The nation’s top general said current policy allowing transgender soldiers and sailors to serve in the ranks will remain in place for the foreseeable future, despite President Trump’s tweets Wednesday declaring that transgender people would be banned from the military.
“There will be no modifications to the current policy until the president’s direction has been received by [Secretary of Defense James Mattis] and the secretary has issued implementation guidance,” Gen. Joe Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, wrote in an internal communication to top military officers on Thursday.
“In the meantime, we will continue to treat all of our personnel with respect,” Gen. Dunford added. “As importantly, given the current fight and the challenges we face, we will all remain focused on accomplishing our assigned missions.”
In a series of tweets, Mr. Trump said that he had consulted with military generals and experts before deciding to reverse former President Obama’s 2016 decision to allow transgender people to serve openly in the military.
But Mr. Mattis was on vacation when the tweets came out and many at the Pentagon and on Capitol Hill said they did not know Mr. Trump was planning the sweeping change.
“Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail,” Mr. Trump tweeted.
A 2016 study by the Rand Corporation estimated that 1,320 to 6,630 transgender people now serve in the military. The cost to the military of covering transgender-related health care costs to these personnel would fall between $2.4 and $8.4 million each year, the study estimated. The military budget tops $600 billion.
Mr. Trump’s announcement came soon after Mr. Mattis delayed enlistment of transgender soldiers by six months and delayed any policy change until the impact of transgender service members could be reviewed.
Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley said Thursday that he has received no “directives on implementation” for a ban and learned about Mr. Trump’s decision through the press reports.
“We will work through the implementation guidance when we get it and then we’ll move from there,” he said in a National Press Club address.
The top Air Force officer, Gen. David Goldfein, sent a note internally to his entire force Thursday citing Gen. Dunford’s memo and saying that he and Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson “emphasize that all airmen will be treated with dignity and respect as we work through the potential policy changes” coming from the White House.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Thursday the White House and the Pentagon are still working through how the Twitter announcement will be implemented, and did not give a timeline when an official policy would be ready.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, New York Democrat, vowed to overturn Mr. Trump’s ban.
“This new directive is harmful, misguided, and weakens — not strengthens — our military,” she said in a statement.
Other congress members, such as Rep. Vicky Hartzler, Missouri Republican, said they support the ban.
“We must ensure all our precious defense dollars are used to strengthen our national defense,” Ms. Hartzler said in an interview with CNN. “Now, we can focus on rebuilding our military and addressing the growing threats around the world.”
⦁ This article was based in part on wire service reports.