'Don't Ask' Should Stay Law For Now, Top Officers Say

Don't Ask, Don't Tell Hearing i i

Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Amos testifies Friday to the Senate Armed Services Committee about the military’s ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy. David Gilkey/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption David Gilkey/NPR
Don't Ask, Don't Tell Hearing

Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Amos testifies Friday to the Senate Armed Services Committee about the military’s ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy.

David Gilkey/NPR

Some of the nation's top uniformed officers told a Senate panel Friday that repealing "don't ask, don't tell" would be divisive to wartime troops in the field and recommended instead that any change to the law should be pushed to 2012.

The testimony stood in sharp contrast to that given Thursday by their boss — Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Changing the law now "has strong potential for disruption at the small unit level, as it will no doubt divert leadership attention away from an almost singular focus of preparing units for combat," the Marine commandant, Gen. James Amos, told the Senate Armed Services Committee.

President Obama has called on Congress to overturn the current policy. Mullen and Defense Secretary Robert Gates agreed and ordered a 10-month study looking at the attitudes of service members toward gay troops.

Released earlier this week, the study found that a minority of troops — about 30 percent — predicted potential problems if the measure was repealed. But according to the study, 56 percent of Marines surveyed that are serving in combat roles thought repeal was likely to have a negative impact on readiness and cohesion.

"I cannot reconcile, nor turn my back, on the negative perceptions held by our Marines who are most engaged in the hard work of day-to-day operations in Afghanistan," Amos told the Senate panel.

Army Chief of Staff Gen. George Casey, who led the Iraq war under former president George W. Bush, said the policy shift would "add another level of stress to any already stretched force" and be more difficult on the Army, particularly its combat units, than a recent Pentagon study suggests.

The assessment of Amos and Casey provided ammunition to Arizona Sen. John McCain and other Republicans who oppose repealing the 1993 law that prohibits gays and lesbians from serving openly.

On Friday, McCain reiterated his remarks at the previous day's testimony, saying that the input of the service chiefs should be given special consideration.

"It is the job of the service chiefs to ensure that our military is ready and able to win the nation's wars," he said.

On Thursday, Mullen recommended repealing the law, saying it is important to do so in an orderly fashion rather than have to implement a quick change in policy if the courts should overturn "don't ask."

Mullen said wartime is an ideal time for repeal. "War does not stifle change; it demands it," he said. "It does not make it harder; it facilitates it."

Both Amos and Casey said that if the law was repealed, their forces would manage to make the change. "After all, Marines are Marines," Amos said.

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz predicted a "moderate" risk to his force, but said he "could not agree with the assessment that short-term effectiveness is low."

Schwartz recommended deferring any policy changes until 2012, a view shared by Amos.

The head of naval operations, Adm. Gary Roughead, said it's likely that some highly trained combat sailors might refuse to re-enlist in protest of the personnel change. But, he said, he did not think any long-term damage would occur if certain steps were taken, such as increased training, and he recommended repeal.

McCain has dismissed the military study as flawed because it did not ask troops whether they thought the law should be repealed, focusing instead on the impact a repeal might have.

Marine Gen. James Cartwright, who as vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs is directly subordinate to Mullen, said change at a time of war might actually be preferable because troops are focused on their mission.

"The challenges associated with making a change of any kind that seem enormous during periods of inactivity become less distracting when you are defending your nation and comrades," he said.

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