WASHINGTON - The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said yesterday he would have preferred that Congress had waited before voting to repeal the "don't ask, don't tell" law that bans gays from serving openly in the military.
Adm. Mike Mullen did not criticize a House vote on Friday that marked a step toward repealing the ban. But he said it would have been better for lawmakers to have waited until the Pentagon completed its review of how to make the repeal work.
"Ideally, I would certainly have preferred that legislation not be brought forward in terms of the change until we are completed with that review," Mullen said.
The legislation, he noted, gives the Pentagon until year's end to finish its study and stipulates that he and Defense Secretary Robert Gates and President Barack Obama must certify that the military is prepared to make the change before the repeal takes effect.
There is worry among some in the military and in Congress that the House vote short-circuited the process of consulting with troops and their families.
"It is really critical to understand the points of view of those it will affect the most as we look at the implementation challenges, should the law change," said Mullen, who favors lifting the ban. "So we will complete that review and certainly incorporate what we learned from that into implementation when that time comes."
On Friday a senior defense official said troops with concerns about the repeal are less willing to speak freely because the vote makes the outcome clear. The official, who is knowledgeable about the troop consultations, spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the Pentagon response.
Some troops feel double-crossed, the official said, because they had been told that nothing would happen quickly and were assured that the Pentagon would take their individual concerns into account.