Panetta: Marine Commandant Told Him Gays in Corps Won’t Impact ‘Recruitment, Morale, Unit Cohesion’

By Edwin Mora | September 21, 2011 | 11:25 AM EDT

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, at press briefing marking end of the military's ban on homosexuals. (AP Photo)

( -  U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Tuesday that Gen. James Amos, the commandant of the Marine Corp, had told Panetta that he had changed his mind about the wisdom of allowing homosexuals into the Corps after testifying in Congress last December that it would harmful to the Marines.

“I talked to Gen. Amos directly about that and he said that after doing the review and finding that there was no impact in terms of recruitment or morale or unit cohesion, that he was committed to putting this in place and that it was now important to move on,” Panetta told at a Pentagon press briefing.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen added that in the course of training U.S. forces to deal with gays in their ranks the military had not found “any significant issues.”

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“Quite frankly over the last several months as we’ve conducted the training, we have not found, you know, any significant issues,” added Adm. Mullen. “Obviously, the training was not to change one’s view. It was to make sure everybody understood what the rules were and the Marines do that better than anybody else. So I have great confidence, you know, the Marine Corp is going to march off and do this as Gen. Amos said they would and actually tells us they are.” 

The comments by Mullen and Panetta were in response to asking, “Was the general wrong in opposing [the repeal of] Don’t Ask Don’t Tell based on concerns among his combat troops and what is the Pentagon doing to mitigate those concerns?” 

While testifying before lawmakers in early December 2010, Gen. Amos made a recommendation against repealing the ban on homosexuals in the military based on his combat units’ concern that overturning the ban would potentially disrupt the U.S. military mission in Afghanistan. Amos was joined by the chiefs of the Army and Air Force in recommending that the ban not be repealed.

A Defense Department report on the prospect of repealing the ban on homosexuals, which had been published in November 2010, surveyed servicemembers on the impact a repeal would have on various aspects of their service. “67% of those in Marine combat arms units predict working alongside a gay man or lesbian will have a negative effect on their unit’s effectiveness in completing its mission ‘in a field environment or out at sea,’” the report said.

“I cannot reconcile nor turn my back on the negative perceptions held by our Marines who are most engaged in the hard work of day-to-day operations in Afghanistan,” Amos told Congress. “We asked for their opinion and they gave it to us. Their message is that the potential exists for disruption to the successful execution of our current combat mission, should repeal be implemented at this time.”

Nevertheless, he later added, “despite the challenges … at the end of the day we are Marines. Should Congress change the law then our nation’s Marine Corps will faithfully support the law.”

The ban on homosexuals in the military was officially repealed as of 12:01 a.m. on Monday. On July 22, President Obama, Panetta, and Mullen certified that the U.S. military was prepared to implement the changes without disrupting military readiness, military effectiveness, unit cohesion, recruiting and retention.

The legislation that led to the repeal of the ban on homosexuals was signed by President Obama on December 22, 2010. Under the legislation, Obama, Panetta, and Mullen were required to certify that the U.S. military was ready to change the law.