Carlisle Barracks, Pa. - Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said Thursday that the Obama administration would move cautiously in shifting policies on gays serving openly in the military, but he signaled that military service members should prepare for possible changes.
In his most extensive remarks to date about the ban on gays who serve openly, Gates said he and other military leaders have "begun a dialogue" with President Barack Obama about the issue.
Obama promised during last year's presidential campaign to end the ban on gays, and the White House has said recently that it is reviewing the issue. Gates said Obama has been clear with the military about his position on the ban.
"We will do what the president asks us to do," Gates said at the Army War College. "There is a law, we will uphold the law. If the law changes, so will our policies." His most extensive remarks to date on the issue came in an appearance in which Gates explained his decision to cancel an $87 billion modernization project known as the Future Combat System, the Army's next generation of armored vehicles. Obama has praised Gates' decision to shift the Pentagon budget away from expensive, high-tech weapons systems and more toward needs of existing conflicts.
Gates said that allowing gays to serve in the military is a "complex and difficult problem" that would only be approached carefully.
Gates said Obama would be "deliberate and cautous," and drew a parallel with President Harry Truman's effort to bring racial integration to the armed forces. Gates said that process took five years after Truman signed a 1948 executive order.