We have enjoyed the benefits of protection from openly serving transgender Americans for two-and-a-half years, without suffering any loss of unit cohesion.
By proposing to ban transgender soldiers, the Trump administration is behaving recklessly with military readiness, and at a bad time.
The U.S. Army missed its recruiting goals this year, falling short by 23,500 soldiers. The last time we failed to reach our goal, 2005, was the year I left the service; I worried then about being involuntarily recalled through the so-called “backdoor draft,” when nearly 60,000 soldiers had their contracts unwillingly extended. I knew guys who experienced this, and their morale was not high.
To combat recruiting woes the last decade, the Army infamously lowered its standards, creating challenges throughout the ranks for many years to come. Senior officers today say they won’t repeat that mistake, but commanders confront a big challenge. The Army blames a strong economy, but recruiting is also hard because strict military requirements mean not even three in 10 young Americans qualify to serve; the rest are considered physically or mentally unfit.
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It is unfortunate, then, that the administration chooses this moment to play politics with our military readiness. Solicitor General Noel Francisco recently petitioned the United States Supreme Court to hear immediately a case deciding President Donald Trump’s ban on transgender Americans serving in the military. To date, three ban-related cases are making their way through the courts, slated to be heard by Appellate Court justices in coming months.
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So far, the lower courts have stayed the ban, and openly transgender troops continue to serve. Francisco also petitioned the Supreme Court to remove the stay; if he’s successful, the Pentagon will begin to implement the ban even before the judiciary reaches its decision.
Estimates of transgender troops currently serving range from more than 1,000 to almost 11,000, These firings could cost taxpayers close to $1 billion, according to the Palm Center, a nonpartisan institute that supports LGBTQ military service. More, they represent thousands of critical military jobs. We will suddenly and unnecessarily be scrambling to fill those positions, a task the recruiting shortage makes more complicated.
The ban also risks the military’s most valuable asset: its nonpartisan public support. Seventy-four percent of the country professes confidence in our armed forces, according to an annual Gallup poll, far outpacing every other national institution.
Local media across the country, though, will cover heartbreaking stories of patriotic, transgender Americans being evicted from the military they love. These stories are unlikely to make service more appealing to the younger Americans the Army badly needs to attract, a generation far more accepting and supportive of its LGBTQ peers.
Some in the administration assert the existing policy poses a “substantial risk” to morale. There is no hard evidence for this claim. For two-and-a-half years, transgender troops have served openly, and there are zero cases of resultant morale problems. Imagine, instead, the declining morale of thousands of units suddenly deprived of one of their soldiers — a lost friend, plus their share of the work to do.
Tellingly, the uniformed military is strongly against the ban. Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Congress that he advised President Trump as much. Dunford’s predecessors, Gen. Martin Dempsey and Adm. Mike Mullen, have also spoken publicly in support of transgender service, as has Dunford’s recently announced successor, Army Gen. Mark Milley. So have 56 retired admirals and generals, the American Medical Association, and all of the current service commanders — the four-star officers tasked with preparing their services for war and all other operations.
The battle is not over.
Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, recently said he would “go to bat” to keep transgender troops from serving. Inhofe also alleged that Puget Sound-area U.S. Rep. Adam Smith, D-Bellevue, r lacks “the support” to block the ban.
Smith, a powerful advocate for LGBTQ service members over the years, can rally support by holding a full committee hearing on transgender service. A hearing will afford Americans the opportunity to hear directly from some of these outstanding troops, and from the commanders who have promoted and deployed them.
Let’s not play politics with military readiness. We have enjoyed the benefits of protection from openly serving transgender Americans for two-and-a-half years, without suffering any loss of unit cohesion. Relatively few Americans are eligible to protect us, and far fewer choose to. Rep. Smith and others must fight to allow those who can serve, to serve.
An earlier version of this Op-Ed incorrectly stated that U.S. Rep. Adam Smith, D-Bellevue, would replace Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., as chair of the House Armed Services Committee. The Armed Services chair likely to be replaced by Smith is Mac Thornberry, R-Texas.