Defense secretary said if change happens, it must be handled ‘very carefully’
CARLISLE, Pennsylvania — Changing the U.S. military’s "Don’t ask, don’t tell" policy for gay troops is "very difficult," Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Thursday, April 16, indicating that doing so could take years — if it ever happens.
Speaking at the Army War College, Gates said he and President Barack Obama were discussing the policy and whether to change it. Gates said he was not yet taking a position about whether gay troops should be open about their sexuality, which could lead to their discharge under the current rules.
Gates also noted it took five years for the U.S. military to racially integrate during the Truman administration.
"If we do it, it’s imperative that we do it right and very carefully," Gates told reporters later on a military jet to Newport, Rhode Island, where he was to speak Friday at the Navy’s war college.
He added: "It’s very difficult. To get peoples’ real feelings about it you have to have almost a one-on-one private conversation. I think it’s very difficult for people to speak in front of their peers about this issue."
Obama committed during the 2008 presidential campaign to moving to end the Clinton administration-era policy that was enacted as a compromise between openly gay people serving in the armed forces and those opposed to gays in uniform.
Jon Soltz, an Iraq War veteran and chairman of VoteVets.org, said scrapping "Don’t ask, don’t tell" to let gay troops serve openly "can and should happen now."
"It’s not like integration, where we had to move African-American troops into units," Soltz said in a statement. "This would simply allow people to continue to serve where they’re currently serving."
"Any thought this couldn’t happen quickly just isn’t true," Soltz said.
Gates was in Carlisle for his third visit to a military college in four days to discuss the Pentagon’s spending plan for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.