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Obama Campaign
Holds Policy Briefing on "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"

Obama Campaign
Holds Policy Briefing on "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"


Surrogates for Sen. Barack Obama briefed reporters Tuesday on the senator's support for repealing the military's discriminatory policy, saying it is outmoded and serves as a hindrance to recruiting the best and brightest for the nation's Armed Services.

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The Barack Obama campaign held a conference call Wednesday aimed at contrasting the senator's support for repeal of the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy with John McCain's belief in maintaining the ban against gays and lesbians serving openly in the Armed Forces.

"John McCain does not believe that our military personnel are as professional as the 23 other NATO countries that allow their military members to serve openly," said Rep. Patrick Murphy of Pennsylvania, who emerged as a fervent straight ally for repealing the ban in July at the first congressional hearings held on the policy since 1993. "As many of you know, they did adopt a platform -- John McCain and Sarah Palin -- that emphasized the incompatibility of homosexuality within the military service."

The GOP platform asserts, "To protect our servicemen and women and ensure that America's Armed Forces remain the best in the world, we affirm the timelessness of those values, the benefits of traditional military culture, and the incompatibility of homosexuality with military service."

The Democratic platform, by contrast, calls for an end to the policy in the name of military preparedness: "We support the repeal of 'don't ask, don't tell' and the implementation of policies to allow qualified men and women to serve openly regardless of sexual orientation."

Without calling the 72-year-old McCain by name, retired Lt. General Claudia Kennedy noted a generational difference in perspective on being gay. "We're in the generation of soldiers who don't think this is nearly as important as some of the people who are from a much older generation," the 60-year-old Kennedy said of the group of Obama surrogates on the conference call.

Kennedy, the first woman to reach the rank of a three-star general, added that Sen. Joseph Lieberman -- a strong McCain supporter -- and the former Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, retired General John Shalikashvili, have both said the "outmoded" policy should be changed.

"There's just no question in my mind that we ought to look at the entire talent pool," she said, in relation to recruitment. "We should not be artificially limiting who we look at as a potential soldier."

Some reporters raised questions about whether Obama's support for reinstating the Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) programs on college campuses nationwide -- some colleges expelled ROTC programs during the tumult of the Vietnam War -- was in conflict with his commitment to ending "don't ask, don't tell." Many campuses continue to ban military recruitment of any kind based on the military's discriminatory policy against gays.

"I agree with Senator Obama," responded Murphy, who joined a ROTC program while attending Kings College at Wilkes-Barre, Pa. "Senator Obama believes that our military needs equal access to our best and brightest graduates, which includes LGBT Americans."

Steve Boeckels, a 1997 West Point graduate and former Army lieutenant who was discharged in 2000 under "don't ask, don't tell," added that culling recruits from a wider range of campuses would have a positive effect on overturning the ban.

"When you limit the people or limit the number of schools or put bans on ROTC programs," Boeckels said, "you make it more difficult for the leadership to really have a broad-based background of people. And it's going to be more difficult to integrate people and overturn 'don't ask, don't tell' if you have a lot of people that maintain our [ROTC] programs come from more conservative schools."

Since being discharged, Boeckels said he had encountered a wide range of people who don't understand the policy.

"No matter who I talk to, whether they're Republican, Democrat, liberal, or conservative, people who are in the military, people not in the military -- people don't understand what the law is," he said. "A lot of people in the public have the misperception that gays can serve openly and they have rights that are afforded to them in the military."

When asked what the biggest hurdle was to overturning the policy, Murphy fingered the Bush Administration. "The fact is that we are behind social change right now in our military," he added. "We were ahead of social change when we desegregated our Army in the 1950s via executive order of President Truman. And in fact, half our country was still segregated at the time and it was in the middle of the Korean War."

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Obama Campaign
Holds Policy Briefing on "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"

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