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'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' review seeks broadest input

(U.S. Air Force graphic)

(U.S. Air Force graphic)

WASHINGTON (AFNS) -- The Defense Department's review on the potential impact of repealing the ban on gays serving openly in the military will solicit input from troops of every service and rank -- as well as their families -- through surveys, focus groups and social media tools, the team heading up the review told Congress March 3.

Jeh C. Johnson, the Pentagon's general counsel; Army Gen. Carter F. Ham, commander of U.S. Army Europe; and Clifford Stanley, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, told members of the House Armed Services Committee they seek to get the widest range of viewpoints from both within and outside the Defense Department as they conduct the review concerning potential repeal of the law commonly known as "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates ordered the 10-month review in February to solicit views about a repeal, as well as the potential impact if Congress directs it. He issued guidelines and parameters for the review March 2, emphasizing the importance of ensuring that any change in the law is implemented in a way that minimizes disruptions in military operations.

Toward that end, the working group will focus its work on assessing any impact a repeal would have on readiness, recruiting, retention, family readiness and unit cohesion, Johnson said.

The working group conducting the review is a cross-section of the military, General Ham told the House panel. Its members represent a wide variety of ages, ranks and military specialties, come from every service, including the Coast Guard, and serve in both the active and reserve components.

Navy Fleet Master Chief Petty Officer Scott Benning serves as the group's senior enlisted leader, with access to all group activities and a reporting chain that goes directly to Mr. Johnson and General Ham, the general noted.

Both have asked every member of the working group to set aside their own views so they can conduct an objective, comprehensive review, Mr. Johnson told the House panel, "because frankly, that is, in my experience, the best way in which members of the U.S. military go about their work, if we are all asked to set aside our personal opinions and do the best we can at an objective and thorough analysis."

As the group's members engage in their review, they are expected to use a survey to get the views from military members and their families. However, acknowledging the importance of personal interaction, General Ham said focus groups will be conducted as well, some targeting specific groups within the military.

And with the department's new emphasis on social media, the working group will take advantage of these tools to ensure the broadest range of individuals, both within and outside the Defense Department, get their voices heard, General Ham said.

Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell said during a Pentagon briefing March 3 that the working group's study will help to better prepare the department to act if Congress repeals or changes the law.

"Right now, we're not in the position to be able to offer any advice to the Congress on a legislative remedy to 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' if they wanted to pursue one," he said. "We just don't know enough about the impact," he said.

Secretary Gates wanted to undertake the review, he added, "for our forces, for their families, for readiness, for recruiting, for retention, for all the potential consequences of a change in the law."

"We are ... preparing ourselves for that possibility," he said, "and educating ourselves so that, if the Congress does choose to pursue a legislative remedy, we are able to inform that process in a more helpful way."

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