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Pentagon Reacts To Trump's Transgender Service Member Ban


If you're a transgender person serving in the U.S. military, you still have a job - at least for now. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Joe Dunford, said yesterday that the Pentagon will do nothing to change their status until the Pentagon receives a formal directive. Earlier this week, of course, President Trump tweeted that transgender troops will no longer be allowed to serve in the military in any capacity. NPR's Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman is here in the studio to make sense of a couple of very different messages we heard on this issue this week. Hey, Tom.

TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: Hey. Good morning.

MARTIN: So the message from the Pentagon to transgender service members is basically, as you were?

BOWMAN: That's right. Nothing has changed. As you said, General Joe Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, said the current policy remains; transgender people can continue to serve openly until the Pentagon gets new guidance from the White House. But we have no new guidance yet. All we have is some tweets from the president who said transgender people will not be allowed or accepted into the military.

MARTIN: So the Pentagon had no idea this was coming down the pike?

BOWMAN: No, they had no idea. I heard the term, we were caught flat-footed by this. People at morning meetings were looking each other saying, who did the president consult with on this? It was complete and utter confusion.

MARTIN: Because the White House had said, we've been in conversations with the generals. The president himself said, I've been talking with the generals about this. So unclear whether or not...

BOWMAN: The generals didn't know who the other generals were, basically.

MARTIN: Who were the generals?

BOWMAN: And this is clearly highly unusual that, for a military policy issue, the Pentagon is saying, essentially, we don't know what's going on; call the White House. And when you look at past social issues - gays and lesbians being allowed to serve openly, women in ground combat jobs - that there was a debate about this, there was coordination, working groups...

MARTIN: There was a process.

BOWMAN: ...Hearings. There was a process...


BOWMAN: ...Not just a tweet.

MARTIN: So some of the argument, the bulk of the argument - the president's argument is that this is somehow expensive and onerous to have transgender people in the military and can be disruptive. Is there any evidence that demonstrates that?

BOWMAN: No, there really isn't any evidence. And if you look at the number of transgender people in the military, it goes anywhere from 1,000 to 6,000 on active duty. But very few of those will go through medical procedures, hormone therapy treatment or surgery. And the studies estimate that that would be maybe $8 million to $10 million, and that's in a budget of $500 billion to $600 billion. So it's not even pocket change, what you're talking about. There really isn't a lot of cost involved here.

MARTIN: Yeah. So the defense secretary, James Mattis, he used to be the head of the Marine Corps. And in that job, you know, he expressed concern about the whole letting-women-into-combat-jobs issue. Do you know where he's at when it comes to transgender people serving?

BOWMAN: You know, we don't at this point. And he has complained about using the military for social change. We don't know where he stands on allowing those transgender people in the military now to continue serving. What we do know is that allowing additional transgender people that come into the military - what he did a few weeks ago is basically say, we're going to postpone a decision on that until the end of the year while we study it and what does it mean for the readiness or the military. He kicked that can down the road.

MARTIN: NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman, thanks so much.

BOWMAN: You're welcome, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tom Bowman is a NPR National Desk reporter covering the Pentagon.
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