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SLDN: Veterans Tell Congress “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” Bad for Unit Cohesion

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 18, 2010

CONTACT: Kevin Nix
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Veterans Tell Congress “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” Bad for Unit Cohesion
SLDN: ‘Yes’ Vote on Repeal Inevitable

WASHINGTON, D.C. – This morning two Iraq/Afghanistan veterans, and former clients of Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, appeared before a Senate committee to explain how the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law has impacted their own lives and the strength of the units in which they served.

“There was a considerable disruption to my squadron’s unit cohesion after I was fired and replaced by a far more junior officer, with less training and experience,” former Air Force Major Mike Almy told the Senate Armed Services Committee. “This had a negative effect on morale and unit cohesion and the mission suffered as a result. Approximately a year after I was relieved of my duties, my Wing Commander recommended I be promoted to Lieutenant Colonel, even though the Air Force was actively pursuing a discharge for me.”

Former U.S. Navy Lieutenant Junior Grade Jenny Kopfstein told the committee that two captains testified at her DADT discharge hearing saying they were opposed to her being kicked out, one of whom writing explicitly that the Lieutenant was not a detriment to unit cohesion, morale, or good order. Both Major Almy and Lieutenant Kopfstein provided senators with documentation showing that their superiors and subordinates thought highly of them professionally and personally.

“We are so proud of both Major Almy and Lieutenant Kopfstein,” said Aubrey Sarvis, SLDN executive director. “Not only did they explain how the archaic ban is harming military preparedness, but they illustrated the generational divide on the issue by sitting next to General Sheehan. Their stories bring to life the new poll numbers out this week indicating 73 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans say it is personally acceptable to them if gay and lesbian people were allowed to serve openly in the military.”

Unfortunately, recent statements by some of the Joint Chiefs of Staff mirror the remarks today by General Sheehan, who continue to resist or slow roll the inevitable change to open service. The question on the table, however, is how to implement open service. President Obama, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen have all unequivocally indicated the question before the nation is not whether the military prepares to transition to open service but how best to prepare for it.

“There is a clear division between top civilian and military leadership and some of the Joint Chiefs,” said Sarvis. “The latter group thinks we’re living in the 1990s arguing about whether open service is a good idea or not. We’ve moved on; they should too. The momentum is overwhelmingly on the side of repeal.”

Sarvis is referring to the significant developments around DADT repeal in recent weeks: Admiral Mullen, Sec. Gates, and Generals Colin Powell and David Petraeus all coming out in favor of open service. And the historic introduction of a bill in the Senate by Senators Lieberman and Levin, which has picked up 25 cosponsors in two weeks. The Senate bill accompanies the House repeal bill championed by Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-Pa.), which has gained 191 cosponsors and two dozen more commitments. Seventy percent of the American public, including conservatives and churchgoers, support allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly.

SLDN is also optimistic that DADT repeal will be included in the defense authorization bill this year. “Our whip count indicates that we are within striking difference of having the votes needed on the Senate Armed Services Committee to include DADT in the defense authorization,” said Sarvis. “A ‘yes’ vote is inevitable.”

SLDN will continue to urge Congress to act this year on repeal through the defense authorization while the Pentagon Working Group continues its work looking at how to implement open service.

Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (www.sldn.org) is a national, non-profit legal services and policy organization dedicated to ending "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." A journalists' guide is available here.

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