Military's 'don't ask' testimony won't be final word

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Activists attend the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on issues associated with a repeal of section 654 of title 10, United States Code, 'Policy Concerning Homosexuality in the Armed Forces', also known as the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, December 2, 2010 in Washington, DC.

It's been an important week — but not a decisive one — in the debate over gays in the military. Friday, the top generals in the Marine Corps and Army told a Senate Committee that they are not ready for change just yet.

First, a Pentagon survey of troops found that more than two-thirds of them had little problem serving with gays and lesbians.

Then, the Secretary of Defense and the nation's top military officer testified in favor of repealing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," the law barring homosexuals from serving openly.

But Friday, the top generals in the Marine Corps and Army told a Senate Committee that they are not ready for change just yet.

Not If, Say Generals, But When

Army Gen. George Casey and Marine Gen. Jim Amos agree that eventually gays will be allowed to serve openly. The Pentagon survey, they said, showed it's a challenge that can be managed. For them, it comes down to a question of when.

"I would not recommend going forward at this time given everything the Army has on its plate," Casey told the committee.

With his soldiers busy fighting two wars, Casey said such sweeping change would add what he called "another level of stress."

Amos agreed. Repealing the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" law should be delayed, he said.

"I  just ask for the opportunity to be able to do it with my forces when they're not singularly focused on combat," Amos said.

Which Numbers Make The Case?

The survey shows that those combat troops -- the armor and infantry units on the front lines in Iraq and Afghanistan -- are most resistant to allowing gays to serve openly.

According to the Pentagon survey, half of Army combat troops polled said they were against ending "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." For the Marines, the number was even higher: 60 percent.

Republican Sen. John McCain, who opposes ending "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," seized on the parts of the survey about those combat troops wary of change.

"I guess when you look at any report it's like — a little bit like studying the Bible," he said. "You can draw most any conclusion from what part of it that you examine."

Most Democrats at Friday's Senate hearing read from a different chapter in the Pentagon survey. They  focused on the 70 percent  who had little problem with allowing gays to serve openly.

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Adm. Mike Mullen, has been the most forceful advocate of change. He has said that it's wrong to force people to lie about who they are.

Mullen told senators earlier in the week that repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" is the right thing to do for our military, our nation and our collective honor.

But repeal is also a question of numbers — finding enough senators to approve it.

Copyright 2010 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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