ARLINGTON, Va. – One week after warning the distraction of repealing “don’t ask, don’t tell” could risk Marines’ lives, Gen. James Amos, commandant of the Marine Corps, pledged to lead the effort to integrate openly gay Marines.
“I, and the Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps [Carlton Kent], will personally lead this effort, thus ensuring the respect and dignity due all Marines,” Amos said. “On this matter, we look forward to further demonstrating to the American people the discipline and loyalty that have been the hallmark of the United States Marine Corps for over 235 years."
Amos’ statement sent to reporters came Sunday evening, one day after the Senate adopted the repeal, capping a stunning, climactic day on the chamber floor.
Marine Corps leaders have shown the most resistance to repealing the 17-year old law. Former commandant Gen. James Conway said the Corps’ “pretty macho” recruits set them apart from other services.
On Dec. 3, Amos – who became the 35th commandant in October – and the chiefs of the Army and Air Force told Congress they did not want repeal now, based on the results of a DOD troop survey. The survey found Marines in combat arms units much more opposed to the repeal than other elements of the force, or the complete military.
The next week, Republicans seemed to have killed the repeal effort for the year when they won a second vote to block Democrats from moving the measure forward as part of the huge defense authorization bill.
Facing defeat, Sens. Joe Lieberman, D.-Conn., and Susan Collins, R.-Maine, quickly introduced a new stand-alone repeal bill for one final try before Republicans took control of the House for the next two years.
At the Pentagon on Tuesday, one reporter asked Amos to explain how the repeal would affect "unit cohesion" in a way that may risk the lives of Marines in combat, or the war effort entirely. Amos said he did not know the answer, but the concern of combat Marines was enough reason for him to oppose the change.
“I don’t want to lose any Marines to the distraction. I don’t want to have any Marines that I’m visiting at Bethesda [National Naval Medical Center, in Maryland] with no legs be the result of any type of distraction.”
That reponse caused a stir, from angry repeal advocates to a more lighthearted take in a joke from Conan O'Brien (around the 2:15 mark).
The next day, the House passed the repeal.
By Saturday, “don’t ask, don’t tell” was history.
President Barack Obama will sign the bill this week, the White House said.
Here is Amos’ full statement:
"Fidelity is the essence of the United States Marine Corps. Above all else, we are loyal to the Constitution, our Commander in Chief, Congress, our Chain of Command, and the American people. The House of Representatives and the Senate have voted to repeal Title 10, US Code 654 "Policy Concerning Homosexuality in the United States Armed Forces." As stated during my testimony before Congress in September and again during hearings before the Senate Armed Services Committee earlier this month, the Marine Corps will step out smartly to faithfully implement this new policy. I, and the Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps, will personally lead this effort, thus ensuring the respect and dignity due all Marines. On this matter, we look forward to further demonstrating to the American people the discipline and loyalty that have been the hallmark of the United States Marine Corps for over 235 years."