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June 4, 2010
FORT BRAGG, N.C. (June 3, 2010) -- Servicemembers' opinions are "absolutely critical" in implementing policy for a repeal of the law that bans gays and lesbians from openly serving in the military, the nation's top military officer said here yesterday.
"Your view and opinion of [gays and lesbians serving openly] is absolutely critical to address those issues," Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Navy Adm. Mike Mullen told 18th Airborne Corps Soldiers during a town hall meeting.
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates directed a military-wide review of the impact of the repeal, including town hall meetings with servicemembers and their families. The review is to be completed by the end of December.
Gates and Mullen want to ensure troops are ready to make the change and can do so without hurting unit cohesion, military readiness, military effectiveness, and recruiting and retention.
"One of the reasons the study and review is so important is because there isn't any subjective data out there, particularly from you and those who will be most effected," the admiral told the Soldiers.
"Part of my testimony said how important the review Secretary Gates put in place is," he added, speaking to remarks he made before Congress last week. "That review continues to be critical; it continues to be one we will work our way through over the next many months."
Allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly, Mullen said, is a direction the military needs to move forward on.
"The law needs to change," he said. "Fundamentally, it's an issue of our values. It's very critical for us as an institution, and I'm hard-pressed not to support policy and a law that forces individuals to come in and lie everyday."
Mullen's remarks on the topic were sparked by a senior noncommissioned officer's question. The Soldier expressed his concern for the possibility of hate crimes and increased cases of sexual harassment if the law changes.
Mullen told the Soldier that disciplinary issues regarding sexual harassment have nothing to do with the change in the law and should not be tolerated, period.
"Certainly any change in the laws is not an excuse for anything like that to ever happen," the admiral said. "We are a disciplined force. We have standards. Maintaining those standards, sustaining that discipline is our job, no matter what happens.
"I have every expectation that not only we will do this, but we will lead in a way [so] it gets done," Mullen continued. "[But] that doesn't mean we won't have challenges."
Ultimately, he said, troops and leaders need to have a greater understanding of the impact openly gay and lesbian servicemembers will have on the military.
"I want to understand what the possibilities are ... what it's going take to implement this and, in that regard, address the leadership challenges and implementation with expectations that at the small-unit level, not exclusively, it will be led and led well," Mullen said. "I have a lot of faith in you that that's doable."