The report is at the heart of a debate about whether the Senate should pass a bill during the December lame duck session to overturn the 17-year-old policy.
Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Michael Mullen -- each of whom opposes Don't Ask, Don't Tell and wants to see it repealed -- appeared at a news conference Nov. 30 to discuss the 256-page study, which was released after a 10-month review that included a survey of 115,000 military personnel. Both Gates and Mullen were appointed by President Obama, who also wants to see the policy overturned. The service chiefs of the four military branches are on record as supporting the current policy and will testify before a Senate committee Friday, Dec. 3. Gates and Mullen will appear Thursday.
Although the report said, and Gates and Mullen affirmed, that the risk "to overall military effectiveness is low" if the policy is reversed, critics said data deep in the report evidenced something very different.
"There was nothing in that report that showed a single benefit to the military in terms of readiness, recruiting, retention," Elaine Donnelly, president of the Center for Military Readiness, said at a Dec. 1 news conference sponsored by the Family Research Council. She also said that Gates and Mullen had "tried but failed to divert attention from information buried in the report."
For instance, 59 percent of Marines who have been in combat and 44 percent of all personnel who have been in combat said having openly homosexuals in a field environment or at sea would have a negative effect on their unit's "effectiveness at completing its mission."
Among those in the Marine combat arms and Army combat arms, 57 percent and 47 percent, respectively, said having an openly homosexual person would negatively impact "how service members in your immediate unit work together to get the job done."
More than a third of Marines (38.1 percent) and nearly a fourth of all personnel (23.7) said they would either leave the military or think about doing so if the policy is reversed, and 40 percent of Marines and 27 percent of all the military said they would be less likely to recommend to a friend or family member that he or she join the military.
From the get-go 10 months ago, Gates made it clear the object of the survey was not to study whether to repeal the policy but instead how to implement a repeal. The 256-page review acknowledged that, saying "our mandate was to assess ... how best to implement repeal should it occur."
"That means the decision has already been made," Rep. John Fleming, R.-La., a former Navy lieutenant commander and a supporter of the current policy, said at the Dec. 1 Family Research Council news conference.
Although the survey itself didn't ask whether personnel actually supported or opposed the policy, the authors of the review admitted that among those who were interviewed in focus groups, on the Internet and at discussion groups, "the majority of views expressed were against repeal of the current policy."
The Center for Security Policy and the Family Research Council released a poll of more than 10,000 active duty and retired military families Nov. 30 showing that 62.5 percent oppose Congress repealing Don't Ask, Don't Tell.
Christian and conservative groups, including the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, are asking supporters of the policy to contact their senators and urge that the policy be maintained. The repeal language is part of a broader bill known as the defense authorization bill.
"We remain convinced that repeal of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' is not in the nation's best interest," ERLC President Richard Land said in a Dec. 1 e-mail action alert. (Read the letter and learn how to contact senators at http://bit.ly/gFodcX.) "Overturning the current policy would strain our forces, weaken troop morale, and propel countless chaplains to leave the services," Land said. "Using our all-volunteer military to advance radical social policy is an affront to the greatness of our armed services."
Among other findings in the Pentagon survey:
-- 46 percent of personnel who had served with a leader they and others thought was homosexual said the unit's performance was negatively affected.
-- 30 percent of all personnel and 41 percent of Marines said having an openly homosexual person in their unit would negatively affect their unit's effectiveness "at completing its mission" in an intense combat situation.
-- 29 percent of all personnel said they would "take no action" if they were assigned to share, with a homosexual person, bathroom facilities with an open bay shower. Twenty-six percent said they'd use it at a different time than the other person, 18 percent said they'd discuss the situation with a leader to see if there were other options, and 11 percent said they'd discuss the situation with the person they believed was homosexual.
More than 60 chaplains signed a letter to Obama and Gates earlier this year expressing concern that overturning Don't Ask, Don't Tell would result in the marginalizing of "deeply held" religious beliefs.
The report acknowledged chaplains' concerns but said simply that chaplains will not be forced to "change their personal views and religious beliefs" but will be required to "respect and co-exist with others who may hold different views and beliefs." That may not comfort the chaplains, who warned in their letter that changing the policy could influence everything in the chaplaincy, from what a chaplain can say in a sermon to what he can say in a counseling session. The fear is that chaplains who speak against homosexuality will have a discrimination complaint filed against them. Chaplains who preach through entire books of the Bible, the letter said, would "inevitably present religious teachings that identify homosexual behavior as immoral."
"Thus, while chaplains fulfill their duty to God to preach the doctrines of their faith, they would find themselves speaking words that are in unequivocal conflict with official policies," the letter said.
Michael Foust is an assistant editor of Baptist Press.
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