Gates said that asking troops if they want to serve alongside gays would amount to issuing a referendum on a policy decision that should be made by Congress or the courts. The goal of the study, he said, was to find out it if it could be done without hurting the military's ability to fight.
"Are you going to ask them if they want 15-month tours? You going to ask them if they want to be part of the surge in Iraq? That's not the way our civilian-led military has ever worked in our entire history," Gates said.
Each of the panel's Republicans, except repeal supporter Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, agreed with McCain that the study was flawed. Several said the 28 percent response rate was too small to be indicative of the entire force. Gen. Carter Ham, who co-chaired the study, said he was comfortable that troops who did respond were representative.
Republicans also noted that combat troops were the most resistant to the change, and said retention of valuable soldiers and Marines would suffer. Nearly 60 percent of those in Marine Corps and Army combat units, such as infantry and special operations, said in the survey they thought repealing the law would hurt their units' ability to fight.
Gates and Mullen noted that 92 percent of troops in the survey who believed they had served with a gay person said they never saw an impact on their units' morale or effectiveness.
Associated Press writers Pauline Jelinek and Anne Gearan contributed to this report.
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