Gates: Little impact on military from gay policy

WASHINGTON (AP) - Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Thursday
reassured U.S. warfighters in Iraq that allowing gays to serve
openly in the military will have little impact on the armed forces,
an argument largely echoed by the top leaders of the Army, Air
Force, Marines and Navy.

Visiting troops at Camp Liberty in Baghdad, Gates was asked when
repeal of the 17-year-old policy commonly known as "don't ask,
don't tell" would occur and what its effect would be.

"My guess is you won't see much change at all because the whole
thrust of the training is you're supposed to go on treating
everybody like you're supposed to be treating everybody now, with
dignity, respect and discipline," Gates told the troops. "And the
same kind of military discipline that applies to - and regulations
that apply to heterosexual relationships - will apply in terms of
homosexual relationships."

In Washington, leaders from the four services testified before
the House Armed Services Committee on the implementation of the new policy. Several expressed reservations last December when a divided Congress voted to repeal the law and President Barack Obama signed the legislation.

The repeal did not occur immediately as training and
certification by the department were required before the ban is
lifted. Training for the service members began around March 1 and
is slated to be finished by summer's end.

Gen. James Amos, commandant of the Marine Corps, had testified
last year that permitting gays to serve openly could disrupt
smaller combat units and distract leadership from preparing Marines
for battle. On Thursday, Amos said during a recent trip to
Afghanistan, he was specifically looking for problems that might
arise.

"There hasn't been the recalcitrant push back, not been the
anxiety of the forces in field," Amos told the committee. He said
one commander told him troops are focused on the enemy.

Last year, Gen. Norton Schwartz, chief of staff of the Air
Force, had recommended waiting until 2012 to implement the new
policy.

"We're mitigating the risk the way we're approaching this,"
Schwartz said Thursday. He added he was more comfortable with the
policy now than he was last December.

Adm. Gary Roughead, the chief of Naval Operations, said training
was going well and the "type of questions reflect the
professionalism and the maturity and the decency of our people."

Gen. Peter Chiarelli, vice chief of staff of the Army, said he
met with commanders last Friday and "they indicated no issues so
far."

Nevertheless, Republicans on the committee have been critical of
the policy change, with Chairman Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon of
California calling it a "rush to judgment."

"The one outcome that must be avoided is any course of action
that would put the combat readiness of our military forces at
risk," McKeon said.

Rep. Adam Smith of Washington state, the top Democrat on the
panel, countered that forcing service members out of the military
based simply on sexual orientation is far more disruptive.

"Gays and lesbians are currently serving in our armed forces,
and we have the strongest military in the world," Smith said.
"Driving thousands of qualified individuals out of our armed
forces under "don't ask, don't tell" undermines our military's
effectiveness."

Pressed by Republicans on the implications of the change, senior
military leaders insisted the services would be able to retain
talented members and it could potentially increase the pool of
recruits.

"We will see good people serving," Roughead said. Amos said it would "increase peace of mind for gays and
lesbians in the Marines."

Rep. Vicky Hartzler, R-Mo., pleaded with the military leaders:
"You are the last force to stop this onerous policy."

In a statement, Servicemembers United, an organization of gay
and lesbian troops, said the "issue has been settled, the
Department of Defense has embraced this change and trying to
re-open this debate is a waste of both taxpayer money and the
valuable time of these senior defense leaders in the midst of
multiple overseas conflicts."

In fact, the hearing was interrupted for more than an hour for
votes in the House and the senior military leaders had to wait
before resuming their testimony.
---
AP National Security Writer Robert Burns in Baghdad contributed
to this report.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


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