This is a historic week in our quest to strengthen our armed forces and secure equality for all Americans.
Today, the Pentagon has released its yearlong study of how to implement repeal of the corrosive "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy. This report makes it unambiguously clear that the risk of repeal on military effectiveness is minimal, that any risks can be addressed by implementing the report's recommendations, and that a clear majority of active duty servicemen and women have no problem with repeal. It should come as no surprise that the men and women who serve bravely in our military don't care about the sexual orientation of their fellow servicemembers, they just want to serve their country proudly and believe others should be able to do the same.
Later this week, the Senate Armed Services Committee is scheduled to hold hearings on the results of the study. Thursday will be devoted to supporters of repeal, including Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates and Admiral Michael G. Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and then Friday's hearing will be devoted to the opponents of repeal. It's my hope that the study and these hearings will move those Senators who've been on the fence or who have reserved judgment pending the release of this study to support repeal.
The fact is, repeal of "Don't Ask Don't Tell" has strong majority support in the country and now we know it has strong majority support within our military.
Since DADT was instituted 17 years ago, more than 14,000 American troops have been discharged at an estimated cost of over $400 million; those discharges include more than 800 specialists with skills deemed mission critical by the U.S. military and include over 300 of our foreign language speakers. We've lost pilots, engineers, doctors, nurses, and combat medics to this policy, all of which are disciplines where the military has faced shortfalls in recent years.
In addition, this policy has disproportionately impacted women. While women make up approximately fifteen percent of the armed forces, they account for nearly a third of all "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" discharges from the military.
This must end.
Over the past year and a half, I've spoken to many of my colleagues about repealing "Don't Ask Don't Tell" and what I heard most was that they needed to see leadership from the military. So last year I requested the first ever hearings on the "Don't Ask Don't Tell" policy in the US Senate. Then in January, President Obama offered a strong voice for repeal in his State of the Union address and then in early February, both Secretary Gates and Admiral Mullen expressed their support for repeal at the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing.
As Admiral Mullen said then:
It is my personal belief that allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly would be the right thing to do. No matter how I look at this issue, I cannot escape being troubled by the fact that we have in place a policy that forces young men and women to lie about who they are in order to defend their fellow citizens. For me, personally, it comes down to integrity -- theirs as individuals, and ours as an institution.
I couldn't agree more.
We simply can not lose one more brave man or woman to this destructive policy. It is immoral, it is discriminatory, and at a time when we are fighting two wars abroad and need all of our best and brightest serving, it hurts our military readiness.
This is a national security issue, this is a fairness issue and this is a measure of who we are as Americans. We are now closer than ever before to repealing "Don't Ask Don't Tell" and lifting the ban on gays and lesbians serving openly in the military.
I call on my colleagues in the US Senate to support cloture of the Defense Authorization Bill with DADT repeal language in tact this year. It's what the nation wants, it's what our military wants and it's the right thing to do.