In December, Congress voted to repeal a 17-year policy of banning openly homosexual individuals from serving in the U.S. Armed Forces, commonly known as "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."

For the moment, the policy remains in effect. Since December, the Department of Defense has been charged with reviewing whether or how implementation of the repeal could impact military readiness, and with preparing the force for the change.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates said before the law is officially off-the-books, a military-wide education campaign will take place. Once the chiefs of the individual services have certified the training is complete, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Secretary of Defense and the President must certify repeal of the law will not negatively impact combat readiness. Following such certification, there will be a 60-day waiting period after which gay and lesbian servicemembers will be allowed to serve openly.

In a Pentagon briefing room interview following President Obama signing the repeal legislation into law, Gates said the entire process could take up to a year but the Pentagon would not drag its feet on the implementation process. To that end, training has already begun at Joint Task Force Guantanamo.

"The key takeaway from this training is that all personnel are needed to accomplish the mission and that we must treat everyone with dignity and respect," said Rear Admiral Jeffrey Harbeson, Joint Task Force Guantanamo commander. "We each come from different backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives but we have one common bond - we have all volunteered to defend our nation.

"This professional training began with our JTF leadership and first-line supervisors because we are the ones who set the example for implementation," the Admiral continued. "It is also important to standardize the instruction among the leadership to ensure our training is consistent and understood by each of those individuals who will serve as the future trainers in the task force."

While each service is responsible for carrying out their specific training program, they all follow a similar model. Broken down into three tiers, level 1 trains experts (e.g. chaplains, law enforcement, public affairs and others) likely to deal with issues related to the policy's repeal. Tier 2 training provides senior leadership on both the officer and enlisted side awareness of specific impacts of the policy change and the expectations of command conduct. Finally, Tier 3 is geared for all military personnel, with a focus on emphasizing professional conduct and personal respect for all.

Training at all levels is mandatory and is being arranged through individual service channels.
Navy personnel will be trained through a series of All-Hands meetings. Lt.j.g Lauryn Dempsey, the service representative, said the training sessions will be scheduled beginning in May, after the arrival of the new Joint Task Force Command Master Chief.

Air Force Lt. Col. Marvin Williams, JTF Guantanamo command chaplain, is coordinating that service's training. Air Force personnel must complete an online training module via the Air Force's Advanced Distributed Learning Service. Access to ADLS is available through the Air Force Portal. All Airmen are required to complete the training by Apr. 30. Section officers in charge will pass their team's training certificates to Chaplain Williams. The chaplain said he hopes Airmen will take away from the training that leadership, professionalism, discipline and respect remain the top focus and a person's sexual orientation remains a personal and private matter.

Army personnel will have several opportunities to receive training, said Army Master Sgt. Alfonso Smith. Two sessions take place Apr. 22. The first, from 8-10 a.m., is for Army field grade officers and senior warrant officers. The second, from 1:30-3:30 p.m., is for company grade officers and junior warrant officers.

Three additional sessions take place Apr. 28. All E-1 to E-4s receive training from 8-10 a.m. All E-5 to E-7s are scheduled for 10 a.m. to noon. From 1:30-3:30 p.m. all E-8 and E-9s will receive the training.

"The bottom line here is respect," Smith said. "Respect the Soldier's privacy and keep in mind what they are here for - to accomplish the mission."

One branch is already 'mission complete' regarding the initial training.

"There's only five of us in the task force," said Marine 1st Lt. Rob Collinsworth, who served as that branch's point person.

Collinsworth said one of the key training messages was the Marine Corps would not change how they promote individuals.

"The Marine Corps has always been a meritocracy -- we only promote the best Marines," Collinsworth said. "That won't change regardless of a person's sexual orientation."

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16