By Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael J. Carden
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Aug. 23, 2010 - Pentagon officials today mailed out 150,000 new "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" surveys, this time seeking input from military spouses about the potential repeal of the law that bars gay men and lesbians from serving openly, officials said.
"We understand the inextricable link between the families, servicemembers and readiness, and this survey is a way to try to better understand that," Army Gen. Carter F. Ham, U.S. Army Europe commander, said in a recent Pentagon Channel interview.
Ham and Jeh C. Johnson, the Pentagon's top lawyer, were appointed by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates to head a special review panel that's studying the possible implications on the military should Congress decide to repeal the current "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" law and allow gays and lesbians to serve openly.
"What we're trying to gauge is an assessment that if this law is repealed, and this 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' policy is changed, what will that mean to our families?" Ham said. "By better understanding the impacts of possible repeal, we'll be able to craft policies, procedures, education and training to address those issues."
The group has been meeting with troops and family members since February. The surveys are important to the panel's research, Ham added, because time and financial constraints preclude meeting with every servicemember and spouse.
The surveys give the panel a baseline of information that best represents the military's 2.2 million servicemembers and their families, the general said. Last month, 400,000 surveys were e-mailed to active duty and reserve-component troops throughout the force. The deadline for their response was Aug. 15.
The spouse survey is somewhat different from the one taken by the servicemembers, Ham said, noting the spouse survey is not as lengthy or comprehensive, and it "zeroes in" on family readiness.
Also, he added, the spouse survey is a hard-copy form, rather than the digital e-mail form troops received. It should take spouses about 15 to 20 minutes to complete, he said.
"We know there's a very real connection between family readiness and military readiness," Ham said. "We want to make sure we understand what that dynamic might be if the 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' policy were to change."
The spouse survey responses, like those of the servicemembers' survey, are confidential, the general said.
Ham emphasized that the surveys and responses for both groups can't be traced. The company managing the survey distribution and results-gathering is not a Defense Department organization and "does not have access to personally identifiable information to military members," he explained.
Feedback from military spouses is an important aspect in the review, Ham said. The panel wants to know if spouses will be less likely to support their servicemember continuing his service if the law changes, Ham said.
"We know for our married servicemembers, the most important influence on whether or not that servicemember decides to continue his service is his spouse," he said. "So we need to know what the effects would be if the law was changed."
The spouse surveys were mailed to 80,000 reserve-component and 70,000 active duty spouses. The spouses will have a little more than 30 days to complete and return their surveys, Ham said.
For spouses who weren't selected, but want to offer their opinion on the potential impact of repeal, Ham suggested using the online inbox at http://www.defense.gov/dadt. The site is not confidential and requires a military common access card to log on. The online inbox will be available until Aug. 30. This tool will allow anyone who didn't receive the survey to offer feedback and remain anonymous.
"We know that for our married servicemembers, their spouses' views, the spouses' satisfaction with the quality of service and the family readiness directly attributes to military readiness," the general said. "Secretary Gates was focused at the very start to make sure that we understood what impact a possible repeal would mean to our family members."