Marines Handling "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" Repeal Smartly

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Gen. James Amos talks with Marines in Afghanistan in December / DoD photo

The Marines declared themselves, in a Pentagon survey conducted last year before the congressional vote to end “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” to be the service most opposed to letting openly gay men and women serve in uniform. It’s amazing what a little leadership can do. Friday morning, the Marines’ top officer declared his 200,000-strong force will be up to speed on the new policy by early June, and that the change hasn’t affected recruiting or retention within his ranks at all. Talk about making a mountain out of a foxhole.

“The law has changed, we follow the law,” General James Amos said over breakfast. “We’re the Marines, and that’s what we do for a living.”

Before Congress voted to lift the ban, Amos also had expressed reservations about changing the policy amid two wars. He raised eyebrows when he said lifting the ban could prove to be a “distraction” that could get Marines killed on the battlefield.

But, he maintained, the corps saluted smartly once Congress voted to lift the 17-year old ban two months ago. Amos was on the ground in Afghanistan when it happened. “The law changed while we were in Afghanistan and — 20,000 Marines on the ground — we looked at just about 12,000 of them in the eye,” he said. “We had all the commanders and senior staff NCOs and looked them in the eye and this is what I did: I said `Everybody pay very close attention to these eyeballs — look, this is the United States Marine Corps and I’m the commandant — this is what we’re going to do, we’re going to step out smartly, the law has changed.’ Every time I did that, I looked around the audience — it didn’t matter whether it was a large group or small group — and my senior leaders moved their heads north and south” in agreement. “You give them the two-finger eyeball poke and every one of them says, `Sir, we’ve got it — we’re going to do this thing.'”

When asked if any Marines have fled the force or if recruiting has been hurt by the change, Amos was blunt. “I haven’t had any indication yet at all — not at all” of such an impact. “I think it’d be naive to think that somewhere down the road there’s not going to be issues — I think there probably will be, in probably all the services — but I don’t think its going to be of a magnitude that’s going to cause much more than a blip.”

Marine lawyers and leaders are now being instructed on how to implement the change, with training of the rank and file to begin soon. “I promised if the law changed, the Marine Corps is going to aggressively pursue this thing,” Amos said, recalling his congressional comments last fall. “I didn’t say it in my testimony, but in my heart of hearts I went, `And the Marine Corps will lead the other services in this thing’ — and that’s exactly what we’ve done.”

Of course, that’s pretty easy for the Marines — they are the smallest service. But the betting is all four services will wrap up their “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” training by late summer. That’ll be following by certification from Pentagon leaders — and President Obama — that  lifting the ban won’t harm national security. Sixty days after that certification, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” will be history.

Wouldn’t it be grand if Congress could be just a little bit more like the Marines?