Beaufort News

Wilson urges delay in 'don't ask, don't tell' repeal

U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson joined the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee last week in urging Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to delay the official repeal of the military's controversial policy banning homosexuals from serving openly in the nation's armed forces. The repeal goes into effect Tuesday.

Wilson, a Republican whose congressional district includes Beaufort County, and Rep. Buck McKeon, R-Calif., sent a letter to Panetta that contends the Obama administration has failed to provide details to the committee about the new regulations reversing the long-standing "don't ask, don't tell" policy.

McKeon is the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee and Wilson chairs its Military Personnel subcommittee, according to congressional records.

"Since it is evident that the department does not have final, approved policies in place, we believe it is essential that you take immediate action to delay the implementation of the repeal until such time that the review and comment period is completed," McKeon and Wilson wrote.

Congress voted to lift the ban in December, and President Barack Obama and Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, certified in July that the repeal would not harm the military's ability to fight.

A Wilson spokesman said the congressman doesn't believe commanders in the field have the policies and regulations necessary to implement the change.

"If all regulations were prepared on (July 22), what did the (Defense Department) have to hide from Congress?" asked Neal Patel. "The implementing regulations have not been sent to the field and will not be until (Tuesday). If the Defense Department has not provided the regulations to the field, to those who will implement the repeal, how can the department assert it's ready to implement?"

The end to the 17-year-old ban comes after the department has spent months training more than 2.25 million service members, about 97 percent of the total force.

A Pentagon official told the Associated Press that senior officials have advised Congress on changes to regulations and policies associated with the repeal, and the department's general counsel met with Armed Services Committee staff to discuss the proposed changes.

Spokeswomen for Naval Hospital Beaufort and Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort said neither base has any special events planned Tuesday when the new policy goes into effect.

"Our staff has received the mandatory training so everyone should carry on business as usual," said Regena Kowitz, spokeswoman for Naval Hospital Beaufort.

Attempts Friday to reach officials at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island were unsuccessful.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Follow reporter Patrick Donohue at twitter.com/OnBaseBeaufort.

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