There's been a great deal of concern around here about the effort to prepare the US military for the full repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT), and I've had a few words of my own regarding how long the process might take.
There was a hearing before the House Armed Services Committee Thursday that had all four Services represented; with one exception these were the same Service Chiefs that were testifying last December when the bill to set the repeal process in motion was still a piece of prospective legislation.
At that time there was concern that the "combat arms" of the Marines and the Army were going to be impacted in a negative way by the transition to "open service"; the Commandant of the Marine Corps and the Army's Chief of Staff were the most outspoken in confirming that such concerns exist within the Pentagon as well.
We now have more information to report--including the increasing desperation of some of our Republican friends--and if you ask me, I think things might be better than we thought.
The Governments of the States Parties to this Constitution on behalf of their peoples declare:
That since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defenses of peace must be constructed;
That ignorance of each other's ways and lives has been a common cause, throughout the history of mankind, of that suspicion and mistrust between the peoples of the world through which their differences have all too often broken into war...
--From the Constitution of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, And Cultural Organization (UNESCO)
So let me start with the good news; I'll do that by telling you what I though would happen, compared to what the Service Chiefs are now saying is going to happen:
My guess was that, due to all the process involved, we could be looking at a full year for implementation, and if the Services felt that they had to rotate all the overseas deployed forces back to the USA before they could complete training, you could easily be looking at 18 months.
That, as it turns out, was wildly inaccurate.
The Vice Chief of Staff of the Army, Peter W. Chiarelli, reported Thursday that his Service might be able to report they're ready to certify by May 15th of this year; to make that happen they are going to train the troops overseas and at home, both at the same time, and they wanted us to know that they've already completed much of the "train the trainer" work already. They also expect to certify after about 50% of the training is complete instead of waiting for 100%, and that's because the leadership believes they'll know of any implementation problems that are likely to crop up by then.
The most outspoken opponent of the change in December, Marine Commandant General James Amos, says that he's seeing far fewer problems than he expected, and he believes the move to open service won't have any serious impact on his force.
Here's how the Defense Department reported Amos' testimony:
A department [of Defense] 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 Navy says they expect to complete their Tier 3 training (the final phase of training) as soon as the end of June; Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Gary Roughead told the Committee that he foresees no problem achieving a successful transition to open service.
(A quick note to the reader: I have been known to write satirical stories with crazy made-up character names, but the actual name of the actual Admiral who is tasked with leading the Navy into the era of open service is actually...Roughead. Some may consider this to be evidence of Intelligent Design; I continue to disbelieve.)
Air Force Chief of Staff Norton Schwartz, who also seemed to suggest, back in December, that trouble might be waiting on the road ahead, seemed far more confident this week; it looks like the Air Force might have Tier 3 training wrapped up by the July 4th holiday.
The Service Chiefs also announced that those who have been discharged under DADT will be eligible to petition to return to the military.
There is today a mechanism in place within the Defense Department to consider the petitions of those who voluntarily leave the military and wish to reapply; that system looks at what jobs are available, and, if it meets the needs of the Services, a job offer is extended to the applicant. (The individual might not return at the same grade or rank they held when leaving, however, and that would also depend on the military's interpretation of what best fits military "force structure" requirements.)
At the hearing the Committee members were told that those who were discharged under DADT could reapply under the same rules that exist today for those who leave voluntarily; the same system that's in place today will "work" those applications.
There was some not unexpected bad news: Republican Members of the House are just so over the top on objecting to this one that it's ridiculous and funny and maddening and just awful, all at once.
There was begging ("if there was just some way the Service Chiefs could convince the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs not to certify, then we could all be saved" was the gist of that one), and fake expertise ("when I served we were all afraid of 'em, and I can't believe today's troops still aren't" is the rough outline of how that argument went and California's Duncan Hunter was an example of one Congressman who fit into that "genre"); there was even an offer to do another survey so we can "do what the troops really want" (I can save y'all the time and trouble: what they really want...is to get the hell out of Afghanistan).
If the Grim Weeper had been in the room, I'm sure he would have had a big ol' blubbery cry over the tragedy that's befallen the Nation on this somber occasion--and it's a good thing he wasn't, because I have no doubt such a display would have once again caused Tonstant Weader to fwow up, just like that time back at Pooh Corner.
Among the Republicans there was a lot of preoccupation with the potential for men, in combat, in those close, confined, spaces...men who are depending on each other, night and day...to be subject to the advances of other strong, powerful, muscular, men in a variety of manly uniforms--I mean, as far as I can tell, there are Republicans see this as some kind of eventual "Livin' La Vida Loca" kind of situation, only, you know, a bit more butch, and I would love to know what in the world they think life aboard a Ballistic Missile Submarine or on a Forward Operating Base in Southeastern Afghanistan is really like?
Oddly enough, the predominantly male Committee didn't seem as concerned about the possibility of female same-sex relationships impacting military readiness and unit cohesion in a negative way; if anyone has a guess as to why that might be the case I'm sure I'd love to hear it.
The military, to their credit, did a lot of pushing back against the Republicans. For example, at one point there were questions as to whether this would cause an unacceptable number of troops to leave the all-volunteer military. The response: right now the real problem is that as we withdraw from Iraq and troopers come home to a bad economy, too few want to leave.
They also spent a lot of time pointing out that "standards of conduct" already exist to manage sexual contacts and harassing behaviors between opposite-gendered persons, and that those very same rules will be used to manage issues of conduct in a same-sex context.
Risk mitigation is suddenly very important for some Republicans, and they do not want to repeal if there is any risk at all that the move could impact combat readiness or pose a hazard to the force.
That line of logic led to one of the most stupid questions I have ever heard asked in a hearing, ever, in decades of actually paying attention, and it came from Republican Vicky Hartzler (MO-04).
What she was trying to do was to show that the Generals would not want to recommend policies that add to the risk facing the troops. What she had been told was that the future risks of open service were as yet unknown (hard to know today with 100% certainty what the future holds), but that, based on progress made so far, the risks seemed to be low and that mitigations seemed to be in place for currently identified potential problems.
But what she asked the commanding officers of four military services was...wait for it...whether they had ever recommended sending their troops into heightened risk environments?
They actually all kind of seemed a bit stunned by the question--but they kept their poker faces--and then they reminded her that sending troops into combat is actually a bit of a high-risk activity.
The deer then jumped out of the way of the headlights, and the hearing resumed.
Look, folks, I am not passing along any news when I tell you that DADT still scares the loose buttons off a bunch of suits in Washington and that they still want to have this out anyplace they can--but it is news to find out that they are ahead of where they could have been over at the Pentagon, and that all the Service Chiefs do really seem to be on board, at least publicly, and that they are all reporting fewer problems than they expected as this process moves forward.
In a tough week it's nice to report good news, and I think this qualifies--and if things continue at this pace, we could see certification and full open service before Labor Day.
Now I know we don't usually give Labor Day presents, and to make it worse, we're hard to shop for...but if there's one thing everyone loves to get, it's a More Perfect Union--and I bet once we try it on, there's no way it's going back.