WASHINGTON, Dec. 1, 2010 — Training and education are key factors to overcoming resistance in the ranks if Congress repeals the law banning gays from serving openly in the military, Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell said today.
Morrell told MSNBC’s Chuck Todd and Savannah Guthrie that while some resistance exists among servicemembers, especially in combat units, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates doesn’t see it as insurmountable.
Officials yesterday released the report of a working group Gates appointed to investigate the ramifications of a possible repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law. Though the panel found that the overall risk associated with repeal would be low, Morrell said, it also cited a need for training and educating the force to be prepared for the change.
“If we take the measures that are outlined in the report — that is, training and educating the force to be prepared for this dramatic change — the secretary believes that although there clearly is some reticence among the combat arms units, those who have been fighting and dying over the past decade, it is not insurmountable, and that with the proper training and education, we can overcome that,” Morrell said.
Citing results of a survey the working group sent to 400,000 active and reserve-component servicemembers, Morrell noted that 80 to 90 percent of servicemembers who believe they have served with a gay servicemember in a combat arms unit believe it has had a very good, good or neither good nor bad impact on their unit.
“So there are many statistics in here, none of which we believe to be evidencing such problems that we cannot overcome them with training or education,” he said.
The working group also surveyed family members, and Morrell said getting a full range of input from military society was important for the working group in determining the best course of action should there be a repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law.
“Until we know the attitudes of the force — both the servicemembers and their families — we don’t know precisely what the issues are that we have to address through training and education,” he said.
The surveys, he added, helped to provide the necessary road map.
“We needed to survey the force to figure out what they were most concerned about [and] where we need the most work in terms of educating and training,” Morrell said. “What are going to be the biggest obstacles to a successful, least-disruptive change in this policy? We would not have known that had we not spent the last nine months and solicited 225,000 inputs from the force and their families.”
The decision to survey the opinions and attitudes of servicemembers and their families was not about putting the question to a vote, Morrell said. Rather, he explained, it was about finding out what challenges the Defense Department would face if President Barack Obama’s stated desire to repeal the law –- echoed by Gates and by Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff -– comes to pass.
“The president has made his position clear,” Morrell said. “The secretary [and] the chairman endorse it. Now we need to find out if the Congress acts on it, how best to go about implementing this change.”
The House of Representatives has passed legislation that would repeal the law once the president, the secretary of defense and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff certify in writing that new Defense Department regulations and policies related to repeal are consistent with unit cohesion, retention and recruitment.
The legislation requires Senate action before the president can sign it into law. Morrell wouldn’t speculate as to whether the Senate would act, but reiterated the view Gates and Mullen have stated repeatedly that congressional repeal would be preferable to a court simply striking down the law.
“The big fear here is that the courts take action and we are forced to do this precipitously, and that would be disruptive,” Morrell said. “The legislation as currently constituted requires certification from the secretary, the chairman and the president, which gives us the time to train and educate the force.”
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)