Pentagon study backs end to 'Don't ask, don't tell'
The repeal of the military's "Don't ask, don't tell" policy would not produce a "the wrenching, dramatic change that many have feared and predicted," Defense Secretary Robert Gates said at a press conference on the release of a Pentagon report on ending the prohibition on gays openly serving in the military.
The report says that ending the 17-year-old policy would present a low risk, and that 70 percent of U.S. troops believe allowing gay service members to serve openly would have little effect.
'We have a gay guy [in the unit]. He's big, he's mean, and he kills lots of bad guys. No one cared that he was gay.'
The survey of 115,000 troops and 44,000 military spouses found that 50–55% of service members thought that repeal would have mixed or no effect; 15–20% said repeal would have a positive effect; and about 30% said it would have a negative effect.
The study found troops who have worked with a gay servicemember are those who support repeal. 92% of troops who have served with someone they believed to be gay thought that their unit's ability to work together was either very good, good, or neither good nor poor.
The risk to military effectiveness is low, the report says:
Based on all we saw and heard, our assessment is that, when coupled with the prompt implementation of the recommendations we offer below, the risk of repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell to overall military effectiveness is low. We conclude that, while a repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell will likely, in the short term, bring about some limited and isolated disruption to unit cohesion and retention, we do not believe this disruption will be widespread or long-lasting, and can be adequately addressed by the recommendations we offer below. Longer term, with a continued and sustained commitment to core values of leadership, professionalism, and respect for all, we are convinced that the U.S. military can adjust and accommodate this change, just as it has others in history.
When asked about how having a Service member in their immediate unit who said he or she is gay would affect the unit's ability to "work together to get the job done," 70% of Service members predicted it would have a positive, mixed, or no effect.
When asked "in your career, have you ever worked in a unit with a co-worker that you believed to be homosexual," 69% of Service members reported that they had.
When asked about the actual experience of serving in a unit with a co-worker who they believed was gay or lesbian, 92% stated that the unit's "ability to work together" was "very good," "good," or "neither good nor poor."
Consistently, the survey results revealed a large group of around 50–55% of Service members who thought that repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell would have mixed or no effect; another 15–20% who said repeal would have a positive effect; and about 30% who said it would have a negative effect.7 The results of the spouse survey are consistent. When spouses were asked about whether repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell would affect their preference for their Service member's future plans to stay in the military, 74% said repeal would have no effect, while only 12% said "I would want my spouse to leave earlier."
To be sure, these survey results reveal a significant minority—around 30% overall (and 40–60% in the Marine Corps and in various combat arms specialties)—who predicted in some form and to some degree negative views or concerns about the impact of a repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell. Any personnel policy change for which a group that size predicts negative consequences must be approached with caution. However, there are a number of other factors that still lead us to conclude that the risk of repeal to overall military effectiveness is low.
The reality is that there are gay men and lesbians already serving in today's U.S. military, and most Service members recognize this. As stated before, 69% of the force recognizes that they have at some point served in a unit with a co-worker they believed to be gay or lesbian. Of those who have actually had this experience in their career, 92% stated that the unit's "ability to work together" was "very good," "good," or "neither good nor poor," while only 8% stated it was "poor" or "very poor." Anecdotally, we also heard a number of Service members tell us about a leader, co-worker, or fellow Service member they greatly liked, trusted, or admired, who they later learned was gay; and how once that person's sexual orientation was revealed to them, it made little or no difference to the relationship. Both the survey results and our own engagement of the force convinced us that when Service members had the actual experience of serving with someone they believe to be gay, in general unit performance was not affected negatively by this added dimension. Yet, a frequent response among Service members at information exchange forums, when asked about the widespread recognition that gay men and lesbians are already in the military, were words to the effect of: "yes, but I don't know they are gay." Put another way, the concern with repeal among many is with "open" service.
In communications with gay and lesbian current and former Service members, we repeatedly heard a patriotic desire to serve and defend the Nation, subject to the same rules as everyone else. In the words of one gay Service member, repeal would simply "take a knife out of my back....You have no idea what it is like to have to serve in silence."16 Most said they did not desire special treatment, to use the military for social experimentation, or to advance a social agenda. Some of those separated under Don't Ask, Don't Tell would welcome the opportunity to rejoin the military if permitted. From them, we heard expressed many of the same values that we heard over and over again from Service members at large—love of country, honor, respect, integrity, and service over self. We simply cannot square the reality of these people with the perceptions about "open" service.
Given that we are in a time of war, the combat arms communities across all Services required special focus and analysis. Though the survey results demonstrate a solid majority of the overall U.S. military who predict mixed, positive or no effect in the event of repeal, these percentages are lower, and the percentage of those who predict negative effects are higher, in combat arms units. For example, in response to question 68a, while the percentage of the overall U.S. military that predicts negative or very negative effects on their unit's ability to "work together to get the job done" is 30%, the percentage is 43% for the Marine Corps, 48% within Army combat arms units, and 58% within Marine combat arms units.
However, while a higher percentage of Service members in warfighting units predict negative effects of repeal, the percentage distinctions between warfighting units and the entire military are almost non-existent when asked about the actual experience of serving in a unit with someone believed to be gay. For example, when those in the overall military were asked about the experience of working with someone they believed to be gay or lesbian, 92% stated that their unit's "ability to work together," was "very good, "good" or "neither good nor poor."18 Meanwhile, in response to the same question, the percentage is 89% for those in Army combat arms units and 84% for those in Marine combat arms units—all very high percentages. Anecdotally, we heard much the same. As one special operations force warfighter told us, "We have a gay guy [in the unit]. He's big, he's mean, and he kills lots of bad guys. No one cared that he was gay."
Study leaders Gen. Carter F. Ham (U.S. Army) and Defense Department General Counsel Jeh Charles Johnson said they are confident the military can change its policies on gays openly serving without harming their mission:
We are both convinced that our military can do this, even during this time of war. We do not underestimate the challenges in implementing a change in the law, but neither should we underestimate the ability of our extraordinarily dedicated Service men and women to adapt to such change and continue to provide our Nation with the military capability to accomplish any mission.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., intends to seek a vote in December on a defense spending bill that will include a repeal of the policy, his spokesman has indicated.
Led by Arizona Sen. John McCain, many Republicans have opposed repeal, saying ending the prohibition could be dangerous during a time of war. McCain says President Obama's State of the Union promise to end "don't ask, don't tell" was politically driven.
"This was a political promise made by an inexperienced president or candidate for presidency of the United States," McCain said on CNN's State of the Union Sunday.
McCain previously was open to ending "don't ask, don't tell." In 2006, he said "the day that the leadership of the military comes to me and says, 'Senator, we ought to change the policy,' then I think we ought to consider seriously changing it because those leaders in the military are the ones we give the responsibility to."