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1/4 of 'don't ask, don't tell' surveys returned as deadline looms

By Adam Levine, CNN National Security Supervising Producer
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • About 104,000 out of 400,000 surveys have been returned, the Defense Department says
  • Efforts are being made to get more before the Sunday deadline
  • 67,000 comments also have been collected online

Washington (CNN) -- With a deadline just two days away, about one-quarter of all service members who were sent "don't ask, don't tell" surveys have returned them to the Department of Defense, a spokeswoman said Friday.

The survey seeks their opinions on the potential impact of changing the military ban on gay and lesbians serving openly in the military.

The Pentagon sent out 400,000 confidential surveys and set an August 15 deadline for their return. Spokeswoman Cynthia Smith said about 104,000 have been received.

While Smith said the 26 percent return rate was in line with what the Department of Defense was told is typical for a survey this size, officials are urging more people to return their forms. Defense Secretary Robert Gates sent a letter earlier this week reminding people to do so.

"Your responses to this survey will help assess the impact of a change in the Don't Ask, Don't Tell law and associated policy on military readiness, effectiveness and unit cohesion, should such a change occur," Gates wrote. "The end result: more informed decisions."

In addition to the surveys, more than 67,000 comments have been posted by military members and spouses in an online inbox. The comments are being examined by an independent contractor, Westat, which is being paid $4.5 million to conduct the reviews. That comment box will be open until August 30.

The Defense Department also set up a third-party operated, confidential system for gay and lesbian service members to express their opinions on the potential rule change. Smith said more than 2,450 currently serving troops have made submissions, with 280 "self-identifying" themselves as gay or lesbian.

That forum will be open until 8 p.m. ET Sunday.

Westat has also conducted more than 70 forums with randomly selected service members in locations around the United States and in Europe, South Korea and Japan. The forums allowed the participants to give their opinions about the impact of repealing "don't ask, don't tell."

After the initial survey deadline passes, 150,000 surveys will be mailed to randomly selected military spouses who will have until the end of September to return the forms.

All the submissions will be considered by the Gates-appointed working group, which is headed by Jeh Johnson, the Pentagon's top lawyer, and Army Gen. Carter Ham, the commander of U.S. Army Europe, who have until the end of the year to provide recommendations and findings to Gates about the impact of a repeal.

 
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