Leaders and troops will have to dedicate countless hours addressing a problem that did not exist, rather than training to fight and win our nation’s wars.
ON Wednesday morning, thousands of transgender American troops across the globe woke up and did their morning calisthenics, trainings and missions. Then, shortly after 9 a.m., their commander in chief tweeted that he neither wanted nor appreciated their service.
Congress and the Defense Department must halt this ban before its devastating consequences to our military readiness — and to thousands of brave patriots — take effect.
President Donald Trump, who received five military deferments during Vietnam, tweeted that our armed services “cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail.” The president is incorrect. A 2016 Rand Corp. study estimated there are as many as 11,000 transgender troops serving throughout the active and reserve components. Similarly, there are transgender troops in 18 other militaries throughout the world — all without negative impact on readiness.
I served in the Army as an enlisted paratrooper, deploying to Afghanistan. The soldiers in our infantry squad took pride in taking care of each other during the hardest times. I can imagine that in thousands of military units around the world right now, men and women are comforting their fellow service members, despite their commander in chief’s overt hostility.
Unfortunately, the president’s tweets directly threaten military readiness for this very reason. Troops fight for the people next to them in the trenches; thousands of units with transgender service members must now worry for their comrades-in-arms. Will they be allowed to stay in the military? Will officers and noncommissioned officers be instructed to report all suspected transgender troops up the chain of command for dismissal? All of this hurts military readiness, as leaders and troops will have to dedicate countless hours addressing a problem that did not exist, rather than training to fight and win our nation’s wars.
The sloppy execution of the service ban aggravates the situation, evoking the botched rollout of the president’s January travel ban. In advance of the president’s morning tweets, there was no coordination with the Pentagon. Similar to the chaos that overtook many airports six months ago, thousands of transgender troops and their families fear right now that they will be forced out of a military they love, without any sense of the process or timing.
President Trump alleged “tremendous medical costs” as a rationale. This, too, is incorrect. Research suggests the total additional health-care costs associated with transgender service members at about $5.6 million annually. This is almost nothing compared to the hundreds of millions of dollars we have already spent to train our transgender service members with sophisticated skills, skills our military desperately needs.
Perhaps even worse is that Trump campaigned as a “real friend” to the LGBTQ community. He is now playing politics in the worst way, cynically devaluing the service of thousands, while simultaneously degrading our national security — all to win cheap political points.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford, who knows that the tweets endanger readiness, authored a letter to the service chiefs on Thursday. The note clarifies that current policy will remain unchanged until the White House sends the Defense Department a formal rules change, followed by new guidelines that will be issued by the secretary of defense.
In the meantime, the military must wait, uncertain.
Fortunately, many from both parties spoke out immediately against the president’s tweets, including Washington Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, as well as Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sen. John McCain. McCain stated that “any American who wants to serve our country … should be treated as the patriots they are.” He is right to call them patriots; thousands of heroes in uniform are this day seeing their service attacked by their commander in chief. All those in a position to prevent these tweets from becoming commands should do so.