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'Don't ask, don't tell' report authors speak out

By Ed O'Keefe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 30, 2010; 10:12 PM

The two authors of the Pentagon's long-awaited report on the impact of ending the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy have worked closely together over the past nine months. But neither man knew what the other personally thought about the ban until Tuesday.

Defense Department general counsell Jeh C. Johnson and Army Gen. Carter F. Ham will face intense scrutiny this week from lawmakers and advocates for and against ending the "don't ask, don't tell" law, which bans gays from openly serving in uniform.

Johnson and Ham led a 66-person review team that met with gay rights leaders, social conservatives, military chaplains, service members discharged under the policy, the same-sex partners of closeted gay troops and gay veterans. Hundreds of thousands of troops and spouses also provided feedback through written surveys, an online dropbox and town hall meetings at bases worldwide.

The lawyer and the general didn't know each other before Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates tapped them in February to study how ending "don't ask, don't tell" might impact troop readiness and morale.

Gates, President Obama and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mike Mullen publicly support ending the policy, but the final report "is by no means a piece of advocacy," Johnson said Monday in a joint interview with Ham.

"Neither one of us felt an obligation to our leadership to have this come out a certain way," Johnson said. "We both feel very strongly an obligation to report our honest and candid assessments."

But when asked Tuesday by lawmakers in a closed briefing, Ham reportedly said he is personally opposed to homosexuality. Asked later by reporters about the comments, Ham did not deny making them and said military leaders are obligated to express their personal views when asked by lawmakers. Johnson, who did not share his opinion, said it was the first time he had heard Ham's personal views on the matter.

The two men visited dozens of bases across the United States, the Pacific region and Europe, exposing Johnson to a military culture he rarely sees from inside the Pentagon.

"Most general counsels don't have an opportunity to get out and about like I did, so this was a huge learning experience for me," Johnson said. "I was very impressed with the level of civility and professionalism at which we were able to have this debate."

Both men have close ties to the military. Johnson never served in uniform, but two of his uncles were Tuskegee Airmen, and a great-uncle was one of the Navy's first black officers. Johnson, 53, graduated from Morehouse College and Columbia Law School. His grandfather,â?? famed sociologist Charles S. Johnsonâ??, discovered the name Jeh (pronounced "Jay") during a League of Nations mission to Liberia in 1930.

Ham, 58, has served in uniform since 1976 and has logged about 30 trips in the past nine months between Washington and his base in Heidelberg, Germany, splitting time between co-chairing the study group, commanding Army forces in Europe, awaiting Senate confirmation to serve as head of U.S. Africa Command and becoming a grandfather for the first time.

The pair joked Monday as they recalled moments from their travels together. During an overnight stay at Fort Benning, Ga., Johnson devoured a barbecue meal and sweet potato pie made by Ham's daughter, who lives there with her husband. They spent Thanksgiving together with their families last week at Ham's base in Germany and enjoyed a similar menu.

"But I took the last piece of sweet potato pie," Ham said with a laugh.

Their travels and meetings with troops helped craft the questions in surveys sent last summer to troops and military spouses. More than 115,000 active-duty and reserve troops and about 44,000 spouses responded, Ham said.

Gay rights advocates criticized the surveys for asking how troops would feel about bunking or showering with openly gay colleagues.

Ham was unapologetic, noting that privacy concerns came up at almost every town hall meeting. "We would not have been doing our duty if we knew this was a hot topic with the troops and we didn't try to get analytically sound information about that matter."

Friends, colleagues and activists who met the pair credit their eagerness to address the rank and file's concerns and present a balanced, nonpartisan report.

"Jeh's in there doing interview after interview. He hasn't passed the work off to others," said lawyer Theodore Wells Jr., a friend and former colleague who has spoken to Johnson about his nine-month mission. "He passionately believes he has an obligation to serve his country."

Retired Army Lt. Gen. Ken Hunzeker served with Ham in Europe and said his strong understanding of military life uniquely suited him for the role.

"He truly represents the heart and soul of the American soldier," Hunzeker said. "He's the best one to come forward on this issue and to talk to the soldiers and their families about this issue and report back to the American public."

"I'm not just a co-chair, I'm a commander, so if this [policy] changes, I've got to do this," Ham said. "I can't put my signature on something that's contrary to what I think. If I didn't believe what's in that report, I wouldn't have signed it."

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