Pentagon Pushes Back

Defense Department spokesman defends DADT troop survey as unbiased, but cannot answer why it polls personnel on negative impact of potential repeal only rather than on negative impact of current policy

In a late Friday afternoon news conference, Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell defended the 103-question survey distributed to 400,000 active-duty and reserve servicemembers about the possible end of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, including how repeal may affect morale and unit cohesion. 

Despite his defense, his only response when asked by Metro Weekly why there appeared to be no questions regarding the current impact of DADT and DADT-related discharges on troops’ morale and unit cohesion was, “I don’t know. I’m sure there’s a good explanation. We’ll try to get it for you. I don’t know.”

When asked earlier in the news conference about reports and commentary that the survey was biased, Morrell said, “Absolutely, unequivocally, I reject it as nonsense.”

“We’re not playing games here, guys,” he said. “We’re trying to figure out what the attitudes of our force are, what the potential problems are with repeal, what the potential opportunities there may be available to us as a result of repeal.”

Speaking about Westat, the group the developed the survey in “collaboration” with the Pentagon, Morrell said, “This is the work of an incredibly respected, professional survey organization.”

In releasing a briefing memo responding to the survey, however, Alex Nicholson, executive director of Servicemembers United, said, “[T]his expensive survey stokes the fires of homophobia by its very design and will only make the Pentagon’s responsibility to subdue homophobia as part of this inevitable policy change even harder.”

Servicemembers Legal Defense Network has gone further, releasing a statement on Friday in which its executive director, Aubrey Sarvis said, “[O]ur warning stands that gay and lesbian service members should not take the survey unless adequate legal protections are put in place.”

Among the questions asked in the survey, which was sent out at noon, July 7, are the following:

In your career, have you ever worked in a unit with a coworker you believed to be homosexual?

Among all the factors that affect a unit’s morale, how much did the unit members’ belief that this coworker was gay or lesbian affect the unit’s morale? (Asked if survey respondent earlier confirmed that he or she had worked in a unit with a leader “believed to be a homosexual.”)

If Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is repealed, how, if at all, will your military career plans be affected?

If Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is repealed and a gay or lesbian Service member attended a military social function with a same-sex partner, which are you most likely to do? (Multiple-choice answers included attending without family members, or avoiding such events altogether.)

If Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is repealed and you are assigned to bathroom facilities with an open bay shower that someone you believe to be a gay or lesbian Service member also used, which are you most likely to do?

In the briefing, Morrell noted that the survey states that “homosexual” and “gay or lesbian” are used interchangeably. He added that only “seven of those references use the term homosexual” and that those that do are seeking yes or no answers and not “subjective” assessments.

He fought back about media assessments focusing on the “open bay shower” question, noting that the survey is lengthy and contained many more generalized questions.

Of the questions prompting significant concerns, he said, “We need to identify any potential problems associated with repeal and then determine how we mitigate those problems. … If we avoided these questions and proceeded with repeal and proceeded with implementation that didn’t address those potential problems, we wouldn’t be doing our jobs.” 

Asked whether the questions assume there will be problems, Morrell said, “We are not creating issues where we believe there to be none.” He said that, while not scientific, their inclusion was based on our knowledge, unscientific, thus far” in general and with the specific outreach that the Pentagon working group already has conducted in conjunction with the review process. 

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