WASHINGTON – A high-ranking Army general won't be formally reprimanded after urging troops to lobby to keep the ban on openly gay military service.
President Barack Obama supports lifting the ban, and an active attempt to keep it in place could be considered insubordination.
But Lt. Gen. Benjamin Mixon's civilian boss says the three-star Army general won't receive a letter of reprimand or be forced to step down. Army Secretary John McHugh told reporters Wednesday that Mixon has been told by Army Chief of Staff Gen. George Casey that what he did was inappropriate.
"The chief and I believe that he is now prepared to lead in the very distinguished manner in which he has led in the past and that brought him to a very, very high level three-star position," McHugh said.
"So we will consider the matter closed as of today," he added.
Mixon's case underscores the difficulty facing Obama as he presses ahead to repeal the 1993 law known as "don't ask, don't tell." Pentagon officials say they want to hear the opinions of the troops so they can address their concerns.
McHugh said he has talked with some gay soldiers already about the policy. He said the troops wouldn't be discharged for revealing their sexual orientation in those discussions, even though doing so technically violates the law.
"What I'm trying to do is tell the troops that's it's OK to talk about this, no matter what their view is," he said.
But unsolicited pushback — particularly by senior uniformed officers — could help to mobilize resistance within the ranks that would make it difficult to change personnel policies without dividing military units and hurting troop readiness.
Mixon urged troops to speak up in support of the ban in a letter published in a military newspaper.
McHugh said he didn't think Mixon deserved harsher treatment because he now "recognizes it is inappropriate for him to become an advocate and try to shape the opinion of the force, rather than reach out and ascertain the opinion of the force."
Obama says that everyone, gay or straight, should be able to serve their country, and Defense Secretary Robert Gates has ordered a yearlong review of how to make that happen.
Some military officials, including Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Adm. Mike Mullen, say they agree it's time to reverse the law. But other uniformed officers — also with impressive service records, including Marine Corps Commandant James Conway — have said the law is helping to keep order and discipline and that lifting the ban during a time of two wars could be too disruptive.
In an interview this week with Congressional Quarterly, the Army's Casey said he doesn't think the majority of troops support a repeal, even though he would support the study ordered by Gates to determine if that was true. In a separate interview with Military.com, Conway pointed to logistical hurdles in repealing the ban and said he wouldn't force Marines to share rooms with gay service members on base.
Mixon's comments were considered particularly defiant. Whereas the service chiefs reserved their most pointed criticism for congressional testimony — they are required by law to give Congress their personal opinions when asked — Mixon sent an unsolicited letter to the newspaper "Stars and Stripes" calling his troops to action.
"Now is the time," Mixon said, "to write your elected officials and chain of command and express your views. If those of us who are in favor of retaining the current policy do not speak up, there is no chance to retain the current policy."
His letter received a rare public admonishment from Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen for using his rank to advocate a political position and challenge the president.
"The answer is not advocacy. It is, in fact, to vote with your feet," Mullen said at the Pentagon.
(This version CORRECTS the name of the military newspaper to 'Stars and Stripes.')