DADT Repeal Training Mostly By-The-Book, But Reports Find Troops Not Taking Repeal Seriously
CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. -- Lt. Col. Ken Kelsay spins out a scenario for a rec room filled with 70 fidgety Marines: One of their own, another Marine, is hanging around a gay bar and word gets back to the squadron commander.
"What should the commander do?" Kelsay asks, looking toward Sgt. Joshena Jamison, a 31-year-old computer technician. She stands at attention.
"Sir, I think she can't punish the Marine for going to a gay bar," Jamison says. "It's their choice of where they go. It's like punishing somebody going ... into a regular bar."
"Correct. Thank you. That's exactly right," Kelsay responds, reinforcing the message he is delivering to the class, which has gathered to learn how to navigate the issue of sexual orientation in the military once the "don't ask, don't tell" policy becomes history.
Lesson learned, Kelsay -- whose day job is as an electronics maintenance officer -- returns to his script, word for word, for nearly 90 minutes. Jamison will be the only other Marine to speak.
"As dry as it is, as much as we can stay to [the script], that's what we try to do," Kelsay tells a reporter after the class ends.
The by-the-book session made for less-than-scintillating footage for the five local TV stations the military had invited along to observe. And that was exactly the point.
"This is not the time to discuss your personal beliefs on religion, or homosexuality," Kelsay read from the Marine Corps' introduction. "The decisions have been made -- it is our job to professionally implement the changes."
As the Pentagon prepares troops for the repeal of the ban on openly gay and lesbian service members, the service branches have held a flurry of such small group sessions on sprawling stateside bases like Camp Lejeune, aboard aircraft carriers and at combat outposts in Afghanistan.
Gay rights groups say the majority of the training sessions, which began in February, have been professional, just-the-facts affairs.
"Some of the sessions are downright boring," said Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, which advocates for gays in the military. "We are not seeing the level of resistance that came about in training sessions surrounding women being admitted to the service academies or ending racial segregation in the ranks."
But only a handful of training classes have been opened to reporters. All have been carefully staged and instructors are expected to be on their best behavior, making the sessions the public face of what, behind the scenes, is a more complex process potentially fraught with pitfalls.
While gay rights advocates agree that a majority of sessions have been professional and by-the-book, there have been exceptions. According to secretly taped audio of a recent Marine training session obtained by The Huffington Post, as well as reports from an underground network of active-duty gay and lesbian service members and interviews with closeted service members, the classes have not been universally supportive of DADT policies.
Gay and lesbian service members say that some of the sessions have been punctuated by joking, snickering and eye-rolling by trainers and trainees.
In the taped session that Servicemembers United, a gay advocacy group, provided to HuffPost, a gruff gunnery sergeant states that most of the Marine Corps is against allowing gays to serve openly. But, like it or not, he says, the repeal is a lawful order and Marines follow orders. He then predicts a media circus the first time a Marine charges he or she has been assaulted because of his or her sexual orientation. He warns the group in a tone that suggests he doesn't altogether approve that the days of ribbing others as "fags" are over.