Marine, Navy commanders weigh in on 'don't ask'
The head of the Marine Corps said Tuesday that he opposes any moratorium on the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy that bans gay people from openly serving in the military. The armed forces should stay focused on readiness and the ability to fight wars, he said.
Marine Commandant Gen. James T. Conway said he supports the Pentagon's plans to review the policy over the next year, but told members of the House Armed Services Committee that "I would encourage your work, mine and that of the working group to be focused on a central issue and that is the readiness of the armed forces of the United States to fight this nation's wars."
"That's what our armed forces are intended to do," Conway said. "That's what they have been built to do under the current construct, and I would argue that we've done a pretty good job bringing that to pass. So my concern would be if somehow that central purpose and focus were to become secondary to the discussion because that's what your armed forces is all about."
Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and other lawmakers are considering legislation that would halt discharges of service members that violate the policy. But such a moratorium would likely confuse commanders in the field, Conway said.
"There's an expression we have, keep it simple," he said. "I would encourage you either to change the law or not, but in the process half measures, I think, will only be confusing in the end."
Pentagon officials and opponents of "don't ask, don't tell" had singled out Conway as the only senior military officials likely to publicly express concerns with repealing the policy.
Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Gary Roughead also told lawmakers that a moratorium would be "extremely confusing to the force," but backed the review board's plans to survey the troops and their families.
"There are a lot of bits of information and surveys that have taken place, but there has never really been an assessment of the force that serves," Roughead said. "And equally important to that force is the opinions of the families who support that force."
The heads of the Air Force and Army also expressed support for the review board during Congressional testimony on Tuesday. President Obama expressed support for a repeal of the policy during his State of the Union address and Gates and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen have expressed personal support for a repeal.
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| February 24, 2010; 3:02 PM ET
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