December 21, 2010
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On Saturday, December 18, 2010, the Senate voted 65-31 to adjust the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. Before the vote, I made the following statement on the floor of the Senate:
“I rise in support of the notion that we need to make adjustments to the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy. I say this after many years of thought and consideration and also in light of the analysis that has been provided by the Department of Defense to the Armed Services Committee on which I sit. I would say to my friend from South Carolina, I take the points that he has made about small unit cohesion. This has gone into the formula that I have used, myself, in order to come to my conclusion.
“We need to, first of all, understand what this is and what it is not. The question is not whether there should be gays and lesbians in the military. They are already there. According to General Ham, who conducted this extensive study, approximately the same percentage of the military is gay and lesbian as in our general population.
“The question is not about whether anyone should be able to engage in inappropriate conduct as a result of this policy, because we will not allow that and we will be very vigorous in our oversight of the Department of Defense to make sure that does not occur.
“The question is whether this policy, as now enacted, works in a way that on the one hand can protect small unit cohesion–or to sort that out–and on the other, allow people to live honest lives.
“Here’s what we have: We have a Secretary of Defense who served in the Air Force and who implemented a policy of nondiscrimination when he headed the C.I.A., coming forward strongly and saying he believes that the alteration of this policy will work. I would remind my colleagues that he began as Secretary of Defense in the Bush Administration. We have a Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, who had an extensive career in surface warfare starting with small destroyers and up to commanding fleets, saying he believes the policy should change and that it can work. We have the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, a Marine, saying he believes this policy should change and it can work. Most interestingly, we have General Ham, who conducted this study—an infantry officer and former enlisted Army soldier whose religious beliefs caused him concern about homosexuality—at the same time saying this policy can be changed and that it should be changed.
“That is what we are seeing here. The question is whether a change in policy will create difficulties in small unit cohesion. That depends, as I mentioned during the hearings, on how the policy is implemented. I wrote a letter yesterday to Secretary Gates to reaffirm my understanding that this repeal would contemplate a sequenced implementation of the provisions for different units in the military as reasonably determined by the service chiefs, the combatant commanders in coordination with the Secretary of Defense and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs. He responded to me this morning saying, ‘This legislation would indeed permit’ it, and ‘The specific concerns you raise would be foremost in my mind as we develop an implementation plan.’
“Without this, Mr. President, I would not be voting to repeal this. I have spent my entire life in and around the military, including five years in the Pentagon. With this understanding and with the notion that we need to be putting a policy into place that allows an open way of living among people who have different points of view, I’m going to support this legislation.”
Senator Webb served as highly-decorated combat Marine in Vietnam and is currently chairman of the Senate Committee on Armed Services Personnel Subcommittee.