updated 2/22/2010 1:35:59 PM ET 2010-02-22T18:35:59

The top U.S. commanding general in Iraq says he thinks everyone — gay and straight — should be allowed to serve in the military "as long as we are still able to fight our wars."

The comment by Gen. Raymond Odierno is among the first to come from a senior military leader currently leading troops in battle since the Pentagon announced earlier this month that it will study the issue.

Odierno helped lead a troop buildup in Iraq that reduced violence and has paved the way for a planned reduction of U.S. forces.

Odierno told reporters Monday that he had not had much time to think about whether gays should be allowed to serve openly. He said the policy of "don't ask, don't tell" has been a "non-issue" to him.

Congressional lawmakers this week will press the military's top uniformed officers for the first time on whether they think repealing "don't ask, don't tell" makes sense or would be too disruptive.

The testimony from each of the service chiefs on Capitol Hill will be crucial to the debate in Congress on whether to repeal the 17-year-old law, which bans gays from serving openly in the military.

President Barack Obama says the policy unfairly punishes patriots who want to serve their country. Defense Secretary Robert Gates agrees and has begun a yearlong study on how to mitigate the impact of lifting the ban.

lawmakers, who are divided on whether to end the ban, say they want to hear from the service chiefs. They are the ones who would be in charge of putting any changes in place and responding to any fallout.

"The armed forces have always placed military effectiveness above individual needs," said Rep. Gene Taylor, a conservative Democrat from Mississippi who says he is unconvinced that the ban should be lifted.

"This is one of the core concepts that has made the U.S. military one of the most effective combat forces in history," he said.

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