'Don't ask, don't tell': Can military handle a repeal of gay ban?
Repealing 'don't ask, don't tell' could have serious implications for some parts of the military. But critics of the law say the Pentagon is ready to embrace gays openly.
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It was also no surprise. In his career as an infantry officer, Hopkins had earned three bronze stars. As a high school student, his score on the Pentagon’s aptitude test for military service was so high that recruiters encouraged him to apply to West Point. He did, and he graduated fourth among his peers in the Class of 2001. Hopkins then deployed once to Afghanistan and twice to Iraq, where the platoon he led helped secure Kirkuk in the war’s first push.
Yet Hopkins remembers the day he received word of his potential promotion as the worst of his life: It was also the day he learned that he was being investigated for being gay.
“Don’t ask, don’t tell” had already shaped his life. The number of people he had told he was gay was “in the single digits,” and he had virtually given up dating. “What if someone asked what I did over the weekend?” he would ask himself. “There is no way to keep your job without lying or covering things up.”
Earlier this month, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen went to Capitol Hill to “strongly urge” Congress that no member of the US military be subject to such treatment again. They called for a repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” – the 1993 law that bans openly gay men and women from serving in the military.
They do not deny that there could be problems. A survey released Nov. 30 on attitudes toward gays in the military – one of the largest surveys the Pentagon has ever conducted – found 48 percent of Army combat units and 43 percent of Marine combat troops expressed concern about gays serving openly.
But given good leadership and time to put in place a new policy, the US military stands “ready to implement the repeal,” Mr. Gates said.
Added Mullen: It is the right thing to do “for our nation, our military, and our collective honor.”
The heads of the service branches were less than sanguine about the prospect in testimony one day later, however. Army Chief of Staff Gen. George Casey said repeal would “add another level of stress to an already stretched force” and be “more difficult for the Army than the report suggests.”
Marine Corps commandant Gen. James Amos concurred. Assimilating openly gay troops into the “tightly woven fabric” of combat units could lead to “disruption” on the battlefield, he said. The service chiefs all emphasized, however, that they would implement the change if so ordered.
The confidence Gates and Mullen expressed in the military’s ability to do that lies both in the Pentagon survey results and in historical precedent. According to the survey, more than two-thirds of those in uniform do not object to gays and lesbians serving openly, Gates told the Senate Armed Services Committee Dec. 1.
Moreover, senior military officials note that the military has lifted controversial bans before. In 1948, the military integrated African-American troops, who had previously served only in segregated units often tasked with hard labor.