"Letting gays serve openly in the military at a time of war would be divisive and difficult"

That’s the assesment of the Army and Marine chiefs who will both be testifying before Congress later today:

Their assessment, expected Friday at a Senate hearing, was likely to become political ammunition for Arizona Sen. John McCain and other Republicans fighting to keep Congress from repealing the 1993 law that prohibits gays from acknowledging their sexual orientation. Democrats have promised a vote this month to repeal the “don’t ask, don’t tell” law, although its chances of passing this year were considered dim.

“If the law is changed, successfully implementing repeal and assimilating openly homosexual Marines into the tightly woven fabric of our combat units has strong potential for disruption at the small unit level, as it will no doubt divert leadership attention away from an almost singular focus of preparing units for combat,” the Marine commandant, Gen. James Amos, said in remarks prepared for delivery to the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Testimony from Amos and the other service chiefs was obtained in advance by The Associated Press.

President Barack Obama has called on Congress to overturn the ban on openly gay service. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, agreed and ordered a 10-month study looking at the attitudes of service members toward gay troops.

Released earlier this week, the study found that about 30 percent of troops predicted problems would occur if “don’t ask, don’t tell” were repealed.

Most of the troops with concerns were serving in combat roles. Nearly 60 percent of troops in the Marine Corps and in Army combat units, such as infantry and special operations, said they thought allowing gays to be open about their sexual orientation would hurt their units’ ability to fight on the battlefield.

“I cannot reconcile, nor turn my back, on the negative perceptions held by our Marines who are most engaged in the hard work of day-to-day operations in Afghanistan,” Amos said.

His assessment was generally backed by the Army chief of staff, Gen. George Casey, who led the Iraq war under President George W. Bush. Casey said the policy shift, if implemented properly, wouldn’t keep the Army from doing its job, and he predicted repeal would pose only a moderate risk to his force.

But, he added, changing the law now would “add another level of stress to any already stretched force” and be more difficult on the Army, particularly its combat units, than the recent Pentagon study suggests.

Now is not the time.

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