SAN DIEGO – The new commandant of the U.S. Marines Corps said Saturday that now is the wrong time to overturn the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy prohibiting gays from openly serving in the military, as U.S. troops remain in the thick of war in Afghanistan.
“There’s risk involved; I’m trying to determine how to measure that risk,” Gen. James Amos said. “This is not a social thing. This is combat effectiveness. That’s what the country pays its Marines to do.”
Last month, the Pentagon was forced to lift its ban on openly serving gays for eight days after a federal judge in California ordered the military to do so. The Justice Department has appealed, and a federal appeals court granted a temporary stay of the injunction.
Amos said the policy’s repeal may have unique consequences for the Marines, which is exempt from a Defense Department rule for troops to have private living quarters except at basic training or officer candidate schools. The Marine Corps puts two people in each room to promote a sense of unity.
“There is nothing more intimate than young men and young women – and when you talk of infantry, we’re talking our young men – laying out, sleeping alongside of one another and sharing death, fear and loss of brothers,” he said. “I don’t know what the effect of that will be on cohesion. I mean, that’s what we’re looking at. It’s unit cohesion, it’s combat effectiveness.”
Amos, who began his assignment last month, said he was reviewing preliminary findings of an internal Pentagon survey of the policy. He will make recommendations to Defense Secretary Robert Gates later this month.
Amos said his top priority was success in Afghanistan – no matter how many people or how much equipment is required – and that he didn’t expect any pullback in Marine forces over the next year.
Amos, 63, spoke with reporters in a wide-ranging interview during a Southern California visit to mark the Marines’ 235th birthday.