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Joint Chiefs Vice Chairman Recommends ‘Don’t Ask’ Repeal

By Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 3, 2010 – American servicemembers “think in terms of mission accomplishment and look beyond issues of race, religion, gender and, frankly, sexual orientation,” the nation’s No. 2 military officer told Congress today.

Marine Corps Gen. James E. Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the service chiefs testified during the second day of Senate Armed Services Committee hearings following the release of the Defense Department’s report on the impact of possible repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law.

“If the law is repealed, implementation will require the deliberate and disciplined attention of leaders at all levels,” Cartwright said. “It is my view implementation of a new department policy would involve manageable risk with regard to military effectiveness, even during the high tempo of wartime operations.”

Cartwright said while combat troops’ anticipation of negative impacts on unit cohesion in the event of repeal is a concern, actual experience indicates such disruption would be minimal.

“What stands out to me when reviewing the report is whether assigned to combat arms or supporting units, servicemembers who have actually served with people known or suspected of being homosexual ... have almost universally experienced little or no disruption,” he said.

Cartwright said implementing a repeal of the law that bans gays from serving openly in the military will be challenging, adding that managing such a systemic change may best be done while the country is at war.

“Periods of reduced activity can create conditions wherein the challenges associated with making a change of any kind [seem] enormous,” he said.

In times of conflict, the forces’ focus is on the war effort, the general said.

“When [servicemembers] are engaged in combat operations, they rely on the warrior ethos of their fellow servicemen and women,” Cartwright said. “The character and capabilities of the individual become the focal point, not presumed or known attitudes or lifestyles.”

The findings of the report, he said, seem to confirm this view.

The vice chairman echoed yesterday’s testimony by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in expressing concern over the possibility that a court could strike down the law.

“My greatest concern - should the law change through the judicial process - is the department may lose its ability to transition in a way that permits a managed implementation,” he said.

Cartwright also said the military services’ strength lies, in part, in how they reflect the nation’s diversity and its ability to unite under the rule of law to pursue national interests.

The character and appeal of the U.S. armed forces lies in its equality, opportunity, and the inclusive character of our organizational ethos,” Cartwright said. “Being more inclusive improves the institution as a whole.”

Cartwright also stressed the importance of military leadership in leading a possible change in law affecting the forces.

“My faith in our leadership from top to bottom and the fair-minded temperament of the American people, the reputational benefit derived from being a force defined by honesty and inclusiveness rather than by concealment causes me to favor repeal of Title 10, U.S. Code 654, and the associated DOD policy known as ‘Don't Ask, Don't Tell,’" he said.

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Marine Corps Gen. James E. Cartwright

Related Sites:
Special Report: Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell


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The opinions expressed in the following comments do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Department of Defense.

12/4/2010 3:10:09 PM
As a veteran and retired officer of two services, it seems like an easier first step in solving this issue would be to allow gays to serve openly the same way women serve today in the military: in only non-combat positions. Although that wouldn't protect them from danger (a lot of women have been killed in support roles in Iraq), it would resolve most of the front-line concerns by the Marines and Army. Gays who want to serve in combat roles have the option of not coming out. It's not a perfect solution, but a simple, reasonable first step toward total openness.
- Bill Kaufmann, Tacoma, WA

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