USA — ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ Surveys Hit Servicemembers’ Inboxes

WASHINGTON, July 7, 2010 — At noon today, Defense Depart­ment offi­cials e‑mailed sur­veys to 400,000 ser­vice­mem­bers as part of a spe­cial review to pre­pare the mil­i­tary for a poten­tial repeal of the so-called “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law that bans gays and les­bians from open­ly serv­ing, Pen­ta­gon offi­cials announced today.

Army Gen. Carter F. Ham, com­man­der of U.S. Army Europe, and Jeh John­son, the Pentagon’s top lawyer, head the review pan­el that’s assess­ing the cur­rent law.

“The voice of the ser­vice­mem­bers is still vital­ly impor­tant,” the gen­er­al said, not­ing that although amend­ments to the cur­rent law were approved by leg­is­la­tors in May, law­mak­ers still require the Pen­ta­gon review.

“This is draft reg­u­la­tion, it is not yet enact­ed into law, and there are sev­er­al hur­dles yet to come,” Ham said.

The group has been meet­ing with troops and fam­i­ly mem­bers since Feb­ru­ary. Sur­veys also were dis­trib­uted because time and finan­cial con­straints pre­clud­ed meet­ing with every sin­gle mem­ber, Ham explained in a recent Pen­ta­gon Chan­nel inter­view.

The sur­veys will give the pan­el a base­line of infor­ma­tion that best rep­re­sents the military’s 2.2 mil­lion ser­vice­mem­bers and their fam­i­lies, Ham said, stress­ing the impor­tance of ser­vice­mem­ber feed­back.

Engag­ing the force may be more impor­tant now than before the amend­ments were passed, Ham said.

Half of the sur­veys went to active-duty ser­vice­mem­bers, and half were sent to the reserve com­po­nents. Troops who received the sur­veys were select­ed based on age, rank, ser­vice, com­po­nent, mil­i­tary spe­cial­ties, edu­ca­tion, mar­i­tal sta­tus and oth­er fac­tors to ensure broad and thor­ough feed­back on a poten­tial repeal, Ham said.

The work­ing group also plans to con­tin­ue meet­ing with ser­vice­mem­bers and fam­i­lies, Ham said. He and John­son have met with troops at “a large vari­ety of bases, posts, camps and sta­tions around the coun­try,” the gen­er­al said, adding that they’re plan­ning to meet with troops sta­tioned over­seas as well. Such ses­sions have proven invalu­able to the work­ing group, Ham added.

“What these ses­sions do afford is an oppor­tu­ni­ty for Mr. John­son and myself to speak direct­ly to ser­vice­mem­bers, to hear in their own words what their assess­ment of the impact of repeal of the cur­rent law would be should Con­gress decide to take that action,” he said. “Those ses­sions pro­vide us con­text. They pro­vide us sub­stance to what we know we will get sta­tis­ti­cal­ly from the sur­vey and put it in real terms of how real ser­vice­mem­bers feel about this.”

An online inbox also is avail­able for mil­i­tary and civil­ian mem­bers of the Defense Depart­ment. Troops can log into with their com­mon access card to pro­vide their input. This site is not con­fi­den­tial; how­ev­er, direc­tions from the site, as well as in the sur­vey, are pro­vid­ed for mem­bers who wish to con­tin­ue a “con­fi­den­tial dia­logue” with non-Defense Depart­ment mem­bers of the work­ing group, the gen­er­al said.

Once ser­vice­mem­bers enter the con­fi­den­tial site, they will be giv­en an untrace­able PIN num­ber they then can use to log on from any com­put­er.

This tool will allow gay and les­bian ser­vice­mem­bers to remain anony­mous and estab­lish con­fi­den­tial com­mu­ni­ca­tion, Ham explained. It’s avail­able to all ser­vice­mem­bers, he added, because some may not feel com­fort­able pro­vid­ing can­did remarks.

“It is vital­ly impor­tant that ser­vice­mem­bers con­tin­ue to be open and frank and total­ly hon­est with us in their feed­back,” Ham said. “That cer­tain­ly has been the case to date, whether it’s been a large-group ses­sion or a small group or the online inbox. The ser­vice­mem­bers and their fam­i­lies have been invalu­able to Mr. John­son and myself.

“We need that to con­tin­ue in order to do our jobs and be rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the force as we address the sig­nif­i­cant pol­i­cy mat­ters that would fol­low repeal of this law, if that is what Con­gress decides to do,” the gen­er­al said.

Also, 150,000 sur­veys will be mailed to mil­i­tary spous­es by the end of the month, Ham said. Ham stressed the impor­tance of prompt­ly com­plet­ing and return­ing the sur­veys. The hope, he said, is that that all of the sur­veys will be sub­mit­ted with­in 45 days of receipt, he said.

The work­ing group’s final report is due to Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates by Dec. 1.

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)