Defense Department begins surveying servicemembers about 'don't ask, don't tell'

By U.S. Army Europe Public Affairs
July 8, 2010

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- At noon July 7, Defense Department officials e-mailed surveys to 400,000 servicemembers as part of a special review to prepare the military for a potential repeal of the so-called “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law that bans gays and lesbians from openly serving in the U.S. military.

Gen. Carter F. Ham, commander of U.S. Army Europe, and Jeh Johnson, the Pentagon’s top lawyer, head the review panel that’s assessing the current law.

“The voice of the servicemembers is still vitally important,” the general said, noting that although amendments to the current law were approved by legislators in May, lawmakers still require the Pentagon review.

“This is draft regulation, it is not yet enacted into law, and there are several hurdles yet to come,” Ham said.

The group has been meeting with troops and family members since February. Surveys were distributed because time and financial constraints prevented the group from meeting with every Army member, Ham explained in a recent Pentagon Channel interview.

The surveys will give the panel a baseline of information that best represents the military’s 2.2 million servicemembers and their families, Ham said, stressing the importance of servicemember feedback.

Engaging the force may be more important now than before the amendments were passed, Ham said.

Half of the surveys went to active-duty servicemembers, and half were sent to members of the reserve components. Troops who received the surveys were selected based on age, rank, service, component, military specialties, education, marital status and other factors, to ensure broad and thorough feedback on a potential repeal, Ham said.

The working group also plans to continue meeting with servicemembers and families, Ham said. He and Johnson have met with troops at “a large variety of bases, posts, camps and stations around the country,” the general said, adding that they’re planning to meet with troops stationed overseas as well.

Such sessions have proven invaluable to the working group, Ham added.

“What these sessions do afford is an opportunity for Mr. Johnson and myself to speak directly to servicemembers; to hear in their own words what their assessment of the impact of repeal of the current law would be, should Congress decide to take that action,” he said. “Those sessions provide us context. They provide us substance to what we know we will get statistically from the survey and put it in real terms of how real servicemembers feel about this.”

An online inbox also is available for military and civilian members of the Defense Department, who can log in with a government Common Access Card to provide their input. The site is not confidential; however, directions from the site, as well as in the survey, are provided for members who wish to continue a “confidential dialogue” with non-Defense Department members of the working group, the general said.

Once servicemembers enter the confidential site, they will be given an untraceable PIN number they then can use to log on from any computer.

This tool will allow gay and lesbian servicemembers to remain anonymous and establish confidential communication, Ham explained. It’s available to all servicemembers, he added, because some may not feel comfortable providing candid remarks.

“It is vitally important that servicemembers continue to be open and frank and totally honest with us in their feedback,” Ham said. “That certainly has been the case to date, whether it’s been a large group session or a small group or the online inbox. The servicemembers and their families have been invaluable to Mr. Johnson and myself.

“We need that to continue in order to do our jobs and be representative of the force as we address the significant policy matters that would follow repeal of this law, if that is what Congress decides to do,” the general said.

Also, 150,000 surveys will be mailed to military spouses by the end of the month, Ham said. Ham stressed the importance of promptly completing and returning the surveys. He said he hopes all the surveys will be returned within 45 days of receipt.

The working group’s final report is due to Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates by Dec. 1.

Link to DoD Special Report: Don't Ask, Don't Tell

Related story: Gates, Mullen encourage participation in survey