U.S. combat forces have voiced strong reservations about the effects on readiness of allowing open gays in the ranks, the Pentagon said Tuesday in a report that is likely to influence a Senate vote on whether to repeal the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, in releasing a study he ordered to meet President Obama’s directive to end the ban on gays in the military, disclosed that the chiefs of the Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps and Army disagree with the report’s conclusion that the impact on combat readiness would be “low.”
“For this reason, the uniformed service chiefs are less sanguine than the working group about the level of risk of repeal with regard to combat readiness,” said Mr. Gates, who supports repeal, as does Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
The Pentagon survey of all troops, be they in desk jobs or in the field, found about 70 percent said open gays would have positive, mixed or no effect on unit cohesion.
By contrast, combat troops, who live in intimate surroundings while deployed, overwhelming reported that open gays would undermine military readiness, or preparedness for combat.
The four-star officers are scheduled to testify Friday before the Senate Armed Services Committee. Senate Democrats are trying to garner enough Republican support to bring repeal legislation to the floor during the lame-duck session of Congress, after having failed to get the needed 60 votes in September.
The Pentagon survey of more than 115,000 troops showed that 44 percent said unit effectiveness in ground and sea units would be negatively affected. That number jumps to nearly 60 percent among Army and Marine Corps combatants.
Opponents of lifting the ban say it is the repeal’s effect on these units - the infantry, armor and special operations - that is most important because they are doing the majority of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Said the report: “Among the services, the Marines were consistently more negative in their responses about the effect of repeal. The combat arms communities in both the Army and the Marine Corps were also more negative about the effect of repeal than others in their services.”
Still, Army Gen. Carter F. Ham and Pentagon General Counsel Jeh C. Johnson, who co-chaired the Comprehensive Review Working Group, concluded that impact on readiness will be low if the military begins a phased introduction of open gays, coupled with strong command leadership.
“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,” the two wrote.
“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.”
Mr. Gates, however, expressed sympathy for the view of the service chiefs, who by law are responsible for maintaining combat readiness at a high level.
“The concerns of combat troops as expressed in the survey do not present an insurmountable barrier to successful repeal of don’t ask, don’t tell, ” Mr. Gates said. “This can be done and should be done without posing a serious risk to military readiness.