WASHINGTON – The Army's top general kicked off the service's training program Thursday on the new law allowing gays to serve openly in the military, and officials said they hope to have the whole force trained by mid-August.
The largest of the service branches, the Army plans to finish training the active duty force of 565,000 by mid-July and the 567,000 members of the Guard and Reserve by mid-August, officials said.
Gen. George Casey launched the effort with a slide presentation in the Pentagon for most of service's dozen four-star generals.
Mainly due to its size, the Army is scheduled to take longer to complete the training than the smaller services. The Defense Department has given the services a lot of leeway in determining how they conduct the training and on what schedule.
The Marines said their instruction officially began Feb. 7. Some commanders, chaplains, recruiters and military police have received training and officials expect to complete the entire force by the end of May.
Marine Maj. Gen. Richard Mills, commander of U.S. forces in southern Afghanistan, said Marines coming off the battlefield will undergo formal classes, discussion groups and extensive training to make sure each individual understands the new rules. Speaking to reporters by video conference, he said most troops in Afghanistan will begin their training while still deployed, but those who cannot for some reason will attend sessions at U.S. bases.
The Air Force said it began training its experts such as chaplains and lawyers this week. And, the Navy has begun the instruction of its training teams and hopes to complete training the whole force by the end of June.
President Barack Obama in late December signed the law to repeal the 17-year-old "don't ask don't tell" policy under which soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines were required to keep their homosexuality a secret or face dismissal.
Final implementation of the repeal does not go into effect until 60 days after the president, defense secretary and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff certify that lifting the ban won't hurt the military's ability to fight.
Part of their decision will be based on the progress of the training.
Associated Press writer Julie Watson at Camp Pendleton, Calif., contributed to this report.