By Army Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone C. Marshall Jr, American Forces Press Service
/ Published July 02, 2012
WASHINGTON (AFPS) -- The Defense Department held a panel discussion today in honor of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride Month, with the Pentagon's general counsel recalling how difficult it would have been just several years ago to believe that in 2012, gays could serve openly in the military.
Jeh C. Johnson, DoD's General Counsel, addressed a standing room only audience and led a panel discussion at the LGBT pride event, which included a look into the process leading to the repeal of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" law in December 2010
"As recently as three years ago, it would have been hard for many of us, including me, to believe that in the year 2012 a gay man or woman in the armed forces could be honest about their sexual orientation," Johnson said.
Johnson, along with Army Gen. Carter F. Ham, currently the commander of U.S. Africa Command, played a large role in researching the effects of repealing the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" law, and its impact on military effectiveness.
Johnson said it was difficult to envision "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" ever being repealed, or that the repeal process would proceed so smoothly.
"It's a remarkable story, and it's remarkable because of the strength of the U.S. military and its leadership ... We have the mightiest military in the world. Not just because of our planes, guns, tanks and ships. But because of our people, their ability to adapt to change, and their respect for the rule of law, their commanders and their civilian leaders."
Johnson recalled how he and Ham had received a mandate to conduct an assessment of the impact on military effectiveness if the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" law was repealed, following Senate testimony on the matter by then-Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, and former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Navy Adm. Mike Mullen.
Johnson said he and Ham "were to take 10 months and we were told to systematically engage the force on this issue. In effect, 'Go have a conversation with the entire U.S. military about this issue and report back to me, the president, and the Congress what they've told you.'"
"The study we undertook was the most comprehensive engagement ever of the military on any personnel-related matter," Johnson said. "Over the course of 10 months we surveyed 400,000 service members and received 115,000 responses.
"[We also] surveyed 150,000 military spouses and received 44,266 responses," he continued. "[And] solicited and received 72,384 e-mails, conducted 95 information exchange forums at 51 bases around the world, and talked face-to-face to over 24,000 service members, many of them [personally]."
Johnson said the working group also held 140 smaller focus groups with service members and their families, visited the military academies, and solicited the views of Congress, veterans groups, other countries as well as those for and against repeal.
The research concluded with an anonymous, confidential online conversation with 2,691 self-identified gay active duty service members.
"The results of the report are now well known," Johnson said. "The bottom line conclusion was this -- based on all we saw and heard, our assessment is that when coupled with the prompt implementation of our recommendations, the risk of repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" to overall military effectiveness was low."
Johnson noted that while this was DOD's first LGBT pride event, civilian society and other agencies in the federal government have held such events in June for years.
"The CIA, for example, hosted a gay pride event 12 years ago," he pointed out. "This is the first time in history such an event has occurred at the Pentagon."
"So what should we honor today?" Johnson asked his audience noting "for those service members who are gay and lesbian, we lifted a real and personal burden from their shoulders. They no longer have to live a lie in the military."
"For all of us, we should honor the professional and near-flawless manner in which our entire U.S. military implemented and adapted to this change and welcomed their brothers and sisters to an unconditional place at the table," he said.