DADT Update: The Service Chiefs Report, The Republicans Fret

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 last 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 who 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.

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On Actually Ending DADT, Or, “Could It Really Take Another Year?”

So we got the good news that legislative repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) policy that kept LBGT folks from openly serving in the military has occurred, as the Senate voted Saturday to first cut off debate on the question (that’s the vote that required 60 Senators to pass) and then to pass the actual repeal legislation (which also garnered more than 60 Senate votes, even though it only needed 51).

Most people would assume that once Bill (remember Bill, from “Schoolhouse Rock”?) made it out of Congress and over to the President to for a signature that the process of repeal will be ended-but in fact, there’s quite a bit more yet to do, and it’s entirely possible that a year or more could go by before the entire process is complete.

Today we’ll discuss our way through why it’s going to take so long; to illustrate the point we’ll consider an actual military order that is quite similar to the sort of work that will be required from the Department of Defense (DOD) before the entire “DADT to open service” transition is complete.

“You cannot eliminate even one basic assumption, one substantial part of this philosophy-it is as if it were a solid block of steel-without abandoning objective truth, without falling into the arms of bourgeois-reactionary falsehood.”

Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov (Lenin)

To set things up, let’s define, exactly, what “transition” is: the Secretary of Defense, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the President all have to certify that the military is ready for the change; 60 days after that certification is made, full repeal occurs.

Soooo…now that Congress has cracked the block of steel, why is it going to take so long for full repeal to take place?

The answer, I’m afraid, is all about being way too organized.

In order to make the move to open service, there will have to be a series of official actions taken that will include developing an entire infrastructure around identifying new standards of conduct, deciding who exactly will be the “evangelizers” that go out and talk to commanders and troops, and who will be involved in supporting enforcement of the new policies.

You may recall that the 2003 invasion of Iraq was associated with a sudden spike in sexual assaults among servicemembers; this required the military to develop solutions (and yes, the controversy around how effective those solutions have been could easily be their own story, but not today).

The reason sexual assault interests us today is because the kinds of orders that were created for commanders then are quite similar to what will be needed now, and we have one of those orders readily available so that we can really visualize what kind of thing we’re talking about.

It’s too long to include in its entirety, but here’s a selected sample:

6. THIS PARAGRAPH PROVIDES DETAILS FOR APPOINTING AND TRAINING DEPLOYABLE SARCS.

A. COMMANDERS AT BRIGADE LEVEL AND HIGHER ECHELONS (DIVISION, CORPS, AND ARMY COMPONENT COMMAND) WILL IMMEDIATELY APPOINT, ON COLLATERAL DUTY, A MINIMUM OF ONE SOLDIER/CIVILAIN TO SERVE AS THE COMMAND S DEPLOYABLE SEXUAL ASSAULT RESPONSE COORDINATOR (SARC). COMMANDERS WILL SELECT QUALIFIED PERSONNEL FOR DUTY AS DEPLOYABLE SARC IN ACCORDANCE WITH PARAGRAPH 7 OF THIS MESSAGE.

B. DEPLOYABLE SARCS SHOULD NOT BEGIN RESPONDING TO SEXUAL ASSAULTS UNTIL THEY RECEIVE TRAINING. INITIAL TRAINING FOR DEPLOYABLE SARCS WILL OCCUR THROUGH ONE OF THE FOLLOWING METHODS.

     1. FROM THE INSTALLATION SARC. THIS IS THE PRIMARY METHOD FOR TRAINING DEPLOYABLE SARCS. THIS TRAINING SHOULD OCCUR AS SOON AS INSTALLATION SARCS ARE IN PLACE AND OPERATIONAL, BUT NOT LATER THAN 30 JUNE 2005 FOR ALL ACTIVE COMPONENT UNITS.

     2. BY A MOBILE TRAINING TEAM (MTT) IN THE CENTCOM AOR. DEPLOYABLE SARCS ASSIGNED TO UNITS ALREADY IN THE CENTCOM AOR WILL RECEIVE TRAINING BY A MOBILE TRAINING TEAM AT VARIOUS LOCATIONS DURING MAY AND JUNE. SPECIFIC DATES AND LOCATIONS HAVE BEEN COORDINATED BETWEEN CFSC AND ARCENT.

     3. BY SPECIAL REQUEST OF UNITS SCHEDULED TO DEPLOY THAT WILL NOT BE IN THE CENTCOM AOR PRIOR TO THE MTT TRAINING CITED ABOVE. UNITS THAT ARE IN THIS CATEGORY AND ARE UNABLE TO HAVE THEIR DEPLOYABLE SARCS TRAINED USING ANY OF THE METHODS LISTED ABOVE SHOULD CONTACT THE CFSC POC AT THE END OF THIS MESSAGE TO COORDINATE A SPECIAL MTT.

