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FORT BRAGG, N.C. — The nation’s top military officer gave a stern warning to the ranks that regardless of whether “don’t ask, don’t tell” is repealed, small unit commanders will be expected to maintain a zero-tolerance policy toward sexual assaults and harassment.

The normally even-toned Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was addressing a town hall gathering of the 18th Airborne Corps when a soldier asked whether Defense Department leadership had considered those issues in their decision to seek to allow openly gay servicemembers to serve.

“I want to understand,” the soldier said, wondering aloud whether politicians and leaders understand the decision’s “major impact — such as sexual assault, hate crimes, fraternization? As a platoon leader, I deal with this.”

“I have an expectation for zero hate crimes in the military. None,” said Mullen, his voice rising to a forceful commander’s tone. “So as a platoon commander, your task is to make sure that that never happens in your platoon, no matter what happens, no matter what the policies and laws are. And certainly any change in the law is not an excuse for anything like that to ever happen.”

“We are a disciplined force,” he continued. “We have standards. And maintaining those standards, sustaining that discipline is our charge, no matter what happens, quite frankly. Whether it’s combat or whether it’s back here, I have every expectation not only that we will do this but that we will lead in a way where it gets done.”

Last week, the night before the House passed a provision to repeal the ban, the Family Research Council — a leading Christian conservative group led by activist Tony Perkins — circulated research materials they said indicated openly gay and lesbian servicemembers would be more likely to commit sexual assault against heterosexual ones.

“The problems of same-sex assault are likely to increase,” a statement read.Mullen rejected those assertions on Wednesday.

“Sexual harassment, the kinds of disciplinary issues, quite frankly, that are not tolerated now have nothing to do with the change in this law,” he said.

Repeal supporters already had blasted the report.

“There is zero evidence that the transition will be difficult,” Aaron Belkin, director of the Palm Center, a research group supporting the repeal, said in a statement this week. “In fact, research across the board shows that implementation of openly gay service is a non-event and that the only thing that could make it bumpy is the suggestion by leaders that there’s cause for alarm.”

Mullen also reminded troops that the House vote was not the final say, though repeal was likely.

“The legislative process can take some time,” he said. “It can be many months, and predicting a calendar in change of legislation is pretty difficult. That said, clearly signals from those committees … was clear.”

If both houses adopt the repeal this year, Mullen, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and President Barack Obama still must approve the Pentagon’s yearlong study and certify it to Congress.

Mullen again urged the soldiers to participate in the study.

“Your voices are absolutely critical,” he said, with a final warning against bad behavior toward fellow servicemembers.

“That doesn’t mean you won’t have challenges. I went through this — I went through a version of this with integration of women. … And, sadly, there were those that did not agree with it and acted out. And I will tell you, those that do ... they’re not with us anymore.”


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