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Military readying report on 'don't ask, don't tell'

From Charley Keyes, CNN Senior Producer
  • The views of the service chiefs are highly anticipated
  • Several senators are awaiting the military's report before deciding how they'll vote
  • The report is to be released on November 30

Washington (CNN) -- The heads of the military services are preparing their final advice to Defense Secretary Robert Gates about how a repeal of don't ask, don't tell will impact their troops and officers.

The uniformed leaders of the Army, Marines, Navy and Air Force and Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen, will present their views to Defense Secretary Robert Gates in the final days before he releases the report November 30 on ending the ban on gays and lesbians serving openly in the U.S. military.

"The chiefs and the chairman owe the secretary their views and they will do that independently," said Capt. John Kirby, a spokesman for Mullen. "They will offer their views on the report and the findings and whatever recommendations they feel are appropriate to add in terms of the implementation."

The views of the service chiefs are highly anticipated and could have significant impact on the several senators who have withheld their decision on whether they will vote for a repeal until they see the report and hear what the service chiefs think. But the comments from the senior military brass are for Gates' eyes only and will not be included in the final report, though the service heads could be called to testify.

Senators who favor repealing the ban had been asking Gates to accelerate the report to give them time to read and digest it and hold hearings before the lame-duck session of this Congress passes them along to the history books.

On Sunday Gates did pick up the pace very slightly when he said the report he commissioned on how active duty military members and their families feel about the change and how it can be implemented would be released not on December 1 as originally indicated but a day earlier, on November 30.

"By law the (joint) chiefs are expected to provide their best military advice to the secretary," Kirby said. "They understand the secretary has moved the schedule to the left one day and they are working to accommodate that."

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman, Carl Levin, D-Michigan, quickly jumped in Monday, signaling he hopes to nail down a schedule for hearings in December. Levin supports the repeal.

"I'm pleased that Secretary Gates is accommodating the Senate's consideration of the defense authorization bill by expediting release of the Defense Department's report on repeal of the 'don't ask, don't tell' policy," Levin said in a statement. "We hope to finalize soon the schedule of hearings on the Defense Department report."

Gates is travelling in South America but again made known his preference for Congress to repeal the policy and not allow the courts to act.

"We ended up essentially having four different policies on this issue in the space of two weeks because of different actions by different courts and including at one point a directive immediately to suspend the law," Gates said.

Gates carefully sidestepped questions about when Congress might actually do anything.

"That's completely up to the Congress," Gates told reporters in Bolivia. "All I know is if this law is going to change, it's better that it be changed by legislation than it simply be struck down -- rather than have it struck down by the courts with the potential for us having to implement it immediately."

For now the don't-ask repeal is embedded in the Defense Authorization Bill, a $700 billion road map for Pentagon spending on everything from big weapons systems to military pay increases. So far Levin has turned away requests from Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, and others to strip the "don't ask" item from the bill to allow Congress to pass the bulk of the legislation now and resume debate later on that one item.

Gates plans to release the report, which includes the results of a survey of active duty military as well as military families, simultaneously to Congress and the public.

All the service chiefs proposed a go-slow approach on ending the "don't ask" ban, at least until the conclusion of the Gates report. Marine Commandant James Amos said that he opposed the change while the U.S. is fighting in Afghanistan because of its potential negative impact on unit cohesion.

This weekend Mullen said there is no question Amos will implement the new policy if the ban is lifted.

"In fact,I've spoken with him as recently as last week, and he recounted a town hall that he had had on the East Coast recently. And he was very clear and very public to his Marines," Mullen said in an interview on CNN's "State of the Union."

"And he( Amos) basically said that if this law changes, we are going to implement it, and we are going to implement it better than anybody else. So I have great confidence in him that if it gets to the change in the law, that the Marine Corps will implement it as he has described."

The chief of staff for the Army, Gen. George Casey, told a Senate panel back in February that he supports Gates' approach to considering the impact of the repeal, but at the start of the process he took issue with changing the law.

"I do have serious concerns about the impact of the repeal of the law on a force that's fully engaged in two wars and has been at war for eight and a half years," Casey told the Senate Armed Service committee.