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Military to train every member on its gay policy

Published Sep. 26, 2005

No threats. No harassment. The armed forces intend for everyone in uniform to get that message this year _ loud and clear.

Every member of the armed forces, from four-star generals to privates, will undergo training by the end of the year to prevent anti-gay harassment, the Pentagon announced Tuesday in a sweeping admission that its "don't ask, don't tell" policy is poorly understood in the ranks.

In the wake of the murder of a gay private in Kentucky last July, Secretary of Defense William Cohen ordered each of the armed services to prepare training programs and asked the senior civilian and military leaders of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines to send letters to their commanders this month underlining that anti-gay threats and harassment will not be tolerated.

"What this does is try to make the training more regular and to emphasize, from the top down, that this is a priority of all the services and to make this emphasis stronger and clearer than it was before," said Kenneth Bacon, the Pentagon spokesman.

Although the "don't ask, don't tell, don't harass" policy is 5 years old, the armed forces have never made it a subject for universal training, nor has the Pentagon sent out messages to the field specifically ordering full compliance.

Although the policy appears straightforward _ that gay and lesbian members may serve in the military so long as they keep their sexual orientation to themselves and do not engage in homosexual acts _ the military has been plagued with instances of gays being harassed until they admitted their sexual orientation, ending their military careers.

Gay and lesbian military activists applauded the new policy.

"This is a victory to finally have this training and to have this message sent out to the field, but it's a shame it took the murder of a private at Fort Campbell to get them to do this," said Michelle Benecke, co-director of the Ser-vicemembers Legal Defense Network, which has lobbied for the changes.

It also took the intervention of presidential politics. President Clinton said in a radio interview in December that the military's policy was "out of whack" after the conviction of an Army private in the murder of Pfc. Barry Winchell in their barracks at Fort Campbell, Ky.

Within days Vice President Al Gore called for the outright elimination of the policy, which was already the position of former Sen. Bill Bradley, his rival for the Democratic nomination.

The Pentagon also announced Tuesday that the number of service members discharged because they were homosexuals dropped in the fiscal year that ended on Sept. 30: to 1,034 from 1,145 the year before.

The core of the new, nearly hourlong training sessions will be a slide presentation detailing what the policy does and does not allow. The services also plan to use video presentations, role playing exercises and pamphlets to hammer home that slurs and innuendoes are forbidden.

"We're going to ensure everyone in every command has this training," said Cmdr. Greg Smith, a Navy spokesman. "This hasn't quite risen to the level of annual sexual harassment training, but it's clearly important."

The Army said it hoped to give the courses to all of its members within 90 days. "Every four-star general on down," said Edwin Viega, an Army spokesman.

The Air Force plans to complete its training within six months, according to a spokesman, and the Navy will be done in a year.

The Pentagon said it had no immediate estimate of the cost of the additional training. P.J. Crowley, a Defense Department spokesman, said the expense of the training would be measured in hours rather than in dollars.

"It will cost more in effort than in money," said Crowley. "How long it takes to get to the entire force will be a function of time and opportunity."

Only the Army has begun training. Its presentation knocks down the widely held assumption that a service member can be investigated as gay if he or she goes to a homosexual bar, reads homosexual magazines or has gay friends.

One of the 14 slides shown during the training reads: "Zero tolerance for harassment." In bold letters on another slide, the Army tells its members that "derogatory, persistent, threatening or annoying behavior" is not accepted in any form, on or off duty.

According to a draft of the Navy's presentation, instructors will be asked to use a standard exercise in sensitivity training that develops trust and respect for all sailors in the service. Then the instruction will show slides defining anti-gay harassment and reminding sailors that their commanding officers are under orders to "take immediate steps to protect the safety of the victim, stop the threatening behavior, and hold those responsible for the harassment accountable."