Transgenders in the Military: An Ever-changing Situation

In Oct 2016 then Secretary of Defense Ash Carter announced an end to the long-standing policy of prohibiting transgender persons from serving openly in the military- he also gave the Department of Defense until July 1, 2017, to develop a policy allowing transgender recruits to enter service. That is now on hold until Dec. as the individual services continue determining how such a move will impact readiness.

When General James Mattis was selected as Secretary of Defense there was a long list of Obama era issues he was expected to address. Included on this list was the Oct. 2016 announcement that transgenders service members could openly service while identifying as their preferred sex. Also included was the already underway program to facilitate those who are already openly transgender to enter the services. As the deadline for the latter approached Sec. of Def. Mattis did act, but not in the fashion many may have expected.

Rather than outright reversing the earlier order Sec. of Def. Mattis has ordered a stay of sorts – providing an extension, until Dec.2017, during which time the services will further study how the change will impact “readiness and lethality”.

(Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter)


As one would expect, former Sec. of Def. Carter’s announcement was met with mixed reviews. Many in the LGBT community hailed the move as an important means of erasing discrimination against its members. Other pro-transgender advocates claimed it would allow the military to recruit the best and brightest regardless of sexual identity. Those on the other side of the debate claimed it was a dangerous social experiment, instituted without considering how it would affect those already serving or the readiness of our military as a whole.

Turns out there are many questions to be answered before a final decision can be made and that is why Sec. of Def. Mattis has extended the review period – something the Marines, Army and Air Force all requested. Only the Navy claims to be prepared to accept transgender recruits.

Regardless of which side of the issue you find yourself, there is no doubt that there are still questions to be answered.

1. Accommodations- unlike most professions serving in the military can be a 24/7/365 occupation. Although many assignments do allow service members to leave the work place after hours unmarried members routinely live in communal environments. Other assignments involve days, weeks or even months in isolated settings where unit members spend 24 hours per day in confined living/working conditions. One of the biggest unanswered questions is how this would be dealt with under the new program. Will transgenders be forced to use individual shower/bathroom or sleeping facilities? Or would non-transgender members be forces to accommodate full integration?

2. Cost- what would the Department of Defense be required to pay for in terms of hormone treatments, physiological services or reassignment surgery? Would these same benefits be available to recruits who already identify as transgender prior to entering service? Where would this money come from?

3. Impact – how does accepting transgender members for open service affect the overall performance of the services? This appears to be of great concern to Mattis, as he specifically mentioned it in a leaked DoD memo, and should be of the greatest concern overall. Whether you like to admit it or not the main reason for the armed services is to protect the nation and ANY policy which has the potential for reducing readiness and lethality needs to be completely vetted before implementation.

I do not envy Sec. of Def. Mattis . No matter what decision he finally makes there will be finger pointing, name calling and protesting. But, if he keeps to his word and evaluates everything based on what is best for the services, at least he will be able to sleep well at night knowing he did what was necessary to protect soldiers, sailors and airmen now and in the future.

Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.

Tom Burrell

Tom enlisted in the US Marine Corps Reserves in 1987. Following service in Desert Storm, he transitioned to active duty with the US Coast Guard. In 1997 he left the USCG to pursue a position in conservation & maritime law enforcement. Tom is currently a Captain and he oversees several programs, including his agency investigation unit. He is also a training instructor in several areas including firearms, defensive tactics and first aid/CPR. In 2006 Tom received his Associate’s Degree in Criminal Justice from Harrisburg Area Community College and in 2010 a Bachelor’s Degree from Penn State University.
Tom Burrell

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