By Cheryl Pellerin
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Dec. 3, 2010 – Though the Marine Corps would comply if Congress repeals the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" law, the service's top officer told the Senate Armed Services Committee today, he recommends against repealing the law at this time.
Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James F. Amos voiced concern that repealing the law that bans gays from serving openly in the military now, during the ninth consecutive year of combat operations, would affect the Marine Corps' effectiveness.
"Based on what I know about the very tough fight in Afghanistan, the almost singular focus of our combat forces as they train up and deploy into theater, the necessary tightly woven culture of those combat forces that we are asking so much of at this time, and finally the direct feedback from the survey," he said, "my recommendation is that we should not implement repeal at this time."
Referring to a Defense Department working group study released Nov. 30, Amos said that about 45 percent of Marines who responded view the repeal as potentially having a negative effect on unit effectiveness, readiness and cohesion. Another 5 percent to 13 percent view the repeal positively in the same categories, he added.
"Of particular concern to me is that roughly 56 percent of combat-arms Marines voiced negative concerns," the general said. "Negative benchmarks for combat-arms Marines ranged between 66 percent for unit effectiveness and 58 percent for unit cohesion."
The negative perceptions are held almost equally by all ranks within the combat arms communities, he said.
Young men and women who volunteer to be Marines do so with honorable and patriotic intentions, Amos said, and bridge even vast differences in background, beliefs and personality.
"That said, if the law is changed, successfully implementing repeal and assimilating openly homosexual Marines into the tightly woven fabric of our combat units has strong potential for disruption at the small unit level, as it will no doubt divert leadership attention away from an almost singular focus of preparing units for combat," he said.
"I do not know how distracting that effort would be, nor how much risk it portends," he added.
Marines serve faithfully around the globe, partnered with other military services and allies, "protecting our freedoms and our way of life," Amos told the senators.
"The focus of my complete energy," he added, "is to ensure our Marines are properly led, trained and equipped and that their families are cared for so that our Marines can focus their energy on the vital tasks they are assigned."
Amos said he is faced with two questions.
"The first is could we repeal at this time? The answer is yes," he said. Chapter 13 of the study does a good job of articulating most of the elements of a successful implementation strategy, he told the Senate panel, and should Congress change the law, the Marine Corps would follow that law despite the challenges.
"Marine Corps authorities, and even its very existence in law, flow directly from Congress. I promise you that we will follow the law," Amos said. "I will require and receive highly focused leadership at every level, beginning with me and the sergeant major of the Marine Corps."
The second question, he said, is whether now is the time for repeal.
Amos said that although the survey provides useful information about servicemember attitudes and issues surrounding the law's potential repeal, he can't turn his back on the negative perceptions of his Marines.
"We asked for their opinions, and they gave them to us," he said. "Their message to me is that the potential exists for disruption to the successful execution of our current combat mission should repeal be implemented at this time."