Don’t Delay Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Repeal

The military is currently in the process of implementing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell repeal, but rather than listen to our military’s senior leaders, conservatives are trying their hardest to disrupt progress.

Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates, left, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen speak during a media availability at the Pentagon Wednesday, May 18, 2011 in Washington. (AP/Alex Brandon)
Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates, left, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen speak during a media availability at the Pentagon Wednesday, May 18, 2011 in Washington. (AP/Alex Brandon)

Last December, Congress passed the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell Repeal Act of 2010, marking the first step toward repealing the military’s outdated and ineffective ban on openly gay troops. With DADT repeal implementation and training well underway, we are closer than ever to finally allowing gay men and women to serve openly and honestly in the armed forces.

Under the law President Barack Obama signed in December 2010, open service will begin 60 days after the president, the secretary of defense, and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff certify that repeal will not impact military readiness or effectiveness. Prior to certification, Secretary Gates and Chairman Mullen have tasked military leaders with preparing to implement repeal, which includes updating guidelines, policy manuals, and directives, and training the troops in preparation for open service.

On the eve of the bipartisan vote in Congress that repealed DADT, a comprehensive survey revealed that the majority of troops believed that allowing open service would have an overall positive or neutral effect on the armed forces. Our military leaders have repeatedly testified their support for legislative repeal and the certification process, and with much of training already complete, it has become clear that DADT repeal is simply a nonevent for our troops. The public, too, has long supported open service of gay and lesbian troops.

But conservative members of the House of Representatives have chosen to ignore the recommendations of our military’s leaders. The House recently approved its version of the fiscal year 2012 National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA, which included several amendments that jeopardize the successful DADT repeal process that is well underway.

President Obama, Secretary Gates, and Chairman Mullen clearly support repealing DADT, asserting that allowing gay men and women to serve openly abolishes an outdated, flawed, and discriminatory law that ultimately weakens our national security. Considering that House conservatives are trying to keep in place a policy that is harmful to our country, Secretary Gates, Chairman Mullen, and President Obama should do everything they can to speed up the certification process.

Conservatives and DADT: Delay, disrupt, and derail

The House of Representatives passed its version of the 2012 NDAA on May 26, 2011 by a vote of 322-96, with six Republicans voting against and 95 Democrats supporting the bill. The House NDAA included three amendments aimed to delay, disrupt, and derail the successful but still ongoing implementation of DADT repeal. One of these amendments, introduced by Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA), would require the chiefs of staff for the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps to also certify that repeal will not impact military readiness or effectiveness.

This amendment is an unnecessary political distraction that defies the wishes of our military’s leaders. Secretary Gates and Chairman Mullen have both indicated that they are in close consultation with the service chiefs as the implementation process moves forward. Further, Secretary Gates commented that he would not issue his certification until the service chiefs are confident that open service would not undermine unit cohesion and combat effectiveness. The service chiefs themselves have voiced opposition with expanding the certification requirements, testifying before Congress that they trust Secretary Gates and Chairman Mullen to address their concerns before eliminating the policy. They further warned that expanding certification to include the chiefs would undermine the military’s chain of command.

Conservative members of the House, however, blatantly ignored the will and advice of these military leaders. Rep. Hunter actually went far as to question the leadership, competence, and experience of Secretary Gates and Chairman Mullen.

Training the troops is a vital step in repealing DADT

As CAP has reported, all branches of the military are currently implementing the first steps of DADT repeal. This includes updating the Pentagon’s policy manuals, directives, and guidelines so that a single standard of conduct will apply to all military personnel whether they are gay or straight. Regulations dealing with benefits, housing, and conduct are also being updated to reflect the open service of gay men and women.

Most importantly, the military has made significant progress training troops to prepare them for open service, and to “underscore that everyone should be treated with dignity and respect.” Beginning in February, each branch began with Tier 1 training of those serving with special skills such as lawyers, chaplains, and personnel specialists. Next, Tier 2 training includes commanding officers and senior noncommissioned officers, and finally Tier 3 training includes the rank-and-file of the armed forces. Each branch has begun implementing Tier 2 and Tier 3 training.

