U.S. MILITARY

Pentagon changes gays enlistment policy; South Florida recruiters unaware

 

crosenberg@MiamiHerald.com

The Pentagon said Tuesday that it had issued orders to military recruiters to accept enlistment papers from openly gay applicants -- a stopgap measure while it seeks to reinstate its beleaguered Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy.

Word had yet to reach South Florida recruiters surveyed by The Miami Herald.

``I've not heard anything with regard for that,'' said Army Maj. Adrian Brockington, executive officer of the Miami Recruiting Battalion, which would disseminate the instructions to neighborhood recruiting stations. Spokesmen for the Marines, Air Force and Navy echoed the sentiment.

The Pentagon said it issued the instructions Monday, a week after a judge struck down the 17-year-old law banning openly gay men and women from serving.

But the Justice Department is seeking to appeal the decision before gay applicants are processed -- a possibility that suggested would-be recruits should still keep their sexual orientation to themselves.

Marine Staff Sgt. Robert Fisher, public affairs officer for the South Florida Marine recruiting stations, said he had only heard about the new guidelines unofficially through the media. ``I just saw the news story myself,'' he said. ``We haven't gotten any guidance at the local substation recruiting level.''

Such a policy change, Fisher said, ``filters down the chain of command'' from the Marine Corps Recruiting Command up north. ``Where it's at in the current level, I don't know.''

Each of the four services recruit separately through a chain of neighborhood and regional offices.

The closest military recruiting outpost The Miami Herald could locate Tuesday afternoon with first-hand knowledge of the new rule was Douglas Smith in Fort Knox, Ky., spokesman for the headquarters of the Army's Recruiting Command, whose soldiers recruit in South Florida.

Under the old rule, recruiters since 1993 were forbidden to ask an applicant if he or she had engaged in homosexual activity. A recruit who offered up that background would be shown the door, denied the opportunity to fill out the paperwork.

Monday's change, said Smith, means ``we are currently processing them for enlistment if they are otherwise qualified..''

The Pentagon issued the formal announcement, or ``guidance,'' on Monday, he said.

Recruiters now are supposed to help a candidate fill out an application if he or she meets all the other basic requirements -- such as age, education and physical fitness.

A California-based U.S. district court judge, Virginia Phillips, ordered the military a week ago to stop enforcing its 17-year-old ban on service by openly gay or bisexual men and women. On Tuesday, she denied a Justice Department appeal for a stay, which sets the stage for a full-blown appeal.

The head of the American Civil Liberties Union picked up on the news to urge the White House to drop its appeal.

``The Obama administration can set this right if the attorney general simply refrains from pursuing the appeal of the judicial order banning the policy,'' said Anthony Romero, ACLU executive director.

Meantime, Navy Chief Gabe Puello, a South Florida public affairs officer, referred all questions back to the Defense Department. ``I cannot comment on this,'' he said.

At Florida National Guard headquarters, a flummoxed spokesman conceded that the word hadn't reached there, either.

``The bottom line is that we will adjust as we get further guidance,'' said Lt. Col. Ron Tittle. ``But all the recruiters have not been notified at this time.''

Judging from what he'd seen on the news, he said, ``if someone openly says, `OK, I'm homosexual or gay, we're not going to say, `No, we're not going to take you.' ''

But, ``so far, our leadership has not gotten the exact information.''

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