WASHINGTON - The Army’s top uniformed officer said yesterday he has “serious concerns’’ about overturning a 17-year policy that bans gays from serving openly in the military and supports a yearlong study into the matter before any changes are made.
The carefully crafted comments by General George Casey, US Army chief of staff, to the Senate Armed Services Committee indicate reluctance by some within the military’s senior ranks to President Obama’s plan to repeal the “don’t ask, don’t tell’’ policy.
Obama says the policy is wrongheaded and should change. Defense Secretary Robert Gates agrees but wants to move slowly and has ordered a lengthy assessment on how to lift the ban without affecting the force. Casey’s testimony as a service chief is considered crucial to the debate. As the top uniformed officials in each service, a service chief is in charge of recruitment and preparing troops for deployments. If the policy on gays is overturned, the chiefs would have to decide how to implement the changes.
“I do have serious concerns about the impact of a repeal of the law on a force that is fully engaged in two wars and has been at war for 8 1/2 years,’’ Casey said. “We just don’t know the impacts on readiness and military effectiveness.’’
Casey and other service leaders have said they would abide by any changes of law or new orders by the president. But their personal opinions could still sway Congress. Some Democrats are hesitant to change the law and might join Republicans in trying to block legislation if they are convinced that an overturn could hurt the military’s ability to fight.
On Monday, Senator Joseph Lieberman said he would introduce legislation next week to repeal “don’t ask, don’t tell.’’ Lieberman, a moderate and an independent from Connecticut, said his measure would “enable patriotic gay Americans to defend our national security and our founding values of freedom and opportunity.’’