USA — Repeal Would Require Training, Press Secretary Says

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)

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