WASHINGTON--The Senate is holding two days of hearings on repealing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" in the wake of a Pentagon survey released this week recommending that gays be allowed to openly serve in the military. At a Thursday hearing, Sen. John McCain (R-Az.) tangles with Defense Sec. Robert Gates over repeal, which Gates is for and McCain, a Navy veteran, is against.
Click below for McCain/Gates exchange.....
McCain/Gates exchange at Thursday Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."
SEN. MCCAIN: Secretary Gates, this survey says nearly 60 percent of respondents in the Marine Corps and Army combat arms say they believe there would be a negative impact on their units' effectiveness in this context. Among Marine combat arms, the number was 67 percent. Nearly 60 percent of the Army combat arms soldiers and 66.5 -- two- thirds of the Marine Corps combat armed troops, voiced these concerns about repeal. And you have said that -- you conclude that those concerns of members -- of service members about deterioration in military-unit cohesion are, quote, "exaggerated." How are they exaggerated?
SEC. GATES: Well, I don't remember using the word "exaggerated," because I take those concerns very seriously and, frankly, share the view of the -- of the chiefs that the report's evaluation of risk, and particularly in the combat arms, is perhaps too sanguine.
What I -- what I believe is that with the amount -- with proper time for preparation, for training, whether it's before deployments or after deployments, however it works out, if we are allowed to do this on our terms, I believe that those concerns can be mitigated. And I think, to repeat one of the things that Admiral Mullen said in his opening statement, the experience of those who have served with someone they believe to be gay or lesbian was very different, even in combat arms, than those who had never done so.
And I would point out that for -- in the example with the Marine Corps, you also have -- in the -- most of the -- most of the Marines who are in combat are 18 to 24, 25 years old. Most of them have never served with women either. And so they've had a very focused, very limited experience in the military. And it's been a tough one. But I think that with time and adequate preparation we can mitigate their concerns.
SEN. MCCAIN: Well, I couldn't disagree more. We send these young people into combat; we think they're mature enough to fight and die; I think they're mature enough to make a judgment on who they want to serve with and the impact on their battle effectiveness. Mr. Secretary, I speak from personal experience.
Within the combat units of the Army and Marine Corps, the numbers are alarming. Twelve point six percent of the overall military force responded to the survey say they'll leave the military sooner than they had planned. Twenty-one point four percent of Army combat troops indicate they will leave the force earlier. In the Marine Corps, that number jumps to 32 percent, nearly a third of all Marine Corps combat arms force, which is probably why the service chiefs, particularly the commandant of the Marine Corps, is, quote, in your words, "less sanguine" than you are about this issue.
Also, if they left the -- this 12.6 percent of the military left earlier, that translates into 264,600 men and women who would leave the military earlier than they had planned. Do you think that's a good idea to replace 265,000 troops across the force in time of war, that we should be undertaking that challenge at this time?
SEC. GATES: Well, first of all, the experience of the British, the Canadians and some of the others has been that in their surveys prior to enacting a change in their laws and rules, there were substantial numbers who said that they would leave, and in the event, those numbers were far smaller than the surveys had indicated.
I think if we -- I think once -- again, I go back to the point that people who have had experience have a different -- with -- serving with gays or lesbians have a -- have had a different view of these things, and I think that will be true in a lot of our force. Again, I think that the training and so on will help mitigate these consequences.
And frankly I think that while there are some concerns that you will probably hear tomorrow about some of our special operations forces, where there are limited numbers of people, and where any loss is potentially of concern for the force as a whole, I don't think any of us expect that the numbers would be anything like what the survey suggests just based on experience.
Also, you have the reality, they can't just up and leave. They have enlistment contracts. The officers have contracts in terms of the amount of time they have to serve. And so it isn't like they can just say, well, I'm out of here. They are going to have to complete their obligation. And I believe that during that period their concerns can be mitigated.
I think one of the encouraging aspects of this has been the relative -- the fairly positive responses of spouses, because as the saying goes, you enlist the soldier, you reenlist the family, and so the positive responses of the spouses, I think, has been important.