Washington (CNSNews.com) – Given the U.S. involvement in the Afghanistan war, this is not the right time to repeal the law that bans homosexuals from serving in the military, Army, Air Force, and Marine chiefs told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Friday.
At the same time, heads of the Navy and U.S. Coast Guard, while expressing concerns about possible backlash, joined the vice-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staffs in telling the Senate panel that Congress should move to repeal the law.
The three who voiced opposition to abolishing the law did say they would comply if Congress moves to repeal the statue.
“Based on what I know about the very tough fight in Afghanistan, the almost singular focus as they train up and deploy into theater, the necessary tightly woven culture of those combat forces that we are asking so much of at this time, and finally the direct feedback from the [Pentagon] survey, my recommendation is that we should not implement repeal at this time,” said Gen. James Amos, the commandant of the Marine Corps.
Nevertheless, he later said, “despite the challenges … at the end of the day we are Marines. Should Congress change the law then our nation’s Marine Corps will faithfully support the law.”
Amos said the survey conducted by the Pentagon showed that overturning the ban would be disruptive to combat forces on the ground in Afghanistan.
“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,” he told the panel. “We asked for their opinion and they gave it to us. Their message is that the potential exists for disruption to the successful execution of our current combat mission, should repeal be implemented at this time.”
Alluding to the survey, the Marine chief said, “Approximately 45 percent of Marines surveyed view the repeal negatively regarding unit effectiveness, unit readiness, and cohesion.”
He continued, “Of particular concern to me is that roughly 56 percent of combat arms Marines voiced negative concerns. Negative benchmarks for combat arms Marines ranged between 66 percent for unit effectiveness and 58 percent for cohesion.”
The survey in question is the one that the Pentagon released this week. It was aimed at gauging the impact of repealing the law among military members without directly asking for a position on whether or not to abolish it.
Army chief of staff Gen. George Casey Jr. agreed that the law should not be repealed in a time of war.
“Implementation of the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ would be a major cultural and policy change in the middle of a war,” he said.
The Pentagon survey “clearly states that over 40 percent of our combat arms soldiers believe that the presence of a gay service member in their unit would have a negative impact on the unit’s effectiveness, on the trust that the soldiers feel for each other and on their morale,” Casey added.
He went on to say that the repeal of the law “in the near term will 1) add another level of stress to an already stretched force; 2) be more difficult in combat arms units; and 3) be more difficult for the Army than the report suggests.”
However, Casey also said, “properly implemented, I do not envision that a repeal of ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ will keep us from accomplishing our worldwide missions, including combat operations.”
Air Force chief of staff Gen. Norton Schwartz, who agrees that the law should not be repealed at this time, was more specific as to when the statute should be overturned.
“It’s difficult for me as a member of the Joint Chiefs to recommend placing any additional discretionary demands on our leadership cadres in Afghanistan at this particularly demanding time,” Schwartz told the Senate panel.
“I therefore recommend deferring full implementation and certification until 2012, while initiating training and education efforts soon after you take a decision to repeal.”
Referring to the survey, he said, “The DOD study confirms that Air Force attitudes run roughly 70-30 towards those who see positive mix or no effect with respect to allowing open service by gay and lesbian airmen in the Air Force. The favorability distribution runs slightly higher for the spouse survey and about 75-25 and lower for close combat Air Force skill sets at about 60-40.”
Vice-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Marine Gen. James Cartwright, chief of Navy operations Adm. Gary Roughead, and Coast Guard commandant Adm. Robert Papp Jr., all agreed that Congress should move to repeal the ban.
Although they did voice some concerns, they also said they could be dealt with.
“Should the current law be repealed, it is my view implementation of a new Department policy would involve manageable risk in regards to military effectiveness – even during the high tempo of wartime operations,” Cartwright stated in his prepared remarks for the hearing.
During an earlier Armed Forces Committee hearing, on Thursday, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen stated in his prepared remarks, “I find the argument that war is not the time to change to be antithetical with our own experience since 2001. War does not stifle change; it demands it. It does not make change harder; it facilitates it.”
Reacting to the opposition from some of the military chiefs, Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.), the main sponsor of the Congressional act that would repeal the law, told CNSNews.com, “I thought it was a good day of testimony for those of us who want to repeal ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ because though there was some opposition there was some strong support among [the military chiefs].”
“Half of them [including Vice-Chairman Cartwright] supported repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, two said they’re a little worried about the consequences, but if they had time they could do it,” added Lieberman.
He continued, “but you know they all said that if we repeal the law, they’ll make it work and that the repeal language as we have it in our bill gives them plenty of time, working with the Secretary of Defense, to repeal ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ in a way that it mitigates or eliminates any of the risks they’re worried about.”
Lieberman indicated that he has the votes to pass the repeal. Conversely, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the ranking-member of the panel that held the hearing who has been leading the fight against repeal, on the other hand, said he agrees with the military chiefs who testified that this is not the right time to abolish the law.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Mullen have indicated that they would not certify the military as ready to implement a repeal of the law until the military can prepare post-repeal policies and regulations and has initiated an education and training program for the forces.
The law in question is U.S. Code Title 10, Subsection 654. It was signed by President Bill Clinton in 1993. ("Don't Ask, Don't Tell" is a separate Clinton policy directive established in December 1993.)