Best Defense

Does the Congress give a damn about what people in the military think?

By Donna McAleer Best Defense giant slalom correspondent A few days ago Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen announced the results of the Pentagon’s Comprehensive Working Group Review of "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell". The 10-month study led by Army Gen. Carter Ham and DOD General Counsel Jeh ...

U.S. military
U.S. military

By Donna McAleer
Best Defense giant slalom correspondent

A few days ago Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen announced the results of the Pentagon’s Comprehensive Working Group Review of "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell". The 10-month study led by Army Gen. Carter Ham and DOD General Counsel Jeh C. Johnson concluded that the repeal of the 1993 ban on gays serving openly in the military might have some short-term, isolated disruptions; but there would be no long term or negative impacts on the military.

This particular study, No. 23, is the most comprehensive to date. Input came from 115,000 service members and 44,000 military spouses who responded to surveys. Another 72,000 service members commented through a website set up by DOD and the Pentagon held meetings at 51 U.S. military bases around the world where 24,000 more troops discussed the issue. The purpose of service member input was as Secretary Gates said to engage the troops and gain an understanding of attitudes should the law be changed. It was not to vote on the issue. Voting in the military is antithetical to its very nature.

Gates said, "The concerns of combat troops as expressed in the survey do not present an insurmountable barrier to successful repeal of DADT. This can and should be done without posing a serious risk to military readiness."

Gates emphasized that the greatest risk would be not to act on this and on our own terms before forced to do so by the federal courts. He recommended that the Senate pass this legislation and send it to the president for signature before the end of this year. "It is only a matter of time," he said:

Before the federal courts are drawn once more into the fray, with the very real possibility that this change would be imposed immediately by judicial fiat — by far the most disruptive and damaging scenario I can imagine, and the one most hazardous to military morale, readiness and battlefield performance." He continued by saying that as with anything in the military, training, education and above all strong and principled leadership is required for successful implementation.

Supporting the results of this comprehensive review, Adm. Mullen, said, "It used to be personal opinion that we get rid of this. It is now professional opinion we get rid of this."

I believe numbers I’ve seen estimating that more than 65,000 gays serve in the Armed Forces. To date more than 12,500 service members have been forced out of the military because of DADT.

We don’t need another committee or group analyzing this issue. From a professional standpoint, the right thing to do is to repeal DADT. Gay and lesbian services members should have the right to serve their country without concern and without having to hide in fear of retribution.

If any senator really was waiting on this comprehensive review from the military to decide how to vote, the review is now available. So my question today is:

Does the Congress of the United States really care what the military thinks? 

Prove it.

Donna McAleer of Park City, Utah, is a West Point graduate, a former Army officer and the author of Porcelain on Steel: Women of West Point’s Long Gray Line (Fortis Publishing, 2010).

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. @tomricks1

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