Secretary Gates, Admiral Mullen Rebuke Top Army Officer Over ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’

Mar 25, 2010 1:17pm

ABC News’ Luis Martinez reports: Lt. Gen. Ben Mixon, the Commanding Officer of U.S. Army Pacific, is in hot water with Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Adm. Mike Mullen after publicly challenging proposed changes to “don’t ask don’t tell” in a letter to the editor of “Stars and Stripes.” Both Gates and Mullen called Mixon’s letter “inappropriate” during a Pentagon briefing today — a rare public rebuke of a senior officer. In the letter, Mixon’s referred to the repeal of DADT as “ill-advised” and urged service members to write to Congress to express their opposing views.  After its publication, Army lawyers determined that Mixon was within his rights to have sent the letter.  However, as one Defense Official said today, “being within your rights doesn’t make it appropriate” and that’s what we heard from both Gates and  Mullen who clearly called Mixon’s letter “inappropriate.”  Their main criticism is that any disagreements with policy should be expressed internally through the chain of command and not in a public forum.  Gen. James Conway, the Marine Corps Commandant, recently expressed his personal support for “don’t ask, don’t tell” in response to a question at a congressional hearing, but  Mixon’s case is viewed differently.  Mullen today said that Mixon as a three star officer “has a great influence.”  Mullen said clear directions had been given by Army Chief of Staff  General Casey about “how this was going to be approached…and there's an expectation, obviously, that you would comply with that, or anybody would comply with that.” Pentagon Press Secretary  Geoff Morrell told ABC News today that  Secretary Gates has worked to create an environment where differing views are listened to, but that they should be expressed through the established chain of command.   He said there would be “chaos” if every individual publicly expressed their views on social issues, “that is not how this institution works. ”
He added, ” Everybody participating in the review will have the chance to voice their approval concerns, ideas, their suggestions within this process, but there is an appropriate way to do that.  Publicly voicing or politically advocating political positions and actions through the news media is just not appropriate for the men and women in uniform, particularly officers in command positions.   Especially when it’s in direct opposition to the policy objectives of the President of the United States, their Commander in Chief. ” Mullen reiterated today that disagreements should also be expressed within the chain of command.  But ultimately, “In the end, if there is either policy direction that someone in uniform disagrees with — and I've said this before — the answer — and you feel so strongly about it — you know, the answer is not advocacy; it is in fact to vote with your feet. And that's what all of us in a position of leadership, I think, have to conform to. Does Mixon need to leave the military? Mullen replied, “That's a decision that would certainly be up to him.” UPDATE: Army spokesman Col. Tom Collins had these comments about today’s developments surrounding Lt. Gen. Mixon’s letter. “The bottom line is that Lt. Gen. Mixon’s comments do not reflect the Army’s thinking  on this issue.  He was expressing his personal opinion.  The Army clearly supports what the Secretary of Defense is  trying to do with his assessment of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.  So it is inappropriate for a commander to advocate in such a public way on something that is clearly a policy issue.  We have a forum, and that is the Secretary’s ongoing comprehensive review .”

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