The top two leaders of the U.S. Marine Corps say Marines will "step out smartly" to implement a repeal of the "don't ask, don't tell" policy towards gays in the military, now that the law has been changed, despite previous publicly expressed opposition to ending the military's ban on openly gay troops.
Marine Commandant Gen. James Amos and Marine Corps Sergeant Major Sgt. Major Carlton Kent appeared in a video message to Marines released Friday night, shortly after senior Pentagon officials outlined how the Pentagon would begin implementing a repeal of the policy this year.
Amos and Kent said they expect Marines to follow the new orders – that will eventually allow service members to publicly identify as gay or lesbian – "with dignity and respect."
"The Marine Corps exists to defend our nation," said Amos. "We are a nation of laws. We are committed by our oath and core values to obey these laws. Our success as Marines has always been grounded in the quality of our leadership, from general officers to small unit leaders."
"The Marine Corps is a diverse force and all have earned the privilege to wear the eagle, globe, and anchor. As Marines, we are confident that you will continue to treat each other with dignity and respect," said Kent.
Among the four service chiefs, Amos and his predecessor as Marine Commandant, Gen. James Conway, were the most vocal, saying that ending "don't ask don't tell" would be a distraction at a time of war.
The Marine rank and file has also appeared to be concerned about a change. A Pentagon survey of the armed forces conducted last year found that Marines had the highest levels of opposition to a repeal. Forty percent of marines polled said they had concerns about repealing the policy.
However during congressional hearings, both Amos and Conway said the Marines would follow the law if a repeal was enacted. Amos said he fully expected that Marines would lead the way in implementing the repeal.
Amos repeated his views in the video Friday, saying, "I want to be clear to all Marines, we will step out smartly to faithfully implement this new law. It is important that we value the diversity of background, culture, and skills that all marines bring to the service of our nation."
Each of the military service chiefs is expected to release a similar video addressed to service members in the coming days.