Training across all three tiers is now moving forward successfully and without disruption under the strong leadership of our military’s commanders. This is true across all branches of our armed forces:

Navy: “The fact that someone is gay or lesbian doesn’t really enter into a disruption to the mission. The same standards—the same regulations and standards of conduct will apply. …It’s not as if we’re having to create new policies.” Admiral Gary Roughead, Chief of Naval Operations, U.S. Navy

Marines: “I’m looking for issues that might arise specifically coming out of the … training, and to be honest with you, chairman, we’ve not seen it. There’s questions about billeting for Marines—I mean, the kinds of questions you would expect—but there hasn’t been the recalcitrant pushback, there’s not been the anxiety over it from the forces in the field.” General James F. Amos, Commandant, U.S. Marine Corps

Air Force: “We will rely on steady leadership at all levels to implement this change in a manner that is consistent with standards of military readiness and effectiveness, with minimal adverse effect on unit cohesion, recruiting and retention in the Air Force.” General Norton A. Schwartz, Chief of Staff, U.S. Air Force

Army: “I had a session with commanders last Friday, they have indicated no issues so far in Tier I and Tier II training as they get ready to kick off our Tier III training.” General Peter W. Chiarelli, Vice Chief of Staff, U.S. Army

DADT repeal never threatened our military’s effectiveness

While the Pentagon has rightly implemented a careful training regimen to prepare troops for repeal, experts have always stated that open service would not threaten military readiness or effectiveness. And a prerepeal survey indicated that our servicemembers would handle open service professionally and responsibly, and that many already knew they were serving with gay men and women.

The survey, which General Carter Ham called “the most comprehensive assessment of a personnel policy matter that the Department of Defense has conducted,” was sent to more than 400,000 troops and their spouses. It asked troops and their spouses what they thought of open service and how DADT repeal might impact the armed forces. The results were clear. Sixty-nine percent of troops said they were already working in a unit with someone they believed to be gay or lesbian. Moreover, an astounding 92 percent of those individuals believed their unit’s “ability to work together” was either “very good,” “good,” or “neither good nor poor.” This includes 89 percent of those in Army combat arms units and 84 percent of those in Marine combat arms units.

Even in countries where troops expressed outright opposition to open service, repealing bans on gay and lesbian troops was a nonevent. In the United Kingdom, for example, prerepeal surveys indicated significant resistance to repeal compared to the survey results found in the Pentagon Working Group report. But repeal occurred with no disruption to military effectiveness or unit cohesion. Moreover, these countries implemented repeal without the comprehensive training and careful implementation steps currently underway within the U.S. military.

Our senior military leaders should swiftly certify repeal of DADT

Both Gates and Mullen have long advocated for DADT’s repeal. They recognize that the policy wastes hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars annually, undermines our national security, and is an unfair and unworkable policy that asks troops to lie about who they are. Both men, however, are set to retire in the next several months.

Secretary Gates is set to retire later this month. Chairman Mullen is likely to retire sometime in the fall of 2011. Our senior military leaders should leave their posts having finished what they started by certifying DADT repeal.

Not certifying repeal before their retirements would likely delay the final steps of ending the military’s ban on openly gay servicemembers. Conservative lawmakers are determined to delay and derail DADT’s demise, and the longer our military leaders wait to certify, the more likely it is that these tactics will succeed. Politics will trump policy, which will deny brave men and women the ability to serve their country with honesty and integrity.

We are now closer than ever to allowing gay men and women to serve openly in the armed forces. Once repeal is complete, the United States will join the ranks of 35 of our foreign allies that permit gay men and women to serve openly in uniform, including the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, Germany, Italy, and Israel. Secretary Gates, Chairman Mullen, and President Obama have worked tirelessly to repeal the military’s ban on openly gay troops. The time has come for them to complete their work. We urge them to accelerate the implementation process underway and thereby expeditiously certify repeal.

Crosby Burns is the Special Assistant for the LGBT Research and Communications Project at American Progress.

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Crosby Burns

Policy Analyst