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Posted at 3:18 PM ET, 12/14/2010

Marine general: Repeal of 'don't ask' would endanger lives

By Craig Whitlock

The Marine Corps' top general suggested Tuesday that allowing gays to serve openly in the military could result in more casualties because their presence on the battlefield would pose "a distraction."

"When your life hangs on the line," said Gen. James F. Amos, the commandant of the Marine Corps, "you don't want anything distracting. . . . Mistakes and inattention or distractions cost Marines' lives."

In an interview with newspaper and wire service reporters at the Pentagon, Amos was vague when asked to clarify how the presence of gays would distract or disrupt Marine combat units during a firefight. But he cited a recent Defense Department survey in which a large number of Marine combat veterans predicted that repealing the "don't ask, don't tell" law would harm "unit cohesion" and military effectiveness.

"So the Marines came back and they said, 'Look, anything that's going to break or potentially break that focus and cause any kind of distraction may have an effect on cohesion,' " he said. "I don't want to permit that opportunity to happen. And I'll tell you why. If you go up to Bethesda [Naval] hospital . . . Marines are up there with no legs, none. We've got Marines at Walter Reed [Army Medical Center] with no limbs."

Amos has previously said that allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly could cause "distractions" and "risks" for combat units. But his remarks Tuesday were the first time that a senior military leader has publicly suggested that repealing the 17-year-old "don't ask, don't tell" law could endanger troops and lead to more battlefield casualties.

The Marine Corps -- which prides itself on its macho image -- and its leaders have been more resistant than other branches of the armed services to overturning the law.

The Defense Department survey, released last month, found that 58 percent of those in Marine combat arms units predicted that repeal would negatively affect their ability to "work together to get the job done." In comparison, 48 percent of those in Army combat units felt the same way.

Amos has been outspoken in his opposition to repealing the law since he was confirmed by the Senate as commandant in September. He repeated his opposition to the Senate Armed Services Committee on Dec. 3, saying that changing the rules during wartime would be ill-advised.

"Right now is a very intense period of time for a pretty healthy slice of the United States Marine Corps. This is not training," he told reporters Tuesday. "This is what I call the real deal. And the forces that wear this uniform, that are in the middle of what I call the real deal, came back and told their commandant of the Marine Corps they have concerns.

"That's all I need. I don't need a staff study. I don't need to hire three PhDs to tell me what to interpret it. I've got Marines that came back to me as their commandant and said, we have concerns. So if they have concerns, I do, too. It's as simple as that."

By Craig Whitlock  | December 14, 2010; 3:18 PM ET
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Corporal Klinger does come to mind.

Posted by: slim21 | December 14, 2010 3:50 PM | Report abuse

What about the gay Marines that are already serving...surely this enlightened Marine General doesn't think that this is not so...just ask the troops.

Posted by: fairness3 | December 14, 2010 3:50 PM | Report abuse

There are already gays in the military and they will NOT cause further deaths.

Posted by: maritza1 | December 14, 2010 3:50 PM | Report abuse

General Amos is right of course. He wants to keep the law as it currently is on the books, and not let openly homo screamers into the Marines. Amos is being understated here.

This is the Commandant of the Marine Corps doing the talking. And General Amos' predecessor General James T. Conway, thought the same thing.

Posted by: screwjob23 | December 14, 2010 3:56 PM | Report abuse

While I don't have any problem with the current policy of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" it is very important to make a clear distinction between gays serving openly and those serving effectively under the current policy. Let's be real clear here - these two things are not the same. Just because gays have served and are serving well under "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" doesn't mean that the same will be true should gays be allowed to serve openly. I think this is where Gen Amos is coming from.

There are numerous morale and unit issues likely to develop from allowing gays to openly serve that don't currently exist under DADT. The one that gets a lot of attention is the close quarters, showers, etc. To put it simply, what would happen if I as a commander told my female soldiers to shower with or sleep in the same room as my men? Most likely harrassment charges, IG complaints, etc. So, why should I be put in a position of telling my non-gay soldiers to shower with or sleep in the same room as an openly gay soldier? Isn't this the same thing? It certainly is likely to be from the perspective of many of my non-gay soldiers.

