- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 22, 2010

No public displays of affection. No separate bathrooms. No harassment and no special treatment.

As the U.S. military begins to map out how it will implement the new edict allowing gays to serve openly, the first order of business is drafting the regulations. The rule changes under discussion won’t dictate how troops feel about the change, but will strictly enforce how they act on it.

From small wording tweaks and training programs to more complex questions about benefits and religion, the proposed guidelines demand that gays be treated just like any other soldier, sailor, airman or Marine.

But they also leave the door open for some flexibility in room assignments or other instances when commanders believe it’s needed to maintain order and discipline in their units.

The Senate voted Saturday to repeal the ban on openly gay service, following earlier action by the House. Fulfilling a 2008 campaign promise, President Obama signed the bill into law on Wednesday at a Department of Interior ceremony.

But in letters to the troops over the weekend, the four military service chiefs warned that the ban is still in place, and will be for some time to come.

“The implementation and certification process will not happen immediately; it will take time,” Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz said in an e-mail to airmen. “Meanwhile, the current law remains in effect. All Air Force members should conduct themselves accordingly.”

Recommendations to implement the repeal were outlined in a 67-page report last month, and now must be formed into concrete regulations. Defense officials said Monday that they still don’t know how long it will take before the Pentagon completes its implementation plan and certifies the change will not damage combat readiness.

Once certified, the implementation would begin 60 days later.

The report, however, provides a fairly detailed preview of what troops and the American public can expect, once the new rules are in place.

And it puts the heaviest burden on commanders who will have to walk a fine line between enforcing the updated code of military conduct and recognizing when they may need to make some concessions.

The plans call for strict and immediate action when the new rules are violated.

But there is also an emphasis on educating troops who are having problems. For example, in a series of vignettes listed in the report, the first course of action is often counseling.

What if a recruiter refuses to process recruits who say they are gay? What about a sailor who requests a new sleeping area to get away from a gay roommate? Can a service member file a complaint against a chaplain who preaches against homosexuality? And can a gay service member get leave to travel home when their partner is ill?

In each case, the recommended process is careful and deliberate. The recruiter and the sailor should be counseled about the new rules - but in both cases commanders have the authority to approve a move if they believe it’s necessary in order to maintain unit stability.

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