TUPPER LAKE - Bill Owens said he probably served with gays and lesbians while in the Air Force, but he didn't know it at the time and nobody ever acted inappropriately.
"I'm sure I did serve with folks who were gay and lesbian, but it was not obvious to me," Owens, D-Plattsburgh, a retired Air Force captain, said Monday, after a tour of Adirondack Medical Center's facilities in Tupper Lake.
The U.S. Senate voted 65-31 Saturday to repeal "Don't ask, don't tell," the policy under which gays who admit their sexual orientation can be discharged from the military. President Barack Obama is expected to sign it later this week.
From left, Adirondack Medical Center’s Chief Financial Officer Pat Facteau, Chief Operating Officer Cynthia McGuire, and U.S. Rep. Bill Owens, D-Plattsburgh, talk in the physical therapy room at Adirondack Medical Center’s Mercy nursing home in Tupper Lake Monday afternoon. Owens toured Mercy and AMC’s medical office building in Tupper Lake on Monday.
(Enterprise photo — Nathan Brown)
The House repealed the policy Wednesday, with Owens' support. Owens said during his first election campaign in 2009 that he would want senior military officials to consult on any change. He said in February that he believed they had done so. He repeated Monday that he thinks the results of a survey of troops and the testimony of officials such as Admiral Mike Mullen and Defense Secretary Robert Gates favor repeal.
"I was very comfortable these folks believe there will be no adverse impact on the mission," Owens said.
A Pentagon survey released earlier this year showed about two-thirds of the troops who answered the survey didn't care if the ban was lifted, and about 30 percent objected, according to the Associated Press. At least 40 percent of troops in combat roles objected, with 58 percent of Marines in combat roles saying repeal would be a bad idea. About 28 percent of service members answered the survey.
Republican Chris Gibson, a retired Army colonel who was recently elected to represent New York's 20th Congressional District, said on the radio program the Capitol Pressroom Monday morning he is "concerned" about implementing the policy.
"I think, in the end, it's something the military can overcome, but the question is, at a time when we're struggling to bring to a conclusion our operations in Iraq and Afghanistan - should we be doing this right now?" Gibson said.
Gibson, of Kinderhook, was an infantry leader. He said there isn't enough time between deployments for units to do everything they should do - for example, he said he didn't have enough time for as much live-fire training for new recruits as he would have wanted. He said the change could be made, but would take time, require leadership to draft new policies and could lead to "turbulence in the force."