Top Marine who warned about gay troops pledges to enforce end of 'don't ask'

By Ed O'Keefe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 2, 2011; 10:17 PM

Gay rights leaders are praising the nation's top Marine for setting a positive, proactive tone as the military prepares to end enforcement of "don't ask, don't tell," despite his previous warnings that openly gay troops could lead to deadly distractions.

Gen. James F. Amos, commandant of the Marine Corps, has said that allowing gays to serve openly in the military could result in more casualties because openly gay troops on the battlefield could pose "a distraction."

But in a new video, Amos and Sgt. Maj. Carlton W. Kent, the Marines' top enlisted man, remind the rank and file a change in policy is coming and they expect the new orders to be followed.

"The Marine Corps is a diverse force, and all have earned the privilege to wear the Eagle, globe and anchor," Kent says in the video. "As Marines, we are confident you will continue to treat each other with dignity and respect. The commandant and I have trust in the great leadership of our Corps, from junior Marines to the most senior. As always, engaged leadership will be the key to implementation."

Later, Amos says: "I want to be clear to all Marines: We will step out smartly to faithfully implement this new law. It's important that we value the diversity of background, culture and skills that all Marines bring to the service of our nation. As we implement repeal, I want leaders at all levels to reemphasize the importance of maintaining dignity and respect for one another throughout our force. We are Marines, we care for one another and respect the rights of all who wear this uniform. We will continue to demonstrate to the American people that discipline and fidelity, which have been the hallmarks of the United States Marine Corps for more than 235 years, will continue well into the future."

A Defense Department survey released in November found that 58 percent of those in Marine combat arms units thought that repeal would negatively impact unit cohesion. About 48 percent of Army combat units felt the same way.

But overall, 70 percent of service members said they believe repeal would have little or no effect on their units.

The video shows that Amos "is keeping his promise to lead the implementation of openly gay and lesbian service personally," said Aaron Belkin, executive director of the Palm Center, a California think tank that specializes in gender, sexuality and the military. "The general's statement is unambiguous that he values the diversity of all Marines, whether they are straight or gay."

Fred Sainz, vice president of the Human Rights Campaign, said, "It's heartening that in our democracy, military leaders may disagree but they do not hesitate to implement the laws passed by our elected leaders."

Despite his warnings, Amos said last year that he wouldn't resist if Congress passed legislation ending enforcement of "don't ask, don't tell" and vowed that the Marines would "get in step and do it smartly."

Detailed plans on how each of the services will prepare to train troops about the end of "don't ask, don't tell" are due by Friday to Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates.

Senior military leaders said late last week that training will begin in February with the goal of ending the policy by the end of the year.

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