With less than two weeks until the release of a Pentagon report on how to respond to a repeal of the 1993 law banning openly gay men and lesbians from military service, the Navy’s top officer said he is reviewing the findings and will soon deliver his recommendations to Defense Secretary Robert Gates.
Adm. Gary Roughead, the chief of naval operations, praised the extensive review, which was launched in March after President Obama declared his intention to work with Congress this year to repeal the law.
The review, conducted by a high-level study group whose report is due to Gates Dec. 1, is aimed at preparing for a possible end of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” ban on openly homosexual military personnel. It will include recommendations on training and policy, drawn in large part on results of a survey sent to more than 400,000 military personnel and 150,000 spouses.
“I think the survey, without question, was the most expansive survey of the American military that’s ever been undertaken,” Roughead said during an interview Saturday aboard his plane. “I think the work that has been done is extraordinary.”
Roughead, who was returning to Washington from Wilmington, N.C., where he attended the commissioning of the newest Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, said he is still looking over the report before determining his “thoughts and views,” which he will share in the coming days with Gates.
“I’ve done a review [of the report] and now I’m just trying to put it all in context,” he said.
As the Pentagon wraps up the months-long review, Roughead’s statements provide insight into how seriously many top officials are taking the report and the weight they are giving the survey of active-duty troops and their families.
The four-star admiral joined the chiefs of the other military services in May in sending individual letters to Senate Armed Services ranking member John McCain, R-Ariz., imploring lawmakers to delay acting on the issue until the Pentagon completed its review. This would enable the services to plan on an orderly implementation of a change in the law, they said.
Both Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, support ending the ban on openly gay servicemembers. But the Marine Corps commandant, Gen. James Amos, has already made clear that he personally opposes repealing the law.
In written testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee Sept. 21, Amos called the law a “reasonable compromise between the unique requirements of military service and the aspirations of qualified citizens who are interested in military service.” He added that he feared that repealing the law would disrupt unit cohesion and serve as a “distraction” to Marines now engaged in combat operations overseas.
Roughead said the review allows the military to look at the affects of repealing the law in a “broad context” -- including any effects it may have on personnel policies and accommodations for troops.
But he added that the decision on whether to change the law is ultimately rests with Congress. “I’m eager to see where it goes on the Hill,” said Roughead, who previously served as head of the Navy’s legislative liaison operation.
The repeal language is attached to the House-passed fiscal 2011 defense authorization bill, as well as the Senate Armed Services Committee’s version of the measure. But the bill has stalled in the Senate, in part because of some lawmakers’ concerns about repealing the law.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said last week he plans to bring up the defense bill during the lame-duck session. Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., meanwhile, said he plans to hold hearings on the repeal of “don’t ask don’t tell” in early December, providing members an opportunity to review the report and probe Pentagon leaders on its findings before the defense bill goes to the floor.
As it concludes its review, the Pentagon is supporting the repeal language in the authorization bill, which requires the defense officials to certify that ending the gay ban would not hurt unit cohesion, troop morale or combat readiness.
“We are right now finishing the report, working with the chiefs, working with the service secretaries, getting their input, finalizing this report, and at the same time, you know, formulating the way ahead for this department to proceed come December the 1st,” Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said.