Approximately 40,000 of the surveys that the Pentagon sent out to servicemembers have been completed since they were emailed out on 7 July to a mixture of active duty and reserve personnel. That is roughly ten percent of the 400,000 that they sent out, and Department of Defense officials need to hear from the rest regarding the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.
DoD spokeswoman Cynthia Smith stated “It’s important for them to return the survey so we understand possible impacts associated by repeal of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell law.” She did discuss, apparently, the need to understand how the repeal would effect unit cohesion, military readiness, recruiting, retention and family readiness. Of course, none of the questions from the leaked survey really seemed to actually address those points in depth.
The 200,000 active duty, and like number of Guard and Reserve, personnel have until 15 August to return the completed survey. The participants were selected randomly. Admiral Michael Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that the Defense Department needs objective information and that the survey is the only way to get that. He emphasized that no one is drawing conclusions about the survey until it is finished. Admiral Mullen stated “To reach out at this point and try to predict either what they might say or what the results might say, I just think it’s too early with respect to that.” Unfortunately for Admiral Mullen, the survey may not bring in a large number of recipients due to a number of problems associated with online surveys. The number of turn ins have probably not been helped by the negative publicity that has surrounded the survey.
“At this time SLDN cannot recommend that lesbian, gay, or bisexual service members participate in any survey being administered by the Department of Defense, the Pentagon Working Group, or any third-party contractors. While the surveys are apparently designed to protect the individual’s privacy, there is no guarantee of privacy and DOD has not agreed to provide immunity to service members whose privacy may be inadvertently violated or who inadvertently outs himself or herself. If a service member still wishes to participate, he or she should only do so in a manner that does not reveal sexual orientation.”
Defense Secretary Robert Gates tried to pump up some of the importance of the survey by saying “I think it is very important for us to understand from our men and women in uniform the challenges that they see,” in a recent Pentagon news conference this month.
General Carter F. Ham, the commander of the US Army in Europe, and Pentagon lawyer Jeh Johnson are leading the review panel. Secretary Gates feels that it is necessary to have as large a sample as possible in order to get objective information for General Ham and Johnson. Gates even pushed for a doubling of the survey that officials believe would take thirty minutes to complete. After 15 August, another survey will go out to 150,000 family members of servicemembers.
The survey is suppose to be set up to ensure privacy, but it is not necessarily lacking in protections to make sure it is not taken repeatedly. Gates stated “I strongly encourage gays and lesbians who are in the military to fill out these forms. We’ve organized this in a way to protect their privacy and the confidentiality of their responses through a third party, and it’s important that we hear from them as well as everybody else. But I think we’re satisfied that this is an important element of this effort, and that it’s being done in a very professional way.”
The silence regarding the survey may actually be the bigger response. So far, there seems to be 360,000 servicemembers who do not care if the repeal goes through, and have no issues what so ever with anyone serving openly.