American combat troops will get sensitivity training directly on the battlefield about the military’s new policy on gays instead of waiting until they return to home base in the United States, the senior enlisted man in Afghanistan said Thursday.
The Pentagon is launching an extensive force-wide program to ease the process of integrating open homosexuals into the ranks, including into close-knit fighting units.
Army Command Sgt. Maj. Marvin Hill, the top enlisted man in Afghanistan where 100,000 U.S. troops are deployed, said that the sessions on respecting gays’ rights will go right down to the forward operating bases, where troops fight Taliban militants.
“I have heard about the training that will be forthcoming to the battlefield,” Sgt. Hill told Pentagon reporters via a teleconference from Kabul.
“We will take our directions from the Department of Defense, from the secretary of defense, the chairman, as well as the service chiefs of each service. Our plan is to take their direction, and we’re going to execute that training right here on the battlefield.”
No unit is exempted, he said.
“Our goal is to not allow a unit to return to home station and have the unit responsible for that,” he said. “While we own those soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines, we’re going to execute that training on the ground. We hope that it will have little impact on their combat and security operations here.”
President Obama signed a bill in December to repeal the ban, called “don’t ask, don’t tell,” which required gay troops to hide their sexuality. However, the ban will stay in effect until the secretary of defense certifies that repeal of the policy will not hurt combat readiness.
Elaine Donnelly, who heads the Center for Military Readiness, said it is “ridiculous” to train combat Army soldiers and Marines as they are engage in daily combat with tenacious insurgents.
“It’s absurd because the military has more important things to think about in that dangerous part of the world,” she said. “For the administration to say this is more important than even with the troops we’re trying to train in that part of the world, I think it shows flawed priorities at best. It is ridiculous.”
Sgt. Hill is an outspoken proponent of ending the ban.
“If there are people who cannot deal with the change, then they’re going to have to do what’s best for their troops and best for the organization and best for the military service and exit the military service, so that we can move forward - if that’s the way that we have to go,” Sgt. Hill said on the television show, “Washington Watch” in December.
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has ordered a detailed training regime to make sure both sides, homosexuals and heterosexuals, treat each other with respect. He has said gays will be able to declare their sexual preference openly before end of the year.
The training is broken down into three tiers. The first tier is for specialists like chaplains, lawyers and investigators. The second is for commanders in the field. The third is for the force at large, 2.2 million active and reserve troops.
The Pentagon’s Repeal Implementation team is leading the whole process.
“Professionalism is the expectation across all the services,” Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Steven Hummer, the team’s chief of staff, told the Pentagon’s news service.
“This is a disciplined force, and we expect to see that as the training and repeal go into place. Lastly, respect is what everybody expects to receive and what everybody should give.”
• Rowan Scarborough can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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