WASHINGTON, Sept. 20, 2011 -- The official end today of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" law reflects the American values that military members uphold, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said today.
"Thanks to this change, I believe we move closer to achieving the goal at the foundation of the values that America's all about -- equality, equal opportunity and dignity for all Americans," he told reporters during a Pentagon news briefing.
Panetta reaffirmed his dedication to all who are serving and ensuring everyone who wishes to serve has the opportunity to do so regardless of sexual preference.
"As secretary of defense, I am committed to removing all of the barriers that would prevent Americans from serving their country and from rising to the highest level of responsibility that their talents and capabilities warrant," he said. "These are men and women who put their lives on the line in the defense of this country, and that's what should matter the most."
Panetta credited several groups for helping prepare the Defense Department for the implementation of the repeal.
"I want to thank the repeal implementation team and the service secretaries, along with the service chiefs, for all of their efforts to ensure that DOD is ready to make this change, consistent with standards of military readiness, with military effectiveness, with unit cohesion, and with the recruiting and retention of the armed forces," he said.
"All of the service chiefs have stated very clearly that all of these elements have been met in the review that they conducted," Panetta said. "Over 97 percent of our 2.3 million men and women in uniform have now received education and training on repeal as a result of these efforts.
"I also want to thank the Comprehensive Review Working Group for the work they did on the report that laid the groundwork for the change in this policy," he added.
Panetta also lauded Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, for his commitment to the repeal of the 1993 law.
"And above all, I'd like to single out Admiral Mike Mullen," he said. "His courageous testimony and leadership on this issue, I think, were major factors in bringing us to this day. And he deserves a great deal of credit for what has occurred."
Mullen said he steadfastly believed repealing the law was the right thing to do.
"I testified early in 2010 that it was time to end this law and this policy," he said. "I believed then, and I still believe, that it was, first and foremost, a matter of integrity."
"It was fundamentally against everything we stand for as an institution to force people to lie about who they are just to wear a uniform," Mullen added. "We are better than that."
The chairman said the repeal will strengthen the DOD and emphasize positive values.
"Today, with implementation of the new law fully in place, we are a stronger joint force, a more tolerant force, a force of more character and more honor, more in keeping with our own values," he said.
Mullen also emphasized the Defense Department is well prepared for implementation of the repeal.
"I am convinced we did the work necessary to prepare for this change, that we adequately trained and educated our people, and that we took into proper consideration all the regulatory and policy modifications that needed to be made," he said.
"I appreciate [Defense Secretary Leon Panetta's] confidence in me, and his kind praise," Mullen said. "But today is really about every man and woman [in uniform] who serves this country, regardless of how they define themselves."
Panetta said the long-awaited repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" brings the nation closer to true equality.
"Thanks to this change, we move closer to achieving the goal that is at the foundation of American values -- equality and dignity for all," he said.