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Gates: ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ to Get Broad Review

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 3, 2010 – A new panel assembled to review the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy that bans openly gay people from military service will consider the views of those affected throughout the chain of command, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates told Congress today.

The review also will consider the impact of a potential policy repeal on morale, unit cohesion and retention, he said.

Gates attempted to allay concerns within the House Armed Services Committee that the working group he announced yesterday will overlook getting input about a potential policy change from the troops themselves.

If there’s one thing he learned during his career -- as director of Central Intelligence, president of Texas A&M University and as defense secretary -- Gates said it was to get input from the people affected before imposing change.

“In each of those [positions], I have led and managed change. And I've done it smart, and I've done it stupid,” he told lawmakers. “Happily, I think, the stupid was early. But stupid was trying to impose a policy from the top without any regard for the views of the people who were going to be affected or the people who would have to effect the policy change.”

Gates said the working group, headed by Jeh Johnson, the Pentagon’s top lawyer, and Army Gen. Carter Ham, the commander of U.S. Army Europe, will review the full range of issues associated with a repeal to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

“One of the purposes of the review that I have directed [to] be undertaken by General Ham and by Jeh Johnson is precisely so we can understand not just the views and concerns of the [service] chiefs, but of our military people and their families,” he said.

“If you want lasting and effective change, you had better bring the people who are going to be affected by it into the discussion and get their views,” Gates said. “At a minimum, it will help you mitigate whatever negative consequences there are.”

The panel also will evaluate the impact of a policy change on military readiness and effectiveness, Gates said, including unit cohesion, morale, and retention, “so we can get some facts into this debate, or at least some data that we think is reliable and objective.”

As part of that, Gates said he will ask the Rand Corporation to update its 1993 study that led to the policy’s adoption, expanding the review to cover a broader range of issues.

“I think this review period is absolutely essential in terms of us understanding what we're doing; figuring out what the concerns are and the issues are, helping us figure out how to mitigate them so that if the Congress does vote to change this policy, we have an understanding of how to go about implementing in a way that minimizes whatever negative consequences there are,” Gates told legislators.

“We have set the goal,” he said, emphasizing that the decision ultimately will be Congress’ to make.

Should Congress change the policy, Gates said, it’s “vitally important” to be able to tell servicemembers that the change represents the view of the elected representatives of the United States of America.

Meanwhile, Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in a blog posted today that he still has questions about the impact of a policy change, but that he also personally supports a repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy.

“My personal belief is that allowing homosexuals to serve openly would be the right thing to do,” Mullen wrote in his blog. “I cannot escape being troubled by the fact that we have in place a policy which forces young men and women to lie about who they are in order to defend their fellow citizens. For me, it comes down to integrity -- theirs as individuals and ours as an institution.”

Mullen told Congress today he recognizes the issue is charged “with emotion and strongly held opinions and beliefs” that the panel will work through during the course of its assessment.

While declining to speak for the service chiefs, Mullen said the top concern for military leaders boils down to “the readiness and military effectiveness of the force.”

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Robert M. Gates
Navy Adm. Mike Mullen

Related Articles:
Gates Appoints Panel for Potential End of ‘Don’t Ask, Don't Tell’
Mullen’s Blog: My View on ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’

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