The Pentagon announced today that it soon will begin training its forces on the end of the "don't ask, don't tell" policy that bans gay members of the military from serving openly.
Senior Pentagon officials said today they are confident the process could be finished sometime this year.
Each of the military services will create its own training schedules based on guidelines issued by the Defense Department under a plan announced today by Gen. James Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Cliff Stanley, undersecretary of personnel and readiness.
The Pentagon is moving "expeditiously" in laying out the plan for changing existing policies so they conform with the law that repeals Don't Ask, Don't Tell, Stanley said.
The next step will be a three-tiered training plan to inform all military members about the changes.
The training plan will begin by training "our experts, that's the first tier," Stanley said. "The second tier deals with our commanders or our leaders. And the third tier is, of course, the force."
Both officials said it remains unclear how long it will take to train the entire military, though Cartwright said the training of the three tiers doesn't have to be sequential -- "they can go on together."
The main uncertainty remains is how long it will take to train the 2.2 million service members who make up the armed forces -- 1.4 million active duty members and 800,000 national guardsmen and reservists. Repeal Enactment Likely This Year
However, both officials are confident that it could be done sometime this year.
"I think we leave the year there because it's a good goal," Cartwright said. "There's nothing that tells us that it's not reachable, but we have to allow for the fact that we may discover something between now and then."
The "don't ask, don't tell" policy remains in effect until President Obama, Defense Secretary Gates and Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen certify that the military's implementation of the repeal has been completed and has not affected readiness. The law itself would not be repealed until 60 days after the certification.
Cartwright told reporters today that certification could occur before 100 percent of the force is trained and said a decision on when to certify the training would likely be a "subjective judgment based on what we have seen as we go through the training."
He said the focus would be on training "a high percentage of the units as quickly as we can. And that will be our focus initially, because that's the way we manage deployments. "
Units serving in Iraq and Afghanistan also will receive the training when they can.
Each Military Branch Will Train On Their Own Timetable
The services will determine their own training program and the pace of their training based on the Pentagon's guidelines issued today.
The Pentagon did not want to hold them to an artificial schedule, Stanley said, "because that would create an artificiality that just wouldn't be real."
The Defense Department has prepared a standardized "tool kit" to help the services craft their programs. The kit could contain a video from the service commander, as well as PowerPoint slides detailing the policy changes specific to each of the three tiers. It also will contain vignettes that reflect potential questions that might arise from the rollback of the policy.
En route to defense meetings in Canada Thursday, Gates said he, too, was confident implementation of the repeal could be done this year "and we're shooting to get it done sooner rather than later."
Groups advocating the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" were pleased with today's announcement although there were few specifics on a timeline.
"This is an historic day for the Defense Department and a new day for gays in the military," said Aaron Belkin, director of the Palm Center. "There is more work to be done regarding some important details and clarification of the timeline, but this is certainly a moment to step back, take a pause and salute the armed forces for a job well done."
Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese called today's announcement "a step in the right direction," though "it is critical that the Department [of Defense] address benefits issues and non-discrimination protections so that all service members are treated equally."