Service Chiefs Pledge to Faithfully Implement DADT Repeal
Repeal language gives military control of timing for which they’ve asked

WASHINGTON – Speaking today before a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee, the Chiefs of the military services all expressed that they would successfully implement “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal should Congress change the law. Testifying were General James Cartwright, General George Casey, Admiral Gary Roughead, General James Amos, General Norton Schwartz and Admiral Robert Papp.

Among the six testifying, three expressed that the law should be repealed and three gave a mixed reaction, expressing some opposition to repeal at this time. Only one – Marine Commandant General James Amos — expressed his opinion that there could be strong disruption. In contrast his fellow Marine, General Cartwright, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, made clear that not only could Marines carry out successful repeal but also there was “benefit derived from being a force identified by honesty & inclusivity.” General Amos did however express that he and his Marines would “faithfully support the law.”

“Not only do a majority of senior military leaders support repeal, they are unanimous that they will faithfully carry out any repeal passed by Congress,” said HRC President Joe Solmonese. “The vast majority of the American people are looking for action as are the thousands of men and women currently serving in silence.”

The witnesses were unanimous in their opinion that “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” will be repealed eventually and that it was just a question of timing. The language of the legislation being considered by the Congress would in fact give the military exactly the control of the timing of implementation for which they’ve asked.

“A failure of Congress to act now will tie the hands of military leaders who have asked for the power to implement the changes that their research lays out,” said Solmonese. “The time to vote for repeal is now.”

Today’s testimony comes after senior uniformed and civilian military leaders made an ironclad case for DADT repeal yesterday. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Joint Chiefs Chairman Mike Mullen, General Carter Ham and Pentagon General Counsel Jeh Johnson all made clear that they saw few hurdles to implementation of open service by gays and lesbians and that they were confident that the military would execute such a repeal without long-term consequences.

“America’s men and women in uniform are professionals who already serve with gays and lesbians and repeal will do nothing to change their dedication to protecting our nation,” said Solmonese.“The working group found clearly that military effectiveness will not be compromised by removing this stain on our service members’ integrity.”

In contrast to Committee Ranking Member John McCain, all of the service chiefs expressed confidence in the report of the Pentagon’s Comprehensive Working Group. It is one of more than twenty studies from both the military and outside organizations that make an ironclad case for repeal.

—  John Wright