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The Pentagon is scheduled to release a survey of service members and their families tomorrow, on the question of repealing Don't Ask, Don't Tell. Most don't care if the law that bars gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military is repealed.
NPR's Tom Bowman reports that the branch most opposed to change in the policy, though, is the Marine Corps.
TOM BOWMAN: The Marines call themselves the few, the proud. They are called a kick-down-the-door force. They are almost eager to live in the dirt and mud, exposed to enemy fire for days or weeks at a time.
General JAMES CONWAY (Former Commandant, U.S. Marine Corps): We recruit a certain type of young American, pretty macho guy or gal that is willing to go fight and perhaps die for their country.
BOWMAN: That's General James Conway, who stepped down last month as the Marine Corps' top officer. But General Conway says there's one thing most Marines don't want to do.
Gen. CONWAY: We sometimes ask Marines what is their preference, and I can tell you that an overwhelming majority would like not to be roomed with a person who is openly homosexual.
BBOWMAN: Rooming Marines by twos - that's how the Corps builds camaraderie back in the United States, and forges what it calls unit cohesion. And it's at the center of Marine opposition to allowing gays to serve openly. Conway's successor, General James Amos, told Congress earlier this month that Don't Ask, Don't Tell should remain the law of the land. Allowing gays to serve openly could harm combat effectiveness.
Elaine Donnelly, of the Center for Military Readiness, says the Marine leadership is right to be concerned.
Ms. ELAINE DONNELLY (Center for Military Readiness): It would raise issues of sexuality and misconduct that do not exist right now. That is inherently disruptive, and I think the Marines instinctively know that.
BOWMAN: The Pentagon survey will reportedly show that about 40 percent of Marines are against gays serving openly, the highest among the services. That corresponds with private polls showing greater opposition among the Marines.
That doesn't surprise Brian Fricke, a former Marine sergeant who served in Iraq and worked on helicopters.
Mr. BRIAN FRICKE (Former U.S. Marine): It's just a very manly and machismo organization that traditionally, trying to incorporate anything different -females - they look at that as weakening the force.
BOWMAN: Is that the root of all of this, do you think?
Mr. FRICKE: I believe it is. I believe that there's a lot of misconceptions -that they don't know that the Marine to their left and right is gay, and that they've served with Marines who have fought and fought well and died with them and done the exact, same job.
BOWMAN: Fricke himself is gay. He decided not to re-enlist. And it was while on active duty that he revealed his secret to his family and his fellow Marines.
Mr. FRICKE: Most of them that I served with don't really care because they know that I was a good Marine. I did my job, and that's what important - can I get the mission accomplished? I love the Marine Corps. I enjoyed being a Marine. I just wanted to do my job, be a Marine, be the best man I could be.
BOWMAN: But senior Marines, one after another, have gone public and taken the lead against gays serving openly. Marine General Peter Pace, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a newspaper editorial board in 2007 that he supported Don't Ask, Don't Tel, and called homosexuality immoral. And earlier this year, retired Marine General Jack Sheehan linked a massacre of Muslims in the Balkans in the 1990s to the fact that Dutch troops allowed gays to serve openly. He later apologized.
Professor GARY SOLIS (Law Professor, Georgetown University): We see a strong anti-homosexual position among the Marine Corps leadership.
BOWMAN: Gary Solis is a law professor who served with the Marine Corps in Vietnam. He says those leaders may be out of sync with the new generation they lead.
Prof. SOLIS: They were raised in a culture not shared by today's younger Marines, who have grown up in a society where homosexuality doesn't have the connotations that it had back in the '70s and '80s and '90s - when today's Marine Corps senior leadership came up.
BOWMAN: Those younger Marines appear to be more supportive of change.
Tammy Shultz, an openly gay professor who teaches national security at the Marine Corps War College, says she's encouraged that more than half the Marine Corps supports repealing Don't Ask, Don't Tell.
Professor TAMMY SCHULTZ (U.S. Marine Corps War College): Sixty percent of Marines actually don't think this is a big issue. And those numbers are better than they were ever for desegregation, frankly.
BOWMAN: Desegregation: the 1948 order that scrapped separate units for black servicemen, and called for equal opportunity. Schultz says another hallmark of the Marines is discipline. Should Congress repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell, the Marines say they'll lead the way.
Tom Bowman, NPR News, Washington.
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