The first legislative attempt to repeal the antigay military policy known as 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives March 2.
The Military Readiness Enhancement Act ( HR 1059 ) is sponsored by Rep. Marty Meehan, D-Mass., the ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Terrorism, Conventional Threats and Capabilities. He is joined by 61 cosponsors. The lone Republican is Christopher Shays, R-Conn., though others have said they will join as cosponsors.
'The strain on our military personnel is one of the key national security challenges facing this country today. In a time of war, it is outrageous that our military continues to discharge thousands of experienced and dedicated Servicemembers—many with critical skills in the war on terror—for reasons that have nothing to do with their conduct in uniform or their willingness to serve their country,' Meehan said.
The repeal is being supported by eight senior retired military officers in an effort organized by the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network ( SLDN ) .
At Meehan's request, the General Accounting Office ( GAO ) conducted an analysis of the cost of the 10-year-old policy. Their report, released Feb. 25, estimated it had cost the Pentagon more than $200 million to recruit and train personnel to replace those kicked out under 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell.'
Money is but one of the issues. Many of those who have been discharged have language and other skills that are in short supply in the military.
And now bodies are in short supply too. In testimony before the Senate March 2, the Army said that during the previous month only 5,114 recruits entered boot camp, 27 percent below its goal. The ongoing war in Iraq and likely deployment there is hindering recruitment.
'It is much more difficult to talk about repeal in the abstract,' said C. Dixon Osburn, executive director of SLDN. This bill gives them the opportunity to raise the issue with members of Congress. He says the Army's recruitment shortfall and its desire to increase manpower by 30,000 makes it 'a good time to talk about this.'
Osburn acknowledges that hearings on this measure, or a companion bill to be introduced in the Senate, are not assured and a vote is not likely during this session. But it is a way to begin the education process.
He has been pleased by the guarded openness to consider a change in policy by unnamed Pentagon officials and the so far muted response from the antigay right. Several retired senior military officers support repeal of the ban. Osburn says, 'The dynamics today are very different from 10 years ago' when 'Don't Ask' was adopted.
'Americans don't care whether the person who catches Bin Laden is gay or straight, they just want him caught,' said David Smith, vice president of the Human Rights Campaign.
A group of retired military generals and admirals announced their support for The Military Readiness Enchancement Act ( MREA ) . The flag officers are among the highest-ranking veterans to publicly support repeal of the military's gay ban. MG Vance Coleman, USA ( Ret. ) , RADM John Hutson, USN ( Ret. ) , LTG Claudia Kennedy, USA ( Ret. ) , BG Keith H. Kerr, CSMR ( Ret. ) , BG Evelyn 'Pat' Foote, USA ( Ret. ) , BG Virgil A. Richard, USA ( Ret. ) , MG Charles Starr, Jr., USAR ( Ret. ) and RADM Alan M. Steinman, USPHS/USCG ( Ret. ) called on Members of Congress to pass the MREA.