Pentagon Moves To Reverse 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell'
SCOTT SIMON, host:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.
The Pentagon is beginning to map out the way ahead for gays and lesbians to serve openly in the U.S. military. You recall that late last year, Congress repealed "don't ask don't tell." How that will actually take place - well, that was left for the Pentagon to work out, and yesterday we got some of the details. NPR's Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman was there, and he's with us now. Good morning, Tom.
TOM BOWMAN: Hi, Scott.
SIMON: How long is this going to take?
BOWMAN: Well, we were told by Pentagon officials that the training will start sometime in February. Now, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said he expects this all to be done sometime this year, but some Pentagon officials I speak with say they expect the training all to be done, maybe, by the spring.
You know, at that point, once the training is done, President Obama and senior military officials have to certify to Congress that having gays serve openly will not harm the military - not harm readiness, not harm recruiting and retention. So 60 days after that, gays can serve openly. So you're looking at the earliest time late summer before gays can serve openly in the military.
SIMON: Do we know what the training and education is going to be like?
BOWMAN: Well, we got a little taste of it. It looks like the services by next week will come up with - training plan for each of the services. And what we do know is that this is more than just your commander coming out and saying hey, everybody, gays can serve openly. There will be some detailed training.
And first of all, they'll explain to the troops that now, gays can serve in the military. We expect them to say that there will not be any sort of separate berthing or separate facilities for gay and lesbian troops. And they'll also tell them that, listen, you can't refuse to live or work with someone who is gay. And they'll also say, treat everybody with respect - that we're all in the military together; we all deserve respect. And that's what they'll keep hammering home.
And they've actually put out a handbook of frequently asked questions to help commanders.
SIMON: What are some of those questions? Or what are some of the problems they posit?
BOWMAN: Well, it's interesting. They say do not use the term homosexuality, 'cause that has negative connotations. They suggest using gay or lesbian, for example. And also, those opposed to ending "don't ask don't tell" - people of faith, for example, they say when you're talking about that, don't use the term fundamentalist or extremist. That has negative connotations. And they also have some vignettes to help commanders.
SIMON: Like casebook examples.
BOWMAN: Exactly. So here's one: You're an officer - executive officer in your unit, and while at a local shopping mall over the weekend, you observe two junior male service members assigned to your unit in civilian clothes, kissing and hugging in a food court. And it says the issue here is standards of conduct. Is this within the standard of personal and professional conduct?
And the discussion says public displays of affection are orientation-neutral. If the observed behavior crosses acceptable boundaries of conduct for your unit in service, then appropriate correction should be made. But your assessment should be made without regard to sexual orientation.
SIMON: We know there's opposition within the military. Do you have a handle, Tom, on how that might register itself?
BOWMAN: You know, nobody knows at this point. What we do know is that the chaplains in the military - some 3,000 of them - that many of them, when they were polled by the Pentagon, were against ending "don't ask don't tell" for moral reasons. So there could be some chaplains who leave over this. Also, Marine combat units, Army combat units, they polled more negative against having gays serve openly than other soldiers and Marines. So you could see some of them leave over this.
But for the most part, senior military officials said you may lose some people over this, but probably not too many.
SIMON: Mm-hmm. You mentioned the certification process. Is there, in fact, a chance that the military won't be able to certify, and the ban won't be repealed?
BOWMAN: No, I don't think so. The polls they've taken already think there will not be much disruption to the military by allowing gays to serve openly. All the service chiefs are now onboard, and they said we'll basically salute and carry this out.
SIMON: NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman. Thanks so much.
BOWMAN: You're welcome, Scott.
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