CAMP CASEY, South Korea — Input from individual servicemembers is vital to ensuring the Defense Department acts in a way that makes sense if Congress repeals the so-called “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law that bans gays from serving openly in the military, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates told soldiers here today.
The issue came up during a question-and-answer session with about 300 soldiers of the 2nd Infantry Division’s 1st Heavy Brigade Combat Team.
Gates noted that the Senate has passed a bill to change the law, but that the eventual result of the legislative process remains to be seen. In the meantime, he said, the Defense Department is conducting a complete review of what would be necessary if the law is repealed.
“If the law changes and we are told to implement it – and we will, if the law changes – then how do we do this in a way that makes sense? How do we identify beforehand the problems, the issues and the challenges that we’re going to face? The kind of training requirements we’re going to need, the kinds of changes in regulations, the impact on benefits – all of these things need to be addressed in advance,” the secretary told the soldiers. “And that’s where we want to hear from you all.”
Statistically, Gates said, some of the 300 soldiers on hand for his visit here had received a survey that was sent to 200,000 active-duty servicemembers and 200,000 more in the reserve components as part of the Defense Department’s review.
“It’s very important for us to hear from you your views on this,” he said, “and particularly the challenges and issues, or your support of your opposition, for that matter, because we need a better understanding of how to do this smart.
“I’ve told the Congress – I’ve been pretty blunt with them – there are two ways to carry out change: there’s a smart way, and there’s a stupid was,” he continued. “If the law changes and we carry out this change, I’m determined that we do it smart, and in a way that has the least possible impact on our force, on our families and on unit cohesion.”
The secretary said he had hoped that Congress would hold off on changing the law to allow the results of the Defense Department’s review to help in shaping the legislation. Although the Senate didn’t wait, he said, its legislation still allows the Defense Department to take its review into account in implementing repeal.
“We will be able to complete this review and do all the things necessary for smart implementation if the law changes without constraints of time,” Gates said. “So the compromise that they came up with was not my preferred option, but it is an option I think we can work with, because it won’t rush us to do something stupid.”
In addition to survey responses, the Pentagon’s review panel is gathering opinions at http://www.defense.gov/dadt, where anyone with a Defense Department common access card can weigh in on the issue.
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)