These are very real issues that commanders will be faced with should the policy change.

How about when openly gay soldiers are off-duty and start wearing clothes, jewlery, etc expressing their orientation that would normally not be considered appropriate but now they are able to openly do? Do we recognize their partners as we would a spouse? What if my soldiers are uncomfortable around two male Soldiers or Marines kissing in uniform or dancing at a military ball? Are the heterosexual soldiers just unelightened? Is this really what we want? Does this improve my effectiveness as a unit?

Clearly, gays can and have served well over the years. That is not in question. And, yes, gays should continue to be allowed to serve their country. However, the decision of whether or not to allow gays to openly serve should focus on one thing and one thing only - will it improve unit cohesiveness and effectiveness? If it doesn't, then very simply it is the wrong thing to do. Secretary Gates is correct in taking a thoughtful measured approach to this very complicated issue.

Finally, keep in mind that the U.S. military is not the Canadian or Dutch military nor do I think we want it to be.

Posted by: dbmn1 | December 14, 2010 3:59 PM | Report abuse

The other very real problem will be if the Court overturns DADT rather than Congress repealing it. Should that happen, there will be no time to put the appropriate policies in place and as with the initial court decision, there will be considerable confusion on just what is and what is not permissible. The end result - confusion and uncertainty in the ranks. Not a good situation when we are fighting two wars.

Posted by: dbmn1 | December 14, 2010 4:07 PM | Report abuse

SCREWJOB23, why don't you shut that homophobic mouth of yours already? We already know what a despicable bigot you are. You do not have to remind us of it every day.

Posted by: nyrunner101 | December 14, 2010 10:09 PM | Report abuse

The homophobic General must have a horrible opinion of the Armies of Britain, Israel, Australia, France, Spain, and many more of our allies. Did he voice his concern when he called on them to serve alongside our troops in fear that they'd be jumping our guys in the trenches?
I drafted hundreds of young men into the Vietnam war and we never asked any of them how they perform sexually, not do we do that when we enlist the young people of today. I have never read any article of homosexual soldiers causing chaos amongst his fellow soldiers, however we have read of many serious sexual crimes committed by heterosexual soldiers. Perhaps the good General keeps his eyes and ears closed to what is truth and merely disagrees with something he knows nothing about. Let him converse with Israel's outstanding military leadership if he wants to know how to accept all citizens who want to give their lives for thei country. Our modern day Generals and many military leaders are treated and live more like CEOs of industry than military tacticians. This is probably why the wars they executed in Iraq and Afghanistan have been near disasters of incompetence and ineptitude.

Posted by: papafritz571 | December 14, 2010 11:33 PM | Report abuse

The same "cohesion" argument was used as a reason to prevent women and minorities from joining the military. The argument really just stems from personal prejudice, rather than any real threat to the military. Hell, I'm sure some of the more bigoted military are very uncomfortable with serving with Vietnamese-American soldiers. Maybe they should all pretend to be Chinese or Filipino.

DADT is a limitation of the rights of all soldiers. If a heterosexual man attends an AIDS walk that is sponsored by a LGBT organization, it puts his job in danger and launch a full blown investigation against his character.

Posted by: Katai | December 15, 2010 11:45 AM | Report abuse

A man who makes statements that are this obtuse and bizarre has no business running the United States Marine Corps.

His judgment is obviously suspect when he says something so idiotic.

Is Amos really this moronic or is his obvious bigotry just overwhelming his good sense?

Either way, this is reprehensible behavior for the man who is in charge of a vital branch of our armed services. How are we supposed to have confidence in the Marines when they are being led by someone who makes such statements in public?

Amos needs to resign immediately or be removed from his position.

Posted by: snesich | December 15, 2010 1:52 PM | Report abuse

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