USA — Gates Addresses Troops on ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ Repeal

WASHINGTON — Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates told troops world­wide today that any repeal of the so-called “don’t ask don’t tell” law will be delayed until the ongo­ing Defense Depart­ment high-lev­el review is com­plet­ed, and only after he, the pres­i­dent and the chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff all can cer­ti­fy that the depart­ment is ready to make the change with­out hurt­ing unit cohe­sion, mil­i­tary readi­ness, mil­i­tary effec­tive­ness, and recruit­ing and reten­tion.

Gates record­ed a spe­cial mes­sage that will be broad­cast on the Amer­i­can Forces Radio and Tele­vi­sion Ser­vice and the Pen­ta­gon Chan­nel to speak direct­ly to ser­vice­mem­bers and their fam­i­lies about the moves toward repeal of the law that bars gay men and les­bians from serv­ing open­ly in the mil­i­tary.

“There’s been a lot of polit­i­cal pos­tur­ing and maneu­ver­ing on this issue this week, and the sec­re­tary want­ed to com­mu­ni­cate direct­ly to the troops about what this all means to them,” Pen­ta­gon Press Sec­re­tary Geoff Mor­rell said. “He want­ed to make it clear that the department’s review of how to smart­ly imple­ment a change in the law is more impor­tant than ever, and their par­tic­i­pa­tion in it is absolute­ly crit­i­cal to its suc­cess.”

The House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives passed an amend­ment to the Nation­al Defense Autho­riza­tion Bill yes­ter­day that would allow gay men and les­bians to serve open­ly. The Sen­ate Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee passed a sim­i­lar amend­ment last night.

Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma said he is pleased with the con­gres­sion­al actions. He has long favored repeal­ing the law, in which has been in effect since 1994. “Key to suc­cess­ful repeal will be the ongo­ing Defense Depart­ment review, and as such, I am grate­ful that the amend­ments … will ensure that the Depart­ment of Defense can com­plete that com­pre­hen­sive review that will allow our mil­i­tary and their fam­i­lies the oppor­tu­ni­ty to inform and shape the imple­men­ta­tion process,” he said in a writ­ten state­ment released by the White House last night.

Oba­ma said being the com­man­der in chief is his great­est hon­or. “This leg­is­la­tion will help make our armed forces even stronger and more inclu­sive by allow­ing gay and les­bian sol­diers to serve hon­est­ly and with integri­ty,” he said.

Any change in the law will take time, Gates said in his record­ed mes­sage. “The leg­isla­tive process is long and com­plex,” he said. “While it appears like­ly that Con­gress will even­tu­al­ly change the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ law, we do not expect the leg­is­la­tion that would do this to be pre­sent­ed to the pres­i­dent for months – per­haps not until the end of the year.”

The amend­ment is the result of a com­pro­mise worked out between the admin­is­tra­tion and Con­gress. It allows the mil­i­tary to revoke the “don’t ask, don’t tell” pro­vi­sions 60 days after a mil­i­tary study group chaired by Jeh C. John­son, the Defense Department’s gen­er­al coun­sel, and Army Gen. Carter F. Ham, com­man­der of U.S. Army Europe, presents its report in Decem­ber.

The leg­is­la­tion is a deferred repeal, Gates stressed. “It would repeal ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,’ but only after — I repeat, after — the ongo­ing Depart­ment of Defense high-lev­el review is com­plet­ed, and only after the pres­i­dent, the chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and I all can cer­ti­fy that we are ready to make this change with­out hurt­ing unit cohe­sion, mil­i­tary readi­ness, mil­i­tary effec­tive­ness, and recruit­ing and reten­tion,” Gates said.

As the leg­isla­tive process con­tin­ues, noth­ing will change in cur­rent poli­cies and prac­tices, the sec­re­tary said. “Cur­rent law, poli­cies and reg­u­la­tions remain in place, and we are oblig­at­ed to abide by them as before,” he said.

The vote in the House and at the Sen­ate com­mit­tee makes the results of the Defense Depart­ment study even more impor­tant, Gates said. The pan­el will con­duct a thor­ough and fact-based assess­ment of the impact of the poten­tial law change and will devel­op “an imple­men­ta­tion plan that min­i­mizes any pos­si­ble dis­rup­tion to the department’s mis­sion and on-going oper­a­tions,” he added.

Gates urged ser­vice­mem­bers to par­tic­i­pate in the review. “We need to hear from you, and your fam­i­lies, so that we can make these judg­ments in the most informed and effec­tive man­ner,” the sec­re­tary said. “So please let us know how to do this right.”

He asked all ser­vice­mem­bers to stay informed on this issue, but to not let it dis­tract them from the “crit­i­cal mis­sion to defend our coun­try and our duty to uphold the val­ues rep­re­sent­ed by the uni­form you wear,” he said.

The mes­sage will play on AFRTS broad­cast out­lets over­seas and on the Pen­ta­gon Chan­nel in the Unit­ed States.

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