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.
“It is hard to foresee a time when the men and women of the U.S. military will be more focused and disciplined than they are today,” Cartwright said. “We must be prudent in our approach, but there is little to suggest that the issues associated with a change in the law and DOD policy will diminish if we wait on the uncertain promise of a less challenging future.”
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.
“While the percentage of ‘predictive’ negative effects was higher within the combat arms communities, it is important to note that the numbers in the report shift dramatically to the very positive when this same combat arms subgroup was asked about their actual experiences when serving in a unit with someone believed to be homosexual,” he said. “In terms of actual disruption experienced, as opposed to predicted disruption, the distinction between combat arms communities and the force as a whole is negligible.”
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.
“Difficult tasks are rarely well served by delay. It is hard to foresee a time when the men and women of the U.S. military will be more focused and disciplined than they are today,” he said.
In times of conflict, the forces’ focus is on the war effort, the general said.
“The challenges associated with making a change of any kind that seems enormous during periods of inactivity become less distracting when you are defending your nation and comrades,” Cartwright said. “The character of the individual becomes 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.
“In some respects, the risk we will encounter should the law and policy change will be driven by how the law and policy is changed,” he said. “Repealing the existing law by an act of Congress will enhance the department’s ability to manage risk.” If the law is rescinded through the judicial process, he added, the department’s ability to manage the risk of implementation is made more difficult.
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 the inclusivity, equality and opportunity resident in our organizational ethos,” Cartwright said. “Being more inclusive, in my view, will improve the institution as a whole.”
Cartwright also stressed the importance of military leadership in leading a possible change in law affecting the forces.
“It is a certainty that change brings challenge, but challenges demand leadership,” he said. “My faith in our leadership, … the fair-minded temperament of the American public, and the reputational benefit derived from being a force identified by honesty and inclusivity, rather than concealment, causes me to favor repeal of [the law] and revocation of the associated DOD policy known as ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’ ”
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)