By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
During a question and answer session in Afghanistan, Defense Secretary Robert Gates told Marines that those who disagree with the government’s decision to end the ban on homosexuals serving openly in the military will not be able to opt out of their enlistment.
Reuters is reporting that the exchange took place at Forward Operating Base Dwyer in southwestern Helmand Province where the Secretary was visiting as part of a farewell tour to the troops before stepping down later this month. During his visit to the base, a Marine sergeant asked about the options available to troops who disagreed with the ban’s reversal.
“Sir, we joined the Marine Corps because the Marine Corps has a set of standards and values that is better than that of the civilian sector. And we have gone and changed those values and repealed the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy,” the sergeant said.
“We have not given the Marines a chance to decide whether they wish to continue serving under that. Is there going to be an option for those Marines that no longer wish to serve due to the fact their moral values have not changed?” he asked.
“No,” Gates responded. “You’ll have to complete your … enlistment just like everybody else.”
He went on to say that “the reality is that you don’t all agree with each other on your politics, you don’t agree with each other on your religion, you don’t agree with each other on a lot of things . . . . But you still serve together. And you work together. And you look out for each other. And that’s all that matters.”
Gates said training was underway to prepare the services for the new policy which will take effect 60 days after the president, defense secretary and top uniformed military officer certify that it can be implemented without affecting military readiness. In the meantime, the military is in the process of training service members about the new policy.
“If we do this right, nothing will change,” he said. “You will still have to abide by the same rules of behavior, the same discipline, the same respect for each other that has been the case through all the history of the Marine Corps.”
Of all the branches of service, the Marine Corps has been the most resistant to repeal of the 17 year-old ban. Polls taken in December, when the ban was repealed by Congress, found that nearly 60 percent of those serving in the Marine Corps and in Army combat units said they thought repealing the law would hurt their units’ ability to fight on the battlefield.
Some say the Secretary of Defense only backed the move because legal challenges were threatening to overturn the policy and force the U.S. Armed Services to implement the changes with insufficient preparation.
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