Washington, military “Don’t ask, don’t tell” debate splinters Auburn

By: AP reports and Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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Splintering Washington and much of the military, the debate over the “don’t ask, don’t tell” law is also dividing opinion in Auburn. The question of letting gays serve openly in the military turned into a battle of political and military wills on a national level today when Republican Sen. John McCain clashed with the Pentagon’s top leaders and warned that troops would quit in droves. On a local level, semi-retired Meadow Vista business owner Fred Colburn said that allowing openly gay soldiers was going to cause major disruptions as soldiers worked in close quarters with one another. “There’s no reason why they can’t shoot guns and fly airplanes but it’s barracks proximity that is generally meeting a lot of resistance,” Colburn said. “Homosexuals in the military aren’t going to make it and the men in the military will show how disgusted they are by doing things like taking these guys outside and beating them up.” Colburn, a 1955 Naval Academy graduate, said he believes President Obama is pushing Defense Secretary Robert Gates and other military leaders. But Auburn’s Elaine Reese, widow of a retired Marine lieutenant colonel, said it’s time to allow gays to serve openly in the military. “If they’re willing to risk their lives protecting us, then all of us should be grateful and thankful for their service,” Reese said. “It doesn’t make sense to tell them to go ahead and be themselves – ‘But don’t let anybody know you’re you.’” Reese said she believes God created everyone and although some are different than others “we are all God’s children.” “It took me a long time to understand this and realize that gay people are so persecuted but they’re just like us,” Reese said. McCain’s opposition foreshadows the upcoming Senate debate on a bill that would overturn the 1993 “don’t ask, don’t tell” law, which bans gays from serving openly in the service. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has promised a vote, but McCain has helped to block previous debate on the Senate floor. Further diminishing chances of repeal this month was a recent agreement among Senate Republicans not to vote on any bill before addressing tax cuts and government spending. U.S. Rep. John Garamendi, D-Walnut Creek, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, issued a statement following the release of a Department of Defense report indicating 70 percent of active duty military believe allowing gay soldiers to openly serve would have little or no negative impact on military cohesion. “The report demonstrates once and for all that our nation’s continuing discrimination against gay and lesbian soldiers serves no purpose and must end,” Garamendi said. “Anyone willing to put on the uniform and risk their life for our nation deserves the ability to serve openly in our military without fear of reprisal.” But the report also found that among those who did care, most were troops performing combat arms duties. Nearly 60 percent of those in the Marine Corps and in Army combat units said they thought repealing the law would hurt their units’ ability to fight on the battlefield. McCain seized on this finding to argue that forcing such a substantial personnel policy change in a time of war would be wrong for the military and the country. He also criticized the study for scrutinizing only how the law could be repealed, instead of whether doing so would benefit the military. McCain’s statement was directly challenged by Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, the military’s top uniformed officer who chairs the Joint Chiefs of Staff. “Repeal of the law will not prove unacceptable risk to military readiness,” Mullen told the Senate Armed Services Committee. “Unit cohesion will not suffer if our units are well-led. And families will not encourage their loved ones to leave the service in droves.”