Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)
One day after the House of Representatives voted to repeal the ban on gay and bisexual people from serving openly in the military, Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, reaffirmed his support for changing the policy.
"The fundamental piece of that, for me, is the whole issue of integrity, and asking young people to come into a military and essentially live a lie in an institution that values integrity at the highest level," Mullen said, in an interview that will air on All Things Considered today.
Earlier this week, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates asked Congress to wait for the Pentagon to complete a comprehensive review of policy, known as "don't ask, don't tell," before acting further.
Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), the ranking minority member on the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC), which approved a similar measure yesterday, circulated letters from the Joint Chiefs, asking Congress to wait.
Like Gates, Mullen said that, if Congress repeals the ban, he certainly would follow its directive.
"I certainly respect the prerogatives of Congress to change the law," he said. "That's what they do. And ideally, I would've preferred the legislation await the outcome of the review, but I'm not in charge of that. I don't affect that."
Mullen, who would have to certify any policy change, said that unit readiness continues to be his chief concern:
Does it impact our readiness, our ability to do the mission? The issue of unit cohesion. Is it going to have any significant impacts on our recruiting, or on our retention?
And what about the policy change could affect readiness?
"There will be numerous policy issues that will be associated with this change that actually are being raised in the review right now," Mullen said, declining to enumerate any of them. "It would be a change that we would want to implement as smoothly as possible."
In February, Gates commissioned a review of the "don't ask, don't tell" policy, following the president's first State of the Union address. It is expected to be finished by the end of the year.
Mullen said that the military has been, and continues to be, eager to hear what veterans and active members of the armed services have to say about the ban. The Pentagon is also asking for feedback from military families. According to him, the purpose of the review is "to get the facts on the ground."
"I've seen resistance," Mullen said. "But I've also seen support."
Gates and Mullen have said that the review will provide valuable information about attitudes toward the ban, and how a policy change could be implemented.
"There just isn't any objective data out there," Mullen said. "There's no objective research out there with respect to our men and women who are so spectacular in what they do, and yet they're the ones that this policy change will affect the most, and that's what we're trying to make sure we have."
In the interview, Mullen said that, if Congress repeals the ban, he is confident the military could successfully apply the policy change.
"Given time and an understanding of what the issues are, this is a force that will really be able to make these kinds of changes when we get to that point," he told NPR's Michele Norris. "One of the things that we do very well is we follow the law. And there's not a leader among us that doesn't both do that and know that."
We will march off and carry out the law. And I believe we can do it and do it in a way that, in the long run, strengthens the force. But there's still a lot of work to do between now and the end of this review, and time to make sure at the end of the review that we're able to implement this change and implement it exceptionally well.