FORT BRAGG — Openly gay recruits will likely be admitted into the military, and the services will adjust to their presence, Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a group of soldiers at Fort Bragg on Wednesday.
"The law has not changed," Mullen said, referring to a vote Friday in the U.S. House of Representatives to approve a plan that would eventually repeal the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy. But President Barack Obama has made clear his support for changing the policy; Democratic members of Congress seem to be willing; and Mullen himself has said the policy is indefensible.
"I'm hard-pressed to support a policy and a law that forces people to come and lie every day," Mullen said.
Mullen was at Fort Bragg to visit with members of the XVIII Airborne Corps, the Army Special Operations Command, and wounded soldiers and their families. A major theme in his discussions with each group, he said, was change: how the military has been transformed since 9/11 and how he thinks it will change in years to come.
At the end of the day, he addressed a group of about 200 soldiers and fielded some of their questions. There, too, he focused on evolution, including what he suggested was the inevitability of accepting openly gay members into the military.
One soldier stood and asked Mullen whether politicians and policymakers in Washington understood the problems that gays in the military would present. Specifically, he said, unit commanders will have to watch out for sexual assaults, hate crimes, fraternization and morale issues.
Those are disciplinary problems that are not tolerated now, Mullen said.
"We are a disciplined force. We have standards," Mullen said, although he noted that his visits with soldiers in the field have proved to him that sexual assault and harassment are far too prevalent.
Keeping those standards, he said, "is our charge, no matter what happens" regarding the policy on gays.
Key to making the change, which is not likely to happen until at least 2011, is developing a plan, Mullen said, and the military needs ideas from all levels.
Other changes Mullen foresees might be more welcome among troops at Fort Bragg, including a lengthening of the time between overseas deployments. In the next two years, he said, as the U.S. draws down its forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, a soldier's yearlong deployment should be followed by two years at home.
Soldiers at Fort Bragg now expect to spend equal amounts of time at home and on deployment.
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