Study reveals pockets of significant opposition
ARLINGTON, Va. — Pentagon officials acknowledged that despite optimism at the minimal impact predicted in the “don’t ask, don’t tell” review released Tuesday, a repeal of the law is still strongly opposed by some segments of the military.
Researchers found resistance to serving alongside openly gay colleagues among combat troops in particular, with 48 percent of those surveyed from Army combat units predicting negative effects on their unit’s ability to “work together to get the job done.” That number rose to 58 percent among Marine combat units.
About 12 percent of the 115,000 troops surveyed said they will definitely leave the military sooner than they had planned if a repeal passes, and another 11 percent said they’d consider leaving the ranks sooner than previously planned. Nine percent of those questioned said a “don’t ask, don’t tell” repeal would be more important to their re-enlistment plans than pay increases, education opportunities and retirement benefit improvements.
“If even a small percentage of our armed forces would choose not to re-enlist, or part of the public would choose not to serve in the first place, the impact on the military would be catastrophic,” said Tony Perkins, president of the conservative Family Research Council, which opposes a repeal.
In his remarks to reporters Tuesday, Defense Secretary Robert Gates acknowledged that the military service chiefs have already raised similar concerns. They will outline those issues before the Senate later this week.
But Gates said he is not concerned about the issues raised by combat troops, saying those fears “do not present an insurmountable barrier to a successful repeal.”
“This can be done, and should be done, without posing a serious risk to military readiness,” he said. “However, these findings do lead me to conclude that an abundance of of care and preparation is required if we are to avoid a disruptive and potentially dangerous impact on the performance of those serving at the tip of the spear in America’s wars.”
Gen. Carter Ham, head of U.S. Army Europe and co-chair of the working group, said he expects some troops to be resistant to a repeal. But he added that simply being opposed to openly gay servicemembers should not make anyone eligible for early separation from the armed forces.
The working group instead recommends commanders retain some leeway to deal with individual issues about openly gay troops within their units. For example, commanders could consider special requests by a straight servicemembers to not live with an openly gay roommate, or one by a gay servicemember who felt threatened by a particular colleague.
To lower the risks of “negative consequences” expected to follow repeal, the working group recommends an unspecified period of education and training before making the change. Ham would not specify those consequences were, but acknowledged the military contained “a few bad apples.”
“But we know how to deal with that,” he said.