WASHINGTON — Two months into training to allow gay men and lesbians to serve openly in the military, the leaders of all four services say implementation is going well – something they attribute to the caliber of today’s service members.
“Our training is going very well,” Adm. Gary Roughead, chief of naval operations, told the House Armed Services Committee today. “In those areas that we detected may be at moderate risk — the expeditionary forces — it is not at the level we had originally forecast.
“The types of questions we are getting reflect the maturity, professionalism and decency of our people,” he added.
The Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps began in February training all of the nation’s 2.2 million service members to prepare for repeal of the law — known as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” — that precluded gay men and lesbians from serving openly in the military. Congress voted for repeal in December and President Barack Obama signed it into law. The change will not take effect until 60 days after the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, secretary of defense, and president certify the military’s readiness to implement the repeal. Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli, Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James F. Amos, and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton A. Schwartz joined Roughead in reporting to the committee about how implementation is going. All said training is going well.
Chiarelli, appearing on behalf of Army Chief of Staff Gen. George W. Casey Jr. who could not attend the hearing, said the Army has not completed enough training to say repeal of the law doesn’t come with some risk to readiness. But, he said, “We have put together a very, very good training package we believe will mitigate that risk.”
While the services are conducting their own training, all follow the guidance of the Defense Department’s comprehensive working group that found limited risk for repeal in its report released late last year. The leaders said they are in regular contact with Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Navy Adm. Mike Mullen on the progress of the training.
The department’s training guidance covers “99 percent of the issues” related to repeal of the law, Amos said.
The leaders described the training as being three-tiered, beginning with specialists such as chaplains and lawyers, followed by leaders, and completed with the force at large. Success of the training “rests on the shoulders of our leaders,” Chiarelli said. It follows the “chain teaching” method, which places responsibility on commanders to ensure that “all are properly and sufficiently educated on this important policy change, its potential impact on them, and our expectation of them,” he said.
Chiarelli said Casey’s directive on the repeal is clear: “Training matters most.”
Casey, flanked by four other four-star generals, personally led the first training session in February, Chiarelli said, in which he also participated in.
“I can attest that this process works,” Chiarelli said. “The soldiers’ response so far has been generally positive, but we must assume there will be some resistance.
“We are mindful that if we are to mitigate risks to readiness, recruitment and retention, we must continue to do this [training] deliberately,” he added. “The entire process done properly will take time.”
Training is expected to be complete by early summer, the leaders said.
The Marine Corps, the smallest service with 202,000 members, has completed all of Tiers 1 and 2 and have more than 40 percent of Tier 3 people trained, Amos said.
A department survey last year showed that about 60 percent of Marines in combat units had concerns about the repeal, Amos noted, but those concerns seem to be waning. The general visited with Marines in Afghanistan over Christmas and spoke with their commander this morning on the issue, he said.
“I’m looking specifically for issues that might arise out of Tier 1 and Tier 2 and, frankly, we just haven’t seen it,” Amos said. “There hasn’t been the recalcitrant push back, the anxiety about it” from forces in the field.
Amos said the Marines’ commander told him, “ ‘Quite honestly, they’re focused on the enemy.’ ”
The Air Force has trained about 117,000 airmen, so far, and Schwartz said he is less concerned about the change now than in December when Obama signed the law.
“The training shows we are mitigating risk,” he said. “I am more comfortable than I was on the 22nd of December, but we still have a ways to go, and it requires the attention of all of us to bring this home.
“The standards of conduct you expect of all airmen — dignity, respect, and equal opportunity, and service above self — they will not change,” Schwartz added. “We will implement this with the same professionalism that we put forth daily in all our endeavors.”
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)