WASHINGTON — The top generals from the Army and the Air Force expressed concern Tuesday about moving rapidly to lift the ban on openly gay service members, saying it could make it harder for their forces to do their jobs while fighting two wars.
The comments by Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the Army chief of the staff, and Gen. Norton A. Schwartz, the Air Force chief of staff, may provide political cover for members of Congress who oppose President Barack Obama's call for repealing the policy known as "don't ask, don't tell."
"I do have serious concerns about the impact of repeal of the law on a force that's fully engaged in two wars and has been at war for eight-and-a-half years," Casey told the Senate Armed Services Committee. "We just don't know the impacts on readiness and military effectiveness."
In an appearance before the House Armed Services Committee, Schwartz cautioned that there was little research on how the policy change might affect Air Force personnel deployed for combat, surveillance and support missions around the world.
Both endorsed the decision by Defense Secretary Robert Gates to deliberately review the issue before acting. And both pledged that they would fully carry out any decision of Congress.
"They expressed some differences," said Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network. "But at the end of the day, I would say they are still on the same page as the commander in chief and the secretary and (Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff), and I am not anticipating a dramatic departure from that approach."
Today, lawmakers will hear from the Marine Corps commandant, Gen. James Conway, who is said to be an opponent of lifting the ban, and Adm. Gary Roughead, chief of naval operations.