PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. — On the eve of a vote to end the military ban on openly gay service members, the nation's top uniformed military officer repeated his support Wednesday for repealing the "don't ask, don't tell" policy.
"Personal opinion? I believe it's time. I believe we need to change it," Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told about 500 service members at Peterson Air Force Base.
However, Mullen stressed that the change had not been approved. And if it is, he said he wouldn't make any final determinations on how to implement it until the military studies the issue and gets input from troops.
Mullen talked about the likely repeal in a question-and-answer session with the troops.
The Senate Armed Services Committee plans to vote today on overturning the ban. The proposal would overturn the ban but allow the military to decide when and how to implement any changes.
A breakthrough occurred in the Senate committee Wednesday when Sen. Ben Nelson, a conservative Nebraska Democrat, announced he would support the measure. His decision came after a provision was included that would let the military decide when and how to implement the change.
"In a military which values honesty and integrity, this policy encourages deceit," Nelson said Wednesday.
Nelson's announcement was soon followed by Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.V., giving the panel the 15 votes needed to pass the measure.
The bill would still face scrutiny by the full Senate, where 60 votes are usually needed to overcome Republican objections, and the House, where Democratic leaders were still surveying party members on Wednesday to gauge support.