Pentagon: No Lasting Harm In Repealing 'Don't Ask'

A new report by the Pentagon says repealing the "don't ask, don't tell" policy would have no long-term impact on the military's effectiveness. Defense Secretary Robert Gates told reporters Tuesday that most concerns associated with repealing the 17-year-old ban on gays serving openly could be addressed through increased training and education. For more, host Robert Siegel talks to NPR's Rachel Martin.

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Guy Raz.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

The Pentagon released a much-anticipated report today on the possible effects of repealing the controversial Dont Ask, Dont Tell law. That's the policy of banning gays from serving openly in the military. And the conclusion of the report is, repealing the law would have no significant long-term impact on the effectiveness of U.S. forces. The survey also found that while most troops support repealing the law, 30 percent still say it's a bad idea.

NPR's Rachel Martin has been covering the story, and she joins me now from the Pentagon. Rachel, what exactly was the Pentagon trying to learn with this survey? What were the goals of this review?

RACHEL MARTIN: Well, Robert, they were trying to measure the impact - the potential impact of repealing Don't Ask, Don't Tell. And that really meant three things: trying to gauge the potential impact on military effectiveness - what impact would it make on U.S. forces' ability to engage in combat, and to be an effective force? Also, unit cohesion; how would it affect an individual unit's dynamic? And finally, retention - would repealing Dont Ask, Dont Tell result in some kind of exodus in the force?

They wanted to make sure none of those would take a hit if Dont Ask, Dont Tell is repealed. It's obviously a sensitive time - drawing down forces in Iraq, and ramping up combat forces in Afghanistan. So the Pentagon wanted to make sure none of these would be damaged.

SIEGEL: And the big finding here: Most service members say they're fine with the idea of repealing Don't Ask, Don't Tell.

MARTIN: Indeed. It's important to walk through some of the most important numbers. The Pentagon sent out 400,000 surveys, Robert, to people in uniform; 145,000 of them responded. And out of that number, 70 percent said that allowing gays to serve openly would have a positive, mixed or no effect at all. Sixty-nine percent said they have served with a co-worker that they believed to be gay. But there is what the Pentagon calls a significant minority of people who oppose the idea of gays serving openly. That's - 30 percent of respondents felt that way.

And the number is higher among combat branches. Those are the folks in the trenches, fighting wars. That number is 48 percent in the Army, 58 percent in the Marines.

SIEGEL: And does this - does the study say what those people - the ones who have concerns - what their concerns are with repealing Don't Ask, Don't Tell?

MARTIN: Well, the task force evaluating this said they repeatedly heard views that allowing openly gay service members would lead to overt effeminacy among men and homosexual promiscuity, even harassment and fears of sexual or romantic advances. And people were also concerned about an overall erosion of standards or conduct. Again, this is coming primarily from combat troops, most of whom have never served with someone who is gay.

But when those troops were asked if they have served with someone they believed to be gay, the level of comfort moving forward with repeal was around 90 percent. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates told reporters he respects all of those concerns that some troops might have, but he believes the report proves repeal can move forward. Let's take a listen.

Secretary ROBERT GATES (Defense Department): This can be done, and should be done, without posing a serious risk to military readiness. However, these findings do lead me to conclude that an abundance of care and preparation is required if we are to avoid a disruptive and potentially dangerous impact on the performance of those serving at the tip of the spear in America's wars.

MARTIN: Robert, the takeaway today being, the secretary of Defense says repeal can happen, but there needs to be significant time to train and prepare forces for that change.

SIEGEL: And what's the next step in this process?

MARTIN: Well, the next step - Secretary Gates is now urging Congress to repeal. But again, that'll be up to Congress to see if they can push that through.

SIEGEL: OK, thank you, Rachel. NPR's Rachel Martin at the Pentagon.

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