Chief of staff's testimony addresses 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' repeal initiative

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The Air Force's top two officials testified before the House Armed Services Committee Feb 23 to present the Service's Fiscal Year 2011 budget.

Secretary of the Air Force Michael Donley and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz appear annually before the committee as part of the Service posture hearings to address budgetary and other 'state of the force' issues.

As part of that review, lawmakers inquired concerning the President's initiative to change the military's "don't ask, don't tell" statute and policy.
Committee members queried General Schwartz about his personal and professional opinion on the impact of such a repeal.

"In this instance my personal opinion is my professional opinion. The President has clearly articulated his intent and should the law change the Air Force will implement statute and policy faithfully," the general told the committee. But he did express concern that little is known about how such a change might impact the Service.

"I am concerned that there is little current scholarship on this issue and little current and reliable survey data of our Airmen and their families."

The general expressed support for the approach of Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who has called for a year-long study to review issues associated with properly implementing a repeal of the current law. Secretary Gates appointed a working group to lead the effort, and indicated that the RAND Corporation will update their 1993 evaluation on the impact of allowing homosexuals to serve openly in the military.

The Air Force general called the Gates study "essential" to being able to thoroughly understand and evaluate "the potential implications and the potential complications" of implementation.

The Air Force's 19th chief of staff went on to say he has two "strong convictions" on the issue, first and foremost that "now is not the time" to stress a force that is "stretched" by ongoing operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere "without careful deliberation."

The second conviction he said, is that, should the law change, "our standards of conduct will continue to apply to all Airmen."

The 1973 graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy was asked if his assessment was based upon his own observations and experience from his nearly 37 years in uniform, or if he had solicited input from Airmen.

The general indicated that it was his own assessment, but reiterated there is a need to get such feedback not just from Airmen, but their families as well.

"We need to have real information in order to do due diligence here," the general asserted. He repeated that there is a lack of valid, statistically-sound survey data or "the kind of scholarship" necessary to assess the issue properly.

The general expressed interest in gaining insight by gathering "data from persons currently serving and their families." DoD's creation of a study group would produce such "actionable information" to inform a decision.

Such data is crucial before moving forward, the general indicated.

"Do we know all we need to know - should the law change - to do this well? My judgment is not yet," the general concluded.