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‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ training begins in February

Troops will be educated on new conduct policies related to the repeal of the law banning gays from serving openly in the military starting next month.

The Defense Department will start training troops in February on new conduct policies related to the repeal of the law banning gays from serving openly in the military and plans to have repealed the "don't ask, don't tell" law by the end of the year, Pentagon officials announced in a press conference on Friday afternoon.

"Moving on expeditiously is better than dragging it out," Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. James Cartwright said during the briefing.

Training troops on the new protocol is the last of a three-step process Defense outlined for the repeal's implementation. For the past month, Defense has been reviewing policies potentially affected by DADT's repeal and gauging what changes are necessary. The next step is training the officers and military commanders in charge of educating troops. Cartwright said troops from some units and military branches could receive instruction before leaders from other units. "[The second and third steps] don't have to be sequential," he said.

Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Clifford Stanley stressed flexibility during the repeal process, noting, "each service is going to approach the training differently."

Cartwright also said the military will focus training on the unit level, and aims to have most of them trained before Defense Secretary Robert Gates or Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Mike Mullen sign off on the law's final repeal. He said the military had no specific percentage of personnel it aims to train by that time, but instead will focus on reaching "a good understanding of what [the training process takes] and how long it takes."

Overturning the law requires President Obama, Gates and Mullen to agree the repeal would not hurt troop morale or compromise military readiness. After that, the December 2010 repeal requires a 60-day waiting period before taking effect.

Stanley also confirmed that no service members had been approved for discharge as a result of DADT since Gates adopted new rules requiring one of the three military service secretaries to sign off on any discharge. Still, Stanley said, "The 'don't ask, don't tell' law is still in effect, [and] we are obligated to follow that law."

The number of discharged gay personnel has waned in recent years, but DADT still cost the military more than 3,600 troops and nearly $200 million between fiscal 2004 and 2009, according to a Government Accountability Office report released in January. The report found that at least 1,500 of the discharged troops occupied critical roles in the armed forces, including infantry and intelligence specialists.

How repeal of DADT will affect service members' benefits remains unclear. "There are benefit areas that may become gray areas," Cartwright said.

But Stanley said no policy changes would be made to housing and spousal benefits, noting that Defense would not recognize marital benefits for service members with same-sex marriages recognized by their state because of the department's legal obligations under the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as between a man and a woman.

How the repeal will affect gay service members' legal rights also is unclear. Stanley focused on the basic principles of military conduct: leadership, professionalism, discipline and respect. "Treating and taking care of your people … is so fundamentally basic" within military policy that "there is no special policy needed."

Cartwright said sexual orientation will not become a designated protected class under the law.