Generals support bill to repeal "don't ask, don't tell"

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March 03 2005 12:00 AM ET

A bill introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday to repeal the military's antigay "don't ask, don't tell" policy has gained the support of a group of retired military generals and admirals. The Military Readiness Enhancement Act was introduced by Democratic representative Marty Meehan of Massachusetts along with more than 40 congressional cosponsors. Meehan is also a member of the House Armed Services Committee, as are seven cosponsors of the legislation.

"Our national security depends on having the best and brightest Americans protecting our freedoms," said Evelyn "Pat" Foote, one of the first women to achieve the rank of brigadier general. "As a commander, I know that lesbian, gay, and bisexual Americans have served our country with honor and distinction. Our armed forces should be able to recruit every qualified, capable American to protect our homeland, regardless of their sexual orientation."

Other flag officers who are among the highest-ranking veterans to publicly support repeal of the military's gay ban include Brig. Gen. Keith H. Kerr, Brig. Gen. Virgil A. Richard, and Rear Adm. Alan M. Steinman. All three publicly acknowledged being gay in a December 2003 New York Times article. "I think the real issue is how soldiers do their jobs, not their sexuality," Richard later told CNN American Morning. "The policy is not working, and it's not working because, as an example...the Army and the services are short many linguists, and we kicked out [many] over the last couple of years that could have helped our Army." The Government Accountability Office reported last week that the military has fired 322 language specialists since 1993, including 54 who specialized in Arabic.

"These officers know firsthand the harm 'don't ask, don't tell' inflicts on our armed forces and our nation," said C. Dixon Osburn, executive director of the gay advocacy group Servicemembers Legal Defense Network. "Our armed forces need more service members to fight the global war on terrorism. Our country cannot afford a law that jeopardizes the continued service of 65,000 lesbian, gay, and
bisexual Americans who now serve on active duty, in the guard and reserves. What truly undermines military readiness is disrupting units by discharging hard-working, skilled, and patriotic Americans
who happen to be gay. Congress should heed the advice of the generals and admirals and pass MREA."

The introduction of MREA follows a report from the GAO last week. The report concluded that taxpayers spent at least $191 million to train and replace the nearly 10,000 service members fired under "don't ask, don't tell." The GAO report also acknowledged that its cost estimates did not include training and
replacement for officers or those with highly specialized skills.

The United States continues to be one of the last original NATO countries to bar openly gay and lesbian personnel from the military. Great Britain and Canada have lifted their bans, joining Israel and other nations around the world. U.S. forces serve alongside openly gay troops from those allied nations in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

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