WASHINGTON – A coalition of conservatives and retired military men urged Congress to consider morale and retention in a volunteer military before rushing to vote on the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell."
Family Research Council President Tony Perkins and Center for Military Readiness President Elaine Donnelly stood with other conservative leaders at a press conference Wednesday to urge against a rushed lame duck vote on the repeal of the 1993 policy that bans gays from serving openly in the military.
FRC Senior fellow for National Security Lt. Col. Bob Maginnis urged decision makers to think about recruitment before deciding anything.
"You need to consider who you recruit into the armed services today. This is an all volunteer force. I f these volunteers or their parents or key people that advise them are alienated by this decision, you're in trouble," he stated.
Maginnis explained that volunteers are the fabric that makes the military. It is critical, he said, to understand the background of these volunteers to determine what issues drive morale.
"Our people come from a narrow demographic: from the south, from the mountain west. They also tend to be very religious and very conservative," he described.
With such a background, soldiers are unlikely to be comfortable with a military of open homosexuality, he said. If these military recruits disapprove of the changes in the military, they will be least likely to recommend the armed services to family members, peers and youth. This is dangerous to future recruitment, advised Maginnis.
"Who do you think recommends sons and daughters to go into the service today? This volunteer force, you'll find, is incredibly linked to their [military] heritage," he highlighted.
There are a lot of things about an openly gay military that will be disturbing to military men and women from conservative backgrounds, DADT proponents shared. Maginnis said the Department of Defense report that was released this week underestimates the importance of privacy to military men and women.
"They dismiss the whole notion of privacy. They say, 'No, we're going to make sure everyone has to share a room whether they like it or not,'" he said.
In the report, however, numbers disagree with that assertion, he pointed out. Raw data from the 257-page "Comprehensive Review of the Issues Associated with a Repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell" revealed that that nearly 60 percent of combat Marine soldiers said it would affect them negatively to very negatively if they had to work with an openly gay solder in their immediate unit.
Similarly, the majority of all Army, non-combat Marine and combat Army respondents also said they would be negatively to very negatively affected by having to work with openly homosexual unit members.
Also at issue is the climate for chaplains and soldiers to express viewpoints that stem from their religious beliefs. Donnelly warned that anyone who expressed beliefs that are contrary to homosexuality and the homosexual lifestyle will be penalized.
"Respect is a code word for zero tolerance," she warned.
The report addressed religious concerns. Though it stated that "service members will not be required to change their personal views and religious beliefs," the report stressed that "they must, however, continue to respect and serve with others who hold different views and beliefs."
Conservatives present at the meeting on Wednesday made their displeasure with the report known. Donnelly scoffed at Defense Secretary Robert Gates' and report co-chairs Jeh Charles Johnson's and Army Gen. Carter Ham's comments that the military was ready for a DADT repeal. "That was quite a show they put on yesterday," conservatives said.
Gen. Ham summarized the report on Tuesday saying, "Based on all we saw and heard, our assessment is that, when coupled with the prompt implementation of the recommendations we offer below, the risk of repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell to overall military effectiveness is low."
Blasting the report, Maginnis said, "They didn't ask all the key questions." Key questions included whether soldiers supported a repeal of DADT and how would they suggest the Congress and the DOD change the ban. The report also lumped together "equally positively and negatively" (or mixed) answers and "no effect" responses with "positively or very positively" answers to report large favorable reactions to the questions.
Regarding the question on whether soldiers could work together with openly gay soldiers, the executive summary said 70 percent of soldiers would have no problem with it, citing tabulations of positive, mixed, or no effect answers.
Perkins said the report reflected a positive climate for openly homosexual soldiers because "those who were in charge [of commissioning the report] took their orders from their commander in chief."
He urged lawmakers to delay a decision on a repeal, stating that there is not enough time for them to make an informed decision.
"This should not be done in a lame duck Congress," stressed Perkins.
Rep. John Fleming (R-LA) agreed with Perkins' remarks and said Congress has not even had a chance to look at the documents yet.
"We haven't had the opportunity to have really a single hearing involving this study," he said.
And yet, Fleming worries, Congress will be forced to vote on the measure within a matter of days.
In spite of the report, Donnelly believes that a vote on the repeal and the defense appropriations bill containing the DADT amendment will be blocked. "They don't have the votes," she said.
Donnelly cited a letter signed by the Republican caucus pledging not to block debate on virtually all Democratic-backed legislation that isn't related to tax cuts or government spending in the lame-duck session of Congress. The letter was delivered by GOP minority leader Sen. Mitch McConnell to House majority leader Sen. Harry Reid.
Congress is scheduled to hold a hearing with top leaders of the military on Friday.