Fighting words


POSTED: Friday, March 26, 2010

After a top-level public scolding over his remarks on the military's policy regarding gays, the commander of U.S. Army Pacific issued a terse “;no comment”; yesterday from his headquarters at Fort Shafter.

Lt. Gen. Benjamin Mixon, one of a few military leaders to publicly denounce the repeal of the “;don't ask, don't tell”; policy, received a double-barreled blast yesterday from Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

At issue was a three-paragraph commentary by Mixon in the Stars and Stripes military newspaper on March 8, in which he said he does not believe that most military personnel support repeal of the policy.

“;I suspect many servicemembers, their families, veterans and citizens are wondering what to do to stop this ill-advised repeal of a policy that has achieved a balance between a citizen's desire to serve and acceptable conduct,”; Mixon wrote. “;Now is the time to write your elected officials and chain of command and express your views. If those of us who are in favor of retaining the current policy do not speak up, there is no chance to retain the current policy.”;

Gates and Mullen denounced Mixon's letter at a Pentagon news conference yesterday.

“;I think that for an active-duty officer to comment on an issue like this is inappropriate,”; said Gates.

“;I feel the same way,”; Mullen said, adding that he has been in touch with Gen. George Casey, Army chief of staff, about Mixon's remarks and that they would be “; addressed inside the chain of command in the Army.”;

Other senior military officials have also publicly opposed repeal of the “;don't ask, don't tell”; policy, which Congress and the Pentagon are reviewing following President Barack Obama's expressed desire to see it eliminated, but none has suggested a letter-writing campaign. Gays are forbidden from openly serving in the armed forces.

“;I think the current policy works,”; Gen. James Conway, commandant of the Marine Corps, told Congress in February. “;My best military advice to this committee, to the secretary, to the president would be to keep the law such as it is.”;

But Gates and Mullen suggested that Mixon's offense was speaking out after commanders were specifically ordered not to do so.

Mullen said the Army had given officers “;very specific direction”; in written form following Gates' announcement of his intent to seek the repeal of the policy. “;All of us in uniform are obliged to certainly follow the direction of leadership, right up to the president,”; said Mullen, according to a Pentagon transcript.

When asked whether Mixon should leave the military, Mullen said, “;That's a decision that would certainly be up to him.”;

Last month, while in the islands for the funeral of former Army Chief of Staff Gen. Fred Weyand, Casey told reporters that he is concerned about what repealing “;don't ask, don't tell”; will do to “;readiness and military effectiveness.”;

“;I have gone out over the past several months and talked to different segments of the Army and different groups and gotten their input. There is apprehension. There is uncertainty, and that is why it is so important to study this.”;

He was referring to a “;high-level working group”; Gates has formed to study the issue and report back by the end of the year out how best to change the policy.

Mixon, former commander of the 25th Infantry Division, has been commander of 55,000 soldiers in the Pacific and Asia since February 2008.

Bloomberg News contributed to this report.