Congress has repealed 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell," but the task of lifting the ban against gays serving openly in the military would likely take months, officials said.
Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said in a statement after the Senate voted Saturday to end the policy that he would "approach this process deliberately."
Once the change becomes law with President Barack Obama's signature, the military will need to revise policies and regulations that govern everything from leadership training to standards of conduct. And before the policy officially ends, the president, the secretary of defense and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff must sign a letter certifying that the changes wouldn't affect military readiness.
Full repeal would take effect 60 days after that certification letter is transmitted to the congressional armed-services committees.
Mr. Gates has appointed Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Clifford Stanley, a retired Marine Corps general, to lead the Pentagon's planning effort.
A Pentagon report on the potential impact of repeal issued in late November said successful implementation would hinge in large part on leadership by commanders, who would be responsible for communicating a clear message to the ranks about the changes in policy.
The military will still have to work through a raft of changes to personnel policy. In particular, it will have to make provisions to allow for the reinstatement of those discharged under the policy.
Michelle McCluer, executive director of the National Institute of Military Justice at American University Washington College of Law, said it was rare for a person to be involuntarily discharged from the military and then be allowed to rejoin. "Making it into a process that doesn't take months and months and months, that's going to be a challenge," she said.
Some service members discharged under the policy said they planned to rejoin once the ban is fully lifted.
Anthony Bustos, an Army medic who was discharged under "don't ask" in early December, said he would seek to re-enter the military after he completes graduate study. Saturday's vote, he said, had given him an "overwhelming sense of validation."
Mr. Bustos said he started contemplating coming out after two of his friends were killed in a roadside bomb attack during his first tour in Iraq. "They were two of my best friends and they didn't know that part of my life, and I didn't tell them about it," he said. "It was a big turning point to me."
Jason Knight, a Navy linguist, is currently seeking reinstatement in the military. He has a unique insight into serving openly: He was discharged in 2005 because of his sexual orientation, but due to a paperwork snafu, he wasn't processed out under "don't ask" regulations and was placed in inactive reserve. When he was subsequently recalled to duty a year later, he decided to serve openly. The experience, he said, was positive.
"It was completely different," he said. "I wasn't lying to my superiors. I wasn't evading or misleading my superiors. It was an incredible experience."
Mr. Knight was discharged a second time after the military newspaper Stars and Stripes wrote an article about him.
Openly gay service members may face skepticism within the ranks. A major Pentagon survey of attitudes within the military found a significant minority—around 30% overall—expressed negative views about the impact of repeal. Within some branches of service, that percentage was higher. Around 45% of Marines who responded to the survey viewed the repeal as having a potentially negative effect; an even higher percentage of combat-arms Marines—around 56%—voiced negative concerns.
In a floor speech before the historic vote, Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.) said, "I've heard from thousands— thousands—of active-duty and retired military personnel. I've heard from them, and they are saying, 'Sen. McCain, it isn't broke, don't fix it.' "
In a statement issued Sunday night, Gen. James Amos, the commandant of the Marine Corps, said, "As stated during my testimony before Congress in September and again during hearings before the Senate Armed Services Committee earlier this month, the Marine Corps will step out smartly to faithfully implement this new policy."
The Snooper Report.
Join us as we Take Our Country Back.
Sic vis pacem para bellum