By Donna Miles

American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON - The Defense Department's review of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" law, which bans gays from serving openly in the military, will help to ensure readiness and unit cohesion remain intact if Congress repeals it, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said in an interview aired recently.

Expressing his personal support for a repeal of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" law - support shared by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Navy Adm. Mike Mullen - Gates emphasized the need for a full review to ensure it's done right if it happens.

"This is a force that's been under stress for eight years, been at war for eight years," he said. "And I don't want to do anything that makes the situation more difficult for those men and women in the fight."

Gates conceded that some consider the review a stalling tactic, but he called it critical to the process.

"The review that I am launching is to help inform the legislative process of some facts about the attitudes of our men and women in uniform, what they think about a change in the law, (and) what their families think," he said. "The truth is, we don't have any facts."

The ramifications go beyond the level of acceptance within units, the secretary explained. "We need to understand all of the different things that have to be dealt with in terms of housing and benefits, and regulations and fraternization rules, and conduct and training, and so on," he said.

This way, if Congress does change the law, "we can inform that process and offer some suggestions on mitigation if there are going to be negative consequences so we can figure out how to mitigate those consequences," he said.

Careful process needed, Gates says

Gates emphasized the need for a careful, deliberate process.

"The military culture is a very strong one. It's a very different culture than a civilian culture," he said. "These people do not have choices about who they associate with. They can't just up and walk off the job if they don't like somebody that they're working with. And so we have to take all that into account."

Turning the discussion to enhanced Defense-State cooperation, Gates said the tone he and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary R. Clinton are setting at the top will affect both agencies so they're better able to partner to address challenges and threats.

The goal, he said, is to use all elements of the interagency process to prevent conflicts from happening in the first place so U.S. troops don't have to take action.

"So building the capabilities, both civilian and military, of governments around the world who are our friends and partners, is key," he said. "And we've got to cooperate to do that."

Gates pointed to the way former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan C. Crocker and Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, when he was commander of Multinational Force Iraq, worked together toward shared goals in Iraq.

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