Sunday, November 21, 2010

Don't Ask Don't Tell: The Study

In the State of the Union Address given by President Obama in March of 2010, it was decided that the United States would repeal the law known as “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.” The law is one in which gays and lesbians are not allowed to admit their sexual orientation in order to serve in the military. In order to repeal this law in the most effective and least harmful way possible, Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates put together a high-level working group to study the effects this repeal would have within the military. Secretary Gates and Admiral Michael Mullen, 17th Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, are in charge of the working group and its results. Secretary Gates has appointed Department of Defense general counsel, Jay Johnson, and General Carter Ham, commander of the U.S. Army Europe, to serve as co-chairs for the working group.

The first aspects that the working group will focus on, according to Secretary Gates at the Hearing of the Armed Services Committee on February 2, 2010, are the “true views and attitudes of our troops and their families.” It is important, according to Gates “to carry out this process in a way that establishes objective and reliable information on this question with minimal influence by the policy or political debate.” The second focus of the “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” working group will be the changes that need to be made to the current policies in place. “These include potential revisions to policies on benefits, base housing, fraternization and misconduct, separations and discharges, and many others." Last but not least Gates released that the working group would look at “the potential impacts of a change in the law on military effectiveness, including how a change might affect unit cohesion, recruiting and retention, and other issues crucial to the performance of the force. The working group will develop ways to mitigate and manage any negative impacts.” The results of these areas of study are set to be released within a year on December 1st, 2010 in the form of and implementation plan.

There has been some debate as to why the study needs to take a year to complete. Secretary Gates addressed this issue by saying “We've looked at a variety of options, but when you take into account the overriding imperative to get this right and minimize disruption to a force that is actively fighting two wars and working through the stress of almost a decade of combat, then it is clear to us we must proceed in a manner that allows for the thorough examination of all issues.”

In order to address the first focus of the working group Gates is delegating it to a third party in order to conduct an unbiased survey. The contractor, Westat, a Maryland research firm with experience surveying military communities, will gather information from 400,000 troops, including data from homosexual service members. According to Marine Corps Times “Pentagon spokeswoman Cynthia Smith said Westat worked with the Defense Manpower Data Center to both develop the questions and come up with the list of 200,000 active-duty and 200,000 reserve and National Guard e-mail addresses” to send out the confidential survey. Westat is working under a 4.4 million dollar contract to administer questionnaires to determine the opinions of those associated with the military and the consequences that could arise from repealing “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.” It would take about 20 to 30 minutes to fill out the survey and it must be completed by August 15, 2010.

One of the reasons Secretary Gates has appointed Westat to conduct this investigation is due to the current restrictions under “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.” If the military were to issue the survey themselves, those homosexual service men and women would not be allowed to discuss their sexual orientation. Furthermore, their opinions regarding repealing the law would not be accounted for. Seeing as they are the whole reason the study is taking place, the military needed to find a way to gather all pieces of valid information without putting those voicing their opinions in risk of being kicked out of the military.

The surveys, for both service men and women and their families, is broken down into three parts: baseline questions regarding respondents’ backgrounds, respondents’ overall experiences in the military and past experiences serving with individuals they believed to be gay, and the effect that had on unit performance and morale, and how respondents feel a repeal of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” would affect the services across a broad range of issues.

A sample question from the survey has people up in arms. “If Don’t Ask Don’t Tell is repealed and you had on-base housing and a gay or lesbian service member was living with a same-sex partner on-base, what would you most likely do?” They can choose from eight answers to that question, according to Marine Corps Times. Two suggest normalcy or an effort to get to know the new neighbors, four suggest discomfort and even moving off base, one is simple “something else” – followed by a space to be more specific – and the last is simply, “don’t know.” With all of the answers having negative connotations, some people believed the wording was used to sway those answering the question in a certain direction.
Most of the questions contained in the survey are all multiple choice. There are questions on leadership challenges; attitudes toward gay co-workers if repeal takes place; the impact of repeal on the ability of a respondents’ unit to complete both deployed and non-deployed missions; and off-duty social impact. There were also questions about whether the respondent thinks he or she is serving with any gays; and about how many other members of a combat unit shared a respondent’s belief that one of them was gay.

According to a leaked copy of the survey sent out to the family members of military personnel “about 150,000 spouses of active duty and reserve military personnel have been selected at random to participate in an important confidential survey that will help shape the future of our military.” This survey takes about 15 to 20 minutes to complete. It focuses on family readiness. Unlike the digital email troops received, family members are required to fill out a hard copy. This survey, along with the one sent to the troops is confidential. Family members have 30 days to complete their survey.

In addition to the survey sent out, the working group is also visiting various military bases, attending meetings with advocacy groups at the Pentagon, and is gathering data via and “online inbox” at, which requires a Common Access Card only accessible to those serving in the military or a familiar member of a soldier. If you choose to voice your opinion through this inbox your response is not confidential; your Common Access Card can identify you.

According to, a well known blog that covers news, entertainment, and media, for an audience of gay men in major US cities, officals at the Pentagon said the final tally on completed responses by troops (after the August 15th deadline) was 109,883 – a response rate of only about 27.5 percent. It has not been revealed yet the response rate from spouses or the amount of opinions received at

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