Mabus, speaking to reporters Wednesday, offered a full-throated defense of the progressive movement he’s led inside the Navy, arguing that removing women from combat roles or rolling back Don’t Ask Don’t Tell would make the military a less effective fighting force. Here are his remarks:
"You make the decisions you think are right at the time and will strengthen the Navy and Marine Corps. We have a better force because we are more diverse.
Of course you could roll it back; you can roll anything back. But if you do, you will make us weaker. If you do, you will be saying that because of what you look like, or your gender, or who you love … even though you qualify for the job – even though you met every qualification – we're going to keep you from doing it. That's no America, that's not who we are.
How can you deny someone the honor of defending this country when they meet the standards? You are not lowering the standards, you are not doing it to be diverse you are doing it to be better. So if you want to go backwards. If you want to make us a weaker force, do it. But you will be a weaker force if you do that.
I'll finish with a story:
I was in Manaus, Kyrgyzstan, where everyone going in and coming out of Afghanistan passed through – this was a few months after the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell. I did an all-hands call with about 800 sailors and Marines.
Afterwards a first class petty officer, a corpsman, he had just finished his third combat tour with the Marines. And he came up and he thanked me for pushing for the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell, and he said he was gay and that he was scared to death his entire time in the Navy that he was going to be found out and forced to leave.
Now here's a guy who had just done three combat deployments, risked his life time after time to go to Marines' aid but his biggest fear was that he was going to be kicked out of the military for who he was and who he loved. Now how wrong is that? And how bad is that for our force? If we didn't have him we would have been a weaker service.
So yes, they can roll it back, you can always roll things back. But you will make us a weaker fighting force if you do. If that's your aim, then go ahead. But that is what will happen."
David B. Larter was the naval warfare reporter for Defense News.