[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/images/12/03/art.servchiefs1203.jpg caption="Speaking before the Senate Armed Services Committee, the service leaders appeared concerned Friday about the possibility of a repeal imposed by the courts."]
CNN Wire Staff
Washington (CNN) - Leaders of the different branches of the U.S. armed forces gave sharply divergent answers to the Senate Armed Services Committee on Friday when asked whether the military's controversial "don't ask, don't tell" policy should be repealed, and what the consequences of a repeal might be.
They appeared united, however, in their belief that a repeal would be better handled if ordered by congressional legislation rather than a ruling from the courts.
The strongest resistance to allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly came from Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Amos, who warned of potentially strong repercussions in terms of unit cohesion.
"If the law is changed, successfully implementing repeal and assimilating openly homosexual Marines into the tightly woven fabric of our combat units has strong potential for disruption at the small unit level, as it will no doubt divert leadership attention away from an almost singular focus of preparing units for combat," Amos told the committee members.
Army Chief of Staff Gen. George Casey said a repeal of the policy could be implemented with a "moderate risk to our military effectiveness and the long-term health of the force."
"I believe the law should be repealed eventually," he said, but the question "is one of timing." Casey said he "would not recommend going forward at this time, given everything the Army has on its plate."
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz said he believes the law should be repealed "at some point ... perhaps 2012" but it would not be prudent to pursue "full implementation (of a repeal) in the near-term."
Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Gary Roughead recommended a repeal of the policy, noting that 76% of sailors are either neutral or feel positively about a repeal of "don't ask, don't tell."
Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Robert Papp noted that a majority of members in his branch of the service appeared not have a problem with a repeal, but that "prudence dictates" proceeding with caution.
Gen. James Cartwright, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he believes implementation of a repeal would involve a "manageable risk with regard to military effectiveness." even in light of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
In fact, Cartwright argued, the ongoing conflicts may make a repeal of the policy easier. During a conflict, members of the military "rely on the warrior ethos" of their fellow soldiers, and lifestyle concerns are diminished.
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