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Troops attending the first meeting of its kind on ending the ban on gays in the military said Tuesday they want to know what changes were in store for them if gays were allowed to serve openly.
Picked at random and assembled in the Pentagon auditorium, about 350 rank-and-file troops asked the leaders of a new working group whether bunking arrangements would change and if the spouses of gay personnel would be given military family benefits, among other issues.
The answers to those questions aren't expected until the end of the year, when the working group releases its findings on the impact openly gay service might have on the force.
Officials say they will spend the next several months reaching out to troops and their families in focus groups and meetings like the Tuesday forum to determine what concerns they'll have to address.
Attendees of the Tuesday session said that one female Marine stated that bunking with a lesbian would be the same as being told to share a room with a man. A soldier said he didn't want to wade into the political debate and that he would follow orders.
Another service member asked if a gay service member who gets married — now forbidden under law — would receive military family benefits.
At one point, a moderator asked how many troops believed they have served with a gay person. About half the people in the audience raised their hands.
Attendees described the meeting on condition of anonymity because they said they were not authorized to speak publicly on the issue.
President Barack Obama has called on Congress to lift the ban. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has said a repeal of the 17-year-old "don't ask, don't tell" policy is inevitable. But he says he wants to do it in a way that would mitigate any risk to unit effectiveness.
Accordingly, Gates has assigned his chief legal counsel, Jeh Johnson, and Army Gen. Carter Ham to lead a working group on the subject. The results of their review are due Dec. 1.
One issue officials have been wrestling with is how to gauge the opinion of gay service members without forcing them to break the law by disclosing their sexual orientation.
Officials say it is likely that a third party will be hired to help survey the force and reach out to gay troops.
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