USA — Joint Chiefs Vice Chairman Recommends ‘Don’t Ask’ Repeal

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)

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