     4. DURING DOD SPONSORED SARC TRAINING CONFERENCES SCHEDULED FOR THE FOLLOWING DATES AND LOCATIONS: 28 JUN 1 JUL (CHARLOTTE, NC); 12-15 JUL (SAN DIEGO, CA); 19-22 JUL (HAWAII); 27-30 SEP (ATLANTA, GA). PRIORITY FOR ATTENDANCE AT THESE SESSIONS WILL BE GIVEN TO RESERVE COMPONENT UNITS. ALL INSTALLATION SARCS, AND AS MANY ACTIVE COMPONENT DEPLOYABLE SARCS AS CAN BE ACCOMMODATED, MAY ALSO ATTEND THESE JOINT SERVICE EVENTS AS ADDITIONAL TRAINING. SPECIFIC COORDINATING INSTRUCTIONS ARE BEING WORKED WITH DOD BY THE ARMY COMMUNITY AND FAMILY SUPPORT CENTER (CFSC). UNITS SHOULD CONTACT THE CFSC POC AT THE END OF THIS MESSAGE TO SCHEDULE DEPLOYABLE SARC ATTENDANCE AT ANY OF THESE SESSIONS.

As you can imagine, the way that you end up with this sort of work product is for the Secretary of Defense to begin talking to his most senior Generals and Admirals, who will then will gather their paperwork forces and convene working groups, they’ll start passing drafts around and getting approvals; and the output from that process will be delivered to unit commanders all the way down the chain.

If these regulations are a model, conference centers will have to be made available, advocates and trainers will have to be appointed, and then unit commanders will have to train their troops to the new standards.

It is likely that there are regulations to be written that will impact the civilian world; if that’s the case, those regulations generally require, after they’re written, a 90 day public comment period, and that will also add to the total time that will be needed. If the regulations need to be rewritten after the comment period, there will be a bit more delay.

To add to the issues to be addressed, some of the forces are today “combat deployed”, and for the most part I wouldn’t expect a lot of effort to train any of them to new standards until they’re rotated out of combat.

It is possible that certification could occur even if those forces are not yet trained, but the training infrastructure is in place for them when they return; if that’s the case things would obviously move faster.

In addition to managing the conduct of servicemembers, the military issues standards of conduct that affect “dependants”. Some of those dependants live in base housing, and their kids often attend base schools; all of this will likely create the need for more rules and training, especially since there will be people in the military community who will be intolerant of the new regime.

Now this story actually grew out of a comment that I made at The Bilerico Project after the DADT cloture vote. The response to that comment, if I might paraphrase, was that it’s amazing that we can move tens of thousands of troops all the way to the Middle East and commence to killing everyone in sight faster than we can teach our own troops to accept each other equally.

That’s a well-focused observation, I think (and it wouldn’t surprise me if there are those in the service making the same comment), and in the end, the way the services deal with the issues behind that complaint (and the host of other issues that surround this transition) is going to be the marker by which we determine if the military will remain an institution that commands as much respect among Americans as it does today.

Will they succeed?

Starting next week, it looks like we’ll be finding out.

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Gen. Wesley Clark goes for the jugular on the specifics of McSame’s military record

4-star General and NATO Commander Wesley Clark questioned McSame’s war experience this weekend on whether he was really qualified to run for the presidency. So McBush chickens out on answering the American people about his lack of judgment and recruits Bud Day of 2004 Swift Boat deception infamy to assault the military veteran (I’ve heard he’s creating a new group called “Truth Squad”). And you bet Day would politicize Vietnam in his attack. “General Clark spent a month in Vietnam, got badly wounded and was evacuated, that was his experience. I say let’s hold the two of them up and compare them.” Well, Clark realizes something McSame has failed to and it is that his compassion is so great that he understands how damaging war is to the psyche of the American trooper. 3-4 endless tours to Iraq to perpetuate an endless invasion for the Administration’s evil deception and greed for oil. Not to mention that McBush wants to continue the failed policy of sending lawless, Wild West-oriented mercenaries and contractors, Blackwater USA, to murder Iraqi families on the streets and McBush wants to continue the Administration’s policy of paying the contractors 3x more than our soldiers- to the detriment and neglect of our homeland and our ports (which are being sold to foreign countries)in a 3rd Bush term. All while the neo-cons totally ignored the war in Afghanistan and lied to the American people about who really attacked us on 9-11, which wasn’t Saddam, it was Osama bin-Laden. And did Bush capture bin Laden? No, he doesn’t even talk about it. He’s a liar with flawed and corrupt judgment, and so is his cabana boy, John McSame! Keep fighting and putting the heat on him for the American people, General Clark!

The GI Bill passes the House overwhelmingly, beating a Bush veto, and McCain was far away from it.

A few days ago in the Senate, McCain not only did not vote for the GI Bill to provide education opportunity and affordability to our troops he stayed away from its voting session. It passed so overwhelmingly it beat an attempted Bush veto. Obama voted for it and tried to hold McBush accountable to his refusal to vote for our troops’ opportunity towards more affordable education for serving our country. McCain proceeded to attack Obama for not having a military service background, even though our past presidents, Reagan and Abraham Lincoln, have never served in the military. It sounds like a pompous attack to me to judge someone who holds you accountable for not considering the hardships and struggles of our troops by not voting for their education and then to attack a rival for not having a military service background. I think he is too focused on himself to care about anybody, let alone the troops.