- The Washington Times - Friday, December 23, 2011

Three months after President Obama lifted the ban on homosexuals serving openly in the military, Pentagon officials say heterosexual troops are adjusting well to the new policy.

Critics, however, say they are just following orders, and a recent survey showed many troops reporting a rise in tension.

On the Joint Chiefs of Staff, even the most outspoken opponent of lifting the ban said he is satisfied with the progress so far.

“I’m very pleased with how it has gone,” Gen. James F. Amos, the commandant of the Marine Corps, told reporters on a recent trip to Afghanistan to visit U.S. troops.

He said he heard little from Marines about serving with openly gay troops, even though a Defense Department survey before the Sept. 20 repeal showed Marines were the most opposed to the change, compared with the other three branches of the military.

The policy, known as “don’t ask, don’t tell,” was adopted during the administration of President Clinton to allow gay troops to serve as long as they kept their sexual orientation private.

“The Marine Corps faithfully and willingly carried out the intent of our commander-in-chief and civilian leadership in preparing for repeal,” Gen. Amos said.

“All Marines, sailors and civilian Marines, regardless of sexual orientation, are Marines first. Every Marine is a valued member of our war-fighting team.”

He said Marines are expected to treat each other with “dignity and respect” and “faithfully uphold the law.”

“The Marine Corps has been, and will continue to be, America’s Expeditionary Force in Readiness — ready to respond to today’s crisis, with today’s Marine forces, today,” Gen. Amos said.

A recent survey by the Military Times newspaper, however, showed a rise in tensions in units with troops who declared themselves to be gay.

The online poll from Sept. 26 to Oct. 11 found that 26 percent of the newspaper’s active-duty readers reported higher stress levels working with openly gay colleagues.

Elaine Donnelly of the Center for Military Readiness said most troops are just following orders, regardless of how they feel personally about serving with gay colleagues.

“Official claims that implementation is going well are self-serving and premature. Obeying orders is standard procedure. No one expected anything else,” she said.

“Still, the Department of Defense does not know what it is doing. Legally required regulations have not been submitted to Congress, and there are no metrics or mechanisms for tracking data on sexual orientation.

“Uniformed personnel are constrained from commenting on the new policy due to a very real risk of career penalties, but I am hearing about problems in the field that Congress should investigate.”

Another opponent of repealing the ban, Rep. Duncan Hunter, California Republican, said three months is too soon to draw concrete conclusions on how it will affect combat readiness, retention and recruitment in the long term.

Mr. Hunter, who served in Iraq and Afghanistan as a Marine Corps officer, had urged Mr. Obama to delay the repeal.

“I don’t think anyone really expected big problems right out of the starting gate, but some issues are bound to develop over time,” he said. “The question is whether the issues will rise to a level worth addressing. The military follows orders. That’s what it does.”

At the Pentagon, officials are pleased at how well the troops have accepted the change. Robert M. Gates, secretary of defense at the time, set out a methodical timetable that included sensitivity training for all 2.2 million active-duty and reserve personnel.

“The implementation of the repeal … is proceeding smoothly across the Department of Defense,” said Pentagon spokeswoman Eileen Lainez.

“We attribute this success to our comprehensive pre-repeal training program, combined with the continued close monitoring and enforcement of standards by our military leaders at all levels.”

The gay-rights movement is not satisfied with simply removing the ban.

OutServe, the once-secretive fraternity of gay troops that held its first convention in October in Las Vegas, is urging the Obama administration to provide the same types of benefits for gay partners that straight married couples receive.

The Pentagon said most benefits may not be granted to gay troops because of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

The gay-rights movement also wants the military to admit cross-dressers and transsexuals.

OutServe’s magazine set out its goals for lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders (LGBT) in an article, “Repeal Watch: What’s Next.”

“As the interviews for this post-repeal issue commenced, it became clear that while gays and lesbians can serve openly within the military, they have not yet escaped the limelight,” the article said.

“LGBT service members will remain central to two key issues to the greater fight for LGBT equality: The quest to seek marriage equality and nondiscrimination based on sexual orientation.”

OutServe spokeswoman Sue Fulton, a former Army captain, said the ban has been well-received among heterosexual troops.

“At OutServe, we have been pleased at how well the repeal has been implemented. Reports from our network, which includes active military from Afghanistan, Iraq and Okinawa to the continental U.S., have been overwhelmingly positive,” she said.

Ms. Fulton said some gay troops reported that they were urged to come out of the closet by straight colleagues and that the military has set up a chain-of-command reporting system to track the effects of the repeal on “readiness, unit cohesion, effectiveness, recruiting and retention.”

“It appears that those who believe sexual orientation is irrelevant to military performance have finally been able to speak their minds and support their fellow soldiers and Marines, airmen, sailors and Coast Guardsmen against a very small anti-gay minority,” she said.

“Meanwhile, it is business as usual for the finest military in the world.”

• Rowan Scarborough can be reached at rscarborough@washingtontimes.com.

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