The Marine Corps' new top enlisted man has a message for any Marine uneasy about plans to repeal the military's ban on gays serving openly in uniform.
"Let's just get over it."
Sgt. Maj. Micheal Barrett, who became the Corps' 17th sergeant major this month, appeared Thursday in Beaufort to conduct town hall meetings at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort and Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island. Barrett is the top enlisted adviser to Commandant Gen. James Amos and the Corps' highest-ranking noncommissioned officer.
During an hour-long speech before a crowd of about 500 Marines and sailors inside the air station's movie theater, Barrett fielded questions about President Barack Obama's announcement Wednesday on troop withdrawals from Afghanistan, plans to reduce the number of active-duty Marines from 202,000 to about 186,000 in coming years, and his thoughts on women serving in combat.
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"Women can do things that men can't do," Barrett said. "(Female Marines) are able to engage the female population of Afghanistan, which is 51 percent of the population in Afghanistan. How can you not tap into a majority of the friggin' nation and expect to win? I'm all for it, but the Department of Defense has the final say."
Barrett was similarly candid when asked by reporters after the meetings about the decision to end the long-standing, controversial "don't ask, don't tell" policy that banned homosexuals from openly serving in the military.
"The most honorable and noble profession on the planet is to serve your nation, to serve your flag. ... So how do we not allow a certain group of people, who just want to do what we do, to serve their country?" he said. "Come on in. The more, the merrier. Let's do this thing. Let's just get over it. Let's treat everyone with firmness, fairness, dignity, compassion and respect.
"How hard is that?"
Barrett was expected to hold similar meetings today at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, N.C., before returning to Washington, according to Corps officials.
Follow Patrick Donohue at twitter.com/OnBaseBeaufort.