By LOLITA C. BALDOR, Associated Press
WASHINGTON -- The Navy plans to finish training its sailors on the new law allowing gays to serve openly by the end of June, a schedule the Navy secretary said Tuesday that he is comfortable they can meet.
Navy Secretary Ray Mabus told The Associated Press that he has been assured by Navy leaders that key commanders and training teams can be ready to go by the end of April, and they will train their sailors by June 30.
The Navy is the first of the military services to release its training schedule and plans.
The Armed Services' plans to implement the new law were due to Defense Secretary Robert Gates last Friday. Final implementation will go into effect 60 days after the president and his senior defense advisers certify that lifting the ban won't hurt troops' ability to fight.
Periodic assessments of how the training is going will help determine when and if certification can be done.
"I'm comfortable with both the Navy and Marine Corps, that we can do this and get the training done," Mabus said in an interview.
The Navy-wide message was posted on a naval website and also transmitted to sailors.
In it, Adm. Gary Roughead, chief of naval operations, set goals to finish the training that are about a week earlier than the final deadlines. The goal to finish initial training of the commanders is April 23, and the goal for full training is June 17.
He said three-person teams, led by a captain, will do the bulk of the training in face-to-face sessions. Sailors in remote locations will be able to access electronic or Web-based training.
The message posted Tuesday followed an earlier video message from Roughead to the force.
In the video he said it's important for sailors to understand what the change will mean to them, to their families and the Navy. "No one is being asked to change their moral or religious beliefs," he said in the video.
Gates has asked for progress updates every two weeks. He has said he wants the military to move ahead carefully, but expeditiously, to end the 17-year-old "don't ask, don't tell" policy instituted during the Clinton administration.
President Barack Obama has said the repeal will be finalized by the end of this year. Military leaders have agreed with that goal, but also have warned that if unexpected problems arise, they can't guarantee completion by then.