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Retired general warns of ‘rush’ to end ‘don’t ask’

- The Washington Times - Monday, May 9, 2011

The newly retired commander of Army forces in the Pacific says the Obama administration's "rush to repeal" the ban on openly gay men and women serving in the military "is moving way too fast" and risks damaging the armed forces' fighting ability.

Lt. Gen. Benjamin R. Mixon, who retired May 1 after 35 years in the Army, told The Washington Times that he is concerned that repeal of the "don't ask, don't tell" policy will cause problems with morale and mean the military will be less ready and able to fight.

"There's no question in my mind that this is driven by politics and not military necessity," he said. "Pushing this kind of social agenda in the military, especially during a time of war, is not appropriate. We're taking a great risk.

"The risk is a breakdown in morale and unit cohesion," he added, referring to the bond that warriors share on the front lines. "Everyone has to have total confidence in each other" in combat, he said.

Advocates for lifting the ban on openly gay service members said the general is "out of touch."

"His frankly outdated views are in contradiction to the will of the American people," who "overwhelmingly support" lifting the ban, said J. Alexander Nicholson III, executive director of Servicemembers United.

The general is the highest-ranking former officer to criticize the repeal, which was enacted as part of a defense-funding bill during the lame duck session in the final days of the 111th Congress.

While still serving as the three-star general commanding all Army forces in the Pacific theater last year, Gen. Mixon wrote to the newspaper Stars and Stripes urging those who opposed the repeal to speak out through their chain of command and write their members of Congress.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates publicly rebuked him, and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, suggested that he resign.

Gen. Mixon said the response of the top brass had a chilling effect on discussion of the issue within the military.

"After folks saw the reaction to my letter, there was no chance of anyone else speaking up," he said. "It sent a message."

The Pentagon said the repeal will not take effect until Adm. Mullen, Mr. Gates and President Obama certify that all the armed services are ready and that the change will not affect the military's readiness for war or its fighting abilities.

"Training the force is an essential component to ensuring implementation is consistent with these standards," Pentagon spokeswoman Elaine Lainez told The Times.

Gen. Mixon said he sat through and delivered presentations as part of the cascading training program to get the military ready for repeal and that the presentations "left at least as many questions as answers."

"What I saw and experienced firsthand in the training is that there were no answers to some of the most important questions," he said, citing housing arrangements as a good example of an unresolved issue.

The military generally does not allow male and female troops to room together, whether or not they are in a sexual relationship.

"Will commanders have the authority to separate two known homosexual soldiers who are rooming together?" he asked. "Or would there have to be some evidence that they were engaging in sexual activity?

"There are a lot of thorny issues down where the rubber meets the road," he said.

He said he is worried that the absence of regulations about what constitutes acceptable behavior once the ban is lifted would create gray areas and cause problems for young commanders seeking to deal with potentially explosive conflicts.

"I have not seen any proposed regulations," he said. "There is a lack of clarity. ... What are the rules, regulations and policies which let our soldiers know what is acceptable?"

Ms. Lainez said, "Repeal will lead to some changes to policies, but many of our policies require no change" because they were "sexual-orientation neutral."

"We owe absolute clarity on these issues to our junior leaders," Gen. Mixon said.

The general said he also is concerned about the right to serve for people who object to homosexuality.

"There's a good number of people in the military who, whether for reasons of religious faith or moral conscience, view homosexuality as unacceptable," he said.

"How do we protect those folks' right to serve?" he asked.

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