WASHINGTON –Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Tuesday that he supports President Obama's decision to seek the repeal of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy prohibiting gays from serving openly in the military and has appointed a "high-level working group" to figure out how to do it.
Gates, in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, announced that Gen. Carter Ham, who leads U.S. Army forces in Europe, and Pentagon General Counsel Jeh Johnson will lead the review, according to Fox News. The defense chief called for an "implementation plan" by the end of the year.
"I fully support the president's decision," Gates said. "The question before us is not whether the military prepares to make this change, but how we ... best prepare for it. We have received our orders from the commander in chief and we are moving out accordingly."
The military's top uniformed officer also declared Tuesday that gays should be allowed to serve openly in uniform, arguing that it is "the right thing to do."
Adm. Mike Mullen's statement was the strongest yet from the uniformed military on this volatile issue, although he stressed that he was "speaking for myself and myself only." He told the Senate Armed Services Committee Tuesday he is deeply troubled by a policy that forces people to "lie about who they are in order to defend their fellow citizens."
Mullen said he knows many will disagree about abandoning the "don't ask, don't tell" policy and said there are practical obstacles to lifting the 1993 ban. But he said he thinks the military can handle it. Mullen is chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and chief military adviser to President Barack Obama.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates told the panel he is tapping his chief legal adviser and a four-star Army general to lead a landmark study on how the military would lift its ban on openly gay service members.
Pentagon counsel Jeh Johnson and Gen. Carter Ham, who leads Army forces in Europe, will conduct the yearlong assessment.
Ham is a former enlisted infantryman who rose through the ranks to eventually command troops in northern Iraq in 2004 and hold senior positions within the Joint Staff. Recently, he helped conduct an investigation into the shootings by a soldier at the Fort Hood Army base in Texas.
As the Pentagon's top legal counsel, Johnson has played an integral role into the effort to try to close the military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Gates' announcement marked a measured step toward President Barack Obama's goal of eliminating the military's policy against gays, which is based on a 1993 law.
Ham is a former enlisted infantryman who rose to command troops in northern Iraq. Johnson, the Pentagon's general counsel, played an integral role in the effort to close the military prison in Guantanamo Bay.
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