DADT Repeal Step 2: When Will Certification Happen?

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On December 22nd, 2010, the seemingly impossible happened. President Obama signed a bill to complete the first of three steps in repealing the law we've come to know as "don't ask, don't tell."

The first step was the signing of the repeal pre-authorization* bill. That incredible legislative feat is unfortunately regarded by the general public as the signature that "sealed the deal." Regretfully, this is not the case.

To truly sound the death knell, "Step 2" must be completed - a signing of certification that the repeal will not harm combat effectiveness. Once President Obama signs that document, the official 60-day countdown to open service can begin. Until then, the official date of death for closeted service will continue to remain a giant camouflaged question mark.

When Will Certification Happen?

Speculation ranges wildly from a few months to a year or more. Though most supporters seem to anecdotally agree that repeal will ultimately occur sometime this year, the level of optimism varies. There are those, like me, who believe the public statements made by Sec. Gates and Admiral Mullen are hints that certification could happen as "early" as late February. Then, there are those who have quietly murmured about a long road (citing "anonymous" sources) putting a certification date sometime in the late summer or early fall.

The question of whether the Pentagon could certify quickly has already been answered in a study published by the Palm Center.

What has not been answered is whether they will follow this advice. I submit that if history has taught us anything about the Pentagon and DADT this year, it's that they are stubbornly unmoved by unsolicited advice on how to proceed.

Presuming the advice of the Palm Center will fail to expedite the process, what is the practical expectation? What is reasonable from the Pentagon's perspective? What factors might influence the timeline? I've picked three clues that make me one of the more optimistic prognosticators.

Gates - Time to Finish What He Started

The advocating of repeal by Gates and Mullen, however reserved it was before Congress, is and was no small thing. It is probably safe to say the two men are personally invested in following through on this to completion. Imagine the grief and opposition they have undoubtedly received from the conservative voices in their respective circles, and the unwavering public stances they've taken become a little more convincing.

Last fall, Gates said he felt 2011 would be the right year to retire and that he believed sticking around until January of 2012 would not be in his best interest. Presuming he sincerely wants to see repeal and open service implemented, this means that waiting until late fall to certify would not allow him time to oversee the first few months of implementation because of the 60-day delay.

To follow thru completely and see 2-3 months of successful transition, certification would need to happen 4-5 months prior to his leaving in December - and that would mean, as some have said, July or August.

Repeal vs. Appeal

Of course, another factor to consider is the courts and lawsuits related to DADT. Oft mentioned by the Secretary as a motive for moving quickly to pass the repeal law, Gates repeatedly stressed that gambling on the courts put Pentagon control over the transition timeline at risk, however long or short it may be. The question that comes to my mind then, given the uncertain future and outcome of Log Cabin v. United States, is just how worried is the Pentagon?

The law has already been ruled unconstitutional and brief as it was, an October court injunction "allowed" open service for 198 hours before the Department of Justice's request to stay the order was granted by the Ninth Circuit. Despite agreeing with repeal as a goal, Gates and Mullen tell us the last thing they want to risk is a resumption of this "cease and desist" order on enforcement. The next move is set for February when the appeals process continues in the Ninth Circuit.

Until open service happens, Log Cabin has correctly reiterated the need to continue their lawsuit and Servicemembers Legal Defense Network is also moving forward with legal action to have several service members reinstated.

To beat the judicial clock with a guarantee that the Pentagon retains control of the process, swift and deliberate action must be taken. It is unlikely that Gates, if his arguments about court interference are sincere, will want to risk drawing this process out through the summer. That means certifying 60 days before June or July, sometime in April or May.

New Policy for the New Class

Summer means new high school graduates and new recruits boarding the busses to basic training. Where better to spread the word about how the new policy will be enforced than in the initial recruitment and training phases?

Getting recruiters primed for the new policy in time for signing and shipping off their future uniformed compatriots makes good business sense. To do it, however, the 60-day clock will need to expire in time to start signing people up in May. It gives recruiters time to do paperwork if a DADT and/or graduation related surge should occur.

During those 60 days, recruiters will be getting questions from potential recruits that will likely run the gambit and they'll have time to run them up the chain-of-command for answers and policy smoothing. It is a very generous window and will give everyone else in uniform time to complete this vaguely identified "training" we keep hearing about.

Now, run the clock back on a May 1st deadline and where does that put certification? Sometime in late February.

Practical Prognostication Presents Problems

These are only my best guesses based on what little we do know. I have no crystal ball and don't profess to have an inside track on the actual process. While Palm has correctly noted how efficient the military is in implementing new policies, I have 10 years of military experience that tells me there are always hiccups.

I do believe Gates and Mullen are wary of the potential ugliness from getting implementation wrong. They want fewer hiccups (as military leaders, they will likely acknowledge that having none is not realistic).

In the meantime, open service is definitely not a reality, so it is incumbent upon them, despite these reservations, to move quickly and certify a plan. Until they do, repeal remains an elusive phantom victory. A lack of uncertainty about a timeline is only adding more stress to those affected by the policy.

Each LGB member today faces accidental outings by well-meaning friends, and a barrage of unanswerable questions from the people in their lives who know and support them.

Guessing, optimistic or not, does nothing to help our combat readiness. The question remains:

WHEN WILL CERTIFICATION HAPPEN?

If the Pentagon truly wants to enhance combat readiness, then it must answer this question soon and end the uncertainty. This is the ONLY way to move forward and begin a positive new experience for those serving in silence.

*Pre-authorization refers to the bill's effective purpose, relinquishing authority to repeal "don't ask, don't tell" to the President conditional upon approval by the Pentagon.

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Jeremy Johnson is the Digital Media Specialist for the Center and a full-time student at University of Maryland, Baltimore County. Prior to beginning his college education, Jeremy served 10 years as an active duty journalist in the United States Navy. He was discharged under the 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' policy in May of 2007. He is now pursuing a career in sociology but works with the Center to maintain the web site and social media outreach.

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