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DADT working group hosting forums at overseas bases

By LISA M. NOVAK | STARS AND STRIPES Published: August 4, 2010

NAPLES, Italy — The Defense Department has dispatched its “don’t ask, don’t tell” working group to overseas bases to get troops’ opinions on the controversial law.

Servicemembers are being randomly selected by local commands in the Pacific and Europe to attend forums led by the DOD’s Comprehensive Review Working Group, which is trying to determine what impact repealing the 17-year-old law will have on unit cohesion, recruiting, retention, military readiness and family readiness.

The group, chaired by Jeh Johnson, DOD General Council, and Gen. Carter Ham, U.S. Army Europe commander, is in Japan this week and will travel to Europe next week. The schedule for the working group — made up of about 65 senior officers, civilians and enlisted personnel — has not been released.

The meetings, dubbed information exchange forums, are closed to the public and the media, according to DOD spokeswoman Cynthia O. Smith, because they are meant to be “private conversations between servicemembers and the working group.”

However, information provided by servicemembers during the forums is not considered confidential, Smith said in an e-mail to Stars and Stripes.

“The working group encourages participants to engage in an open and honest discussion but participants should understand the law commonly known as ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ remains in effect and servicemembers should not disclose confidential information at these events,” according to Smith’s e-mail.

The working group will hold separate sessions with family members.

In March, Defense Secretary Robert Gates directed military leaders to develop a plan for any changes resulting from a repeal of the law, which has been in effect since 1993.

The House of Representatives, along with the Senate Armed Services Committee, voted for a delayed repeal of the law following an extensive review of the possible implications such a move would create. The full Senate is expected to take up the measure in September.

Part of the review ordered by Gates includes information from the base visits — the working group has already traveled to almost 30 stateside installations.

The DOD also created an online inbox for comments on the controversial issue. That, too, raised concerns of confidentiality because servicemembers had to use their military ID card to access the site. At the time, DOD officials said the online inbox was confidential because the server is being operated by Westat, a Washington D.C.-based research company that removes personal identifying information before sending the comments to the working group.

The Pentagon is also collecting responses to a survey the DOD sent to 400,000 servicemembers last month. As of Tuesday, less than 20 percent of the surveys were returned, according to Smith, who had no ideas on why the return rate was so low.

The deadline for turning in the survey is Aug. 15.

Later this month, DOD plans to send 150,000 surveys to military spouses asking about repeal of the law.

Gates has directed the working group to submit a report on its findings by Dec. 1.

novakl@estripes.osd.mil

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