updated 12/21/2010 4:31:43 PM ET 2010-12-21T21:31:43

Gays and lesbians will be treated just like any other soldiers, sailors, airmen or marines, the new rules say. But commanders will have some flexibility when they believe it's needed to maintain order and discipline in their units.

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As the U.S. military begins to map out how it will implement the new edict allowing gays to serve openly, the first order of business is drafting the regulations. The rule changes under discussion won't dictate how troops feel about the change, but will strictly enforce how they act on it.

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action by the Congress. Fulfilling a 2008 campaign promise, President Barack Obama plans to sign the bill into law on Wednesday. But in letters to the troops over the weekend, the four military service chiefs warned that the ban is still in place, and will be for some time to come.

Story: 'Don't Ask' repealed, but restrictions remain

"The implementation and certification process will not happen immediately; it will take time," Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz said in an e-mail to airmen. "Meanwhile, the current law remains in effect. All Air Force members should conduct themselves accordingly."

In repeal, several murky areas
Recommendations to implement the repeal were outlined in a 67-page report last month, and now must be formed into concrete regulations. Defense officials said Monday that they still don't know how long it will take before the Pentagon completes its implementation plan and certifies the change will not damage combat readiness. Once certified, the implementation would begin 60 days later.

The report, however, provides a fairly detailed preview of what troops and the American public can expect, once the new rules are in place.

It puts the heaviest burden on commanders who will have to walk a fine line between enforcing the updated code of military conduct and recognizing when they may need to make some concessions.

Don't Ask Don't Tell repeal - How they voted

The plans call for strict and immediate action when the new rules are violated. But there is also an emphasis on educating troops who are having problems. For example, in a series of vignettes listed in the report, the first course of action is often counseling.

What if a recruiter refuses to process recruits who say they are gay? What about a sailor who requests a new sleeping area to get away from a gay roommate? Can a service member file a complaint against a chaplain who preaches against homosexuality? And can a gay or lesbian service member get leave to travel home when their partner is ill?

In each case the recommended process is careful and deliberate. The recruiter and the sailor should be counseled about the new rules — but in both cases commanders have the authority to approve a move if they believe it's necessary in order to maintain unit stability. And, yes, chaplains can still preach what they believe.

The health and social benefits, however, are a murky area that Pentagon officials say they are trying to work through.

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In some cases, service members may be able to designate a same-sex partner for benefits. In most cases, however, they are treated much like unmarried heterosexual couples. So, same-sex partners will probably not be able to share on-base housing, and commanders don't have to make allowances for same-sex couples when making duty assignments around the globe.

Pentagon: Ban still in effect
On Monday, Pentagon spokesman Marine Col. Dave Lapan was peppered with questions about the progress of the implementation plan and what it will say. He said he had no answers yet, as Pentagon officials are just beginning to pull the plan together.

But he also stressed that the ban on open service is still in effect, and any service member who decided to declare he or she was gay would risk enforcement of the current law — which calls for removal from service. Under a new process put in place by Defense Secretary Robert Gates, any discharges under the so-called don't ask, don't tell law now have to be approved by the service secretaries.

Gates has said the military will not drag out the implementation process, but it will move carefully and deliberately.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Pelosi leads DADT repeal ceremony

  1. Closed captioning of: Pelosi leads DADT repeal ceremony

    >>> and the repeal of don't ask, don't tell is coming closer to being the law. just a short time ago house speaker nancy pelosi signed the bill in what's called an enrollment ceremony. enrollment is the last step before the bill goes on to president obama . nbc news white house correspondent mike viqueira joins me now. so, mike, we're looking at possibly tomorrow for the president to sign it?

    >> reporter: definitely tomorrow. they've already scheduled it. it's at an auditorium blocks from here, at the 9:00 hour the president will sign it. a large signing ceremony as you saw on capitol hill moments ago. a big crowd in the capitol visitors center auditorium to see the speaker of the house , in her capacity as speaker of the house , nancy pelosi , to sign it. it gives it to the president as pro tem of the senate and it heads down pennsylvania avenue and the president will have the signing ceremony tomorrow. you heard kelly o'donnell talk about the 9/11 bill, the fate of that still uncertain. the s.t.a.r.t. treaty api pieppears to be over the top . robert gibbs in his briefing today very careful not to gloat. it's as if he's walking on eggshells, white house staff around here, unwilling to upset whatever good karma or good fortune has brought them this recent spate of legislative success. the tax bill last friday. that compromise brought with republicans. signing the don't ask, don't tell, yes, they were disappointed on the dream act , they'll try again for that in the coming year, although prospects for that are very uncertain. they're likely to get the s.t.a.r.t. treaty, the 9/11 bill still a question mark , yes, the republican senators are upset about the substance and the process, but it's clear at this point they simply don't have enough senators to agree with them. it requires two-thirds of the senate to get there, the president has been on the phone making calls all weekend. a little side note here, of course, we know that the first family went ahead without the president on their annual hawaiian holiday as scheduled on saturday. there was a lot of speculation that he'd head down the street to see the washington wizards , an nba team, to take on the miami heat . the secret service was there, the president canceled that according to gibbs so he could make calls. we expected to see the president saturday afternoon after the final passage or the big vote on don't ask, don't tell. he didn't do that ostensibly or at least we're told because he was putting pressures on senators on the s.t.a.r.t. treaty, apparently it paid off, and we're expecting to see a vote any time in the senate.

    >> all right, mike, thank you.


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