WASHINGTON – The Pentagon said Friday the military should be trained in working with openly gay members by summer's end, prompting House Republicans to complain that repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" was moving too quickly in wartime.
In a status report to Congress, Clifford Stanley, the undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, and Vice Adm. William Gortney of the Joint Staff said the Pentagon was moving forward on educating members of the military on the new policy, what's expected of them and the responsibilities for commanders and other leaders.
President Barack Obama signed the law last year repealing the 17-year ban after a fierce fight in Congress. The repeal did not occur immediately, however, as training and certification by the department were required before the ban is lifted. Stanley said the department was moving "deliberately, responsibly and expeditiously toward repeal," with the training that began around March 1 to be finished by summer's end.
"Implementing repeal embodies that view of total force readiness — more simply put — it is about respect," Stanley told a House Armed Services subcommittee. "Respect for change and respect for the men and women of our all-volunteer force to serve this great nation, no matter their race, color, creed, religion or sexual orientation."
Polls last December showed widespread support for ending the ban, with three-quarters of Americans saying openly gay men and women should be allowed to serve in the military in an ABC News-Washington Post survey.
But Republicans on the House subcommittee, especially those who were elected last November, argued the repeal was a mistake when the nation was involved in three wars — Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya.
"We are now looking at a behavior and we are trying to conform the military to a behavior," said Rep. Allen West, R-Fla.
Rep. Vicky Hartzler, R-Mo., asked how the new policy would improve readiness of the military.
Stanley said it was too early to tell, but added: "We do know from an integrity standpoint that we won't have members lying about who they are."
That didn't satisfy Hartzler, who said the mission of the military is to win wars and "I'm very concerned that in a time of war ... that we are making such a radical major shift in our policy."
Two-term Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo., said he had no confidence in the repeal process.
"I think this is a political decision obviously made by the executive branch and the military will follow it under whatever circumstances and ramifications it has to the combat effectiveness to our forces," he told Stanley.
Freshman Rep. Austin Scott, R-Ga., questioned how much money the Pentagon was taking from war fighting to spend on training for the new policy.
Stanley said it was $10,000, a minor amount when the Pentagon spends hundreds of billions annually.
Scott, who found the amount hard to believe, remained opposed to repeal. He said service members would not re-enlist, with the military and country losing "because of this social policy."
On the opposite side, Democrats on the panel questioned whether the new policy could be implemented faster, pointing out that millions were spent on service members with specialty skills such as Arab linguists who were then discharged because of their sexual orientation.
"In the end, don't ask, don't tell was a morally reprehensible policy and I just think it violated the fundamental value of fairness and equal treatment that we cherish in this country," said Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine. "I'm so glad we're here to talk about the end of it."