Army to accept comments on 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell'

by Mark Niesse

SCHOFIELD BARRACKS, Hawaii (AP) -

Army Secretary John McHugh said May 7 the military is considering a system for soldiers to anonymously express their opinions about its "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy on gay troops.

The Pentagon will make a recommendation on changing the policy by the end of the year, McHugh said. Soldiers' would make their comments ahead of that recommendation, he said.

"We're trying to do this in the quietest way possible, and by that, I simply mean not to sensationalize it, to try to really assess the soldiers' opinions," McHugh said at Hawaii's Schofield Barracks. "Anonymity, of course, is an important aspect."

Any policy change would have to come from Congress. Until then, federal law prohibits service members from discussing their sexual orientation. President Barack Obama supports lifting the ban.

McHugh spoke to reporters alongside Lt. Gen. Benjamin Mixon, who recently urged troops to lobby to keep the ban on openly gay military service. Army Chief of Staff Gen. George Casey told Mixon in March that his actions were inappropriate.

Mixon didn't discuss the issue last Friday.

McHugh stopped in Hawaii at the end of a seven-day tour through Alaska, South Korea and Japan - his first trip to the Asia-Pacific theater since he was confirmed by the Senate in September.

His visit coincided with Friday's announcement that about 800 soldiers from the 25th Infantry Division's headquarters will be deployed to central Iraq by the end of the year.

The deployment doesn't alter the United States' commitment to withdraw all combat forces from Iraq by the end of August, and withdraw all soldiers by the end of next year, McHugh said.

"They fully expect to adhere to the stated drawdown deadline," he said. "Until something different happens, that is, I think, our very achievable goal."

The deployment will focus on empowering Iraqi security forces and continuing the country's development, said Maj. Gen. Bernie Champoux, commanding general of the 25th Infantry Division.

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