WASHINGTON -- All transgender U.S. servicemembers will continue to be treated with respect, but DOD will eventually implement President Donald Trump’s policy which may ban their service, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Joseph F. Dunford said Thursday.
Trump announced the policy change in a series of Tweets Wednesday saying that he would no longer allow transgender personnel to join or continue serving in the military. But the White House has not yet communicated the specifics of that new policy to the Pentagon, which will have to issue implementation guidance to the services.
The Tweets caught most of the Defense Department by surprise, leaving commanders scrambling to explain what the shift meant for currently serving forces.
“I know there are questions about yesterday’s announcement on the transgender policy by the president,” Dunford said in the statement issued Thursday morning. “There will be no modifications to the current policy until the President’s direction has been received by the secretary of defense and the secretary has issued implementation guidance.”
“In the meantime we will continue to treat all of our personnel with respect. As importantly, given the current fight and the challenges we face, we will remain focused on accomplishing our assigned missions.”
The current policy, set in October 2016, allows transgender service members to serve openly and allows for DoD-funded gender reassignment surgery. The policy was put in place by former Secretary of Defense Ash Carter under the Obama administration.
In a briefing Thursday with Baghdad-based Operation Inherent Resolve spokesman Col. Ryan Dillon, he said that the downrange forces had not yet received guidance on the new policy.
Dillon said he also did not know how many, if any transgender forces were currently involved in the fight against the Islamic State.
“I don’t know how many and I don’t know if they’ve been told,” Dillon said.
Both the Air Force and Army chiefs also issued statements on the issue Thursday. In a message re-posted to the Air Force Forum on Facebook, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein said ”Secretary [Heather] Wilson and I would like to emphasize that all airmen will be treated with dignity and respect as we work through the potential policy changes.”
Army Secretary Gen. Mark Milley told an audience at the National Press Club that the Army, too, would continue to respect all servicemembers and await implementation guidance from Mattis.
Tara Copp is the Pentagon Bureau Chief for Military Times and author of the award-winning military nonfiction "The Warbird: Three Heroes. Two Wars. One Story."