Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joe Dunford, pictured here in March, wrote in the message to the chiefs of the services and senior enlisted leaders that the military will continue to “treat all of our personnel with respect.” | Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP
There will be “no modifications” to the military’s transgender policy as a result of President Donald Trump’s declared ban on transgender men and women, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs said in a message to top military officers on Thursday — the latest sign of the disarray following the commander-in-chief’s abrupt announcement.
Marine Gen. Joe Dunford also wrote in the message, which was sent to the chiefs of the military branches and senior enlisted leaders, that the military will continue to “treat all of our personnel with respect.”
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“I know there are questions about yesterday’s announcement on the transgender policy by the President,” Dunford wrote in the internal communication, a copy of which was provided to POLITICO. “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 all remain focused on accomplishing our assigned missions,” he continued.
The president said Wednesday in a series of three tweets that transgender troops would no longer be allowed to serve in any capacity, sparking questions about what that would mean for the thousands currently in uniform and whether it constitutes an official policy change.
The announcement also sparked fierce criticism from lawmakers in both parties, while advocacy groups immediately threatened to take the president to court to overturn any ban.
Dunford’s message also underscores how the military, like legal experts, does not consider the president’s social media pronouncements policy.
Dru Brenner-Beck, a retired Army judge advocate general and president of the National Institute for Military Justice, told POLITICO Wednesday said that under normal procedure the president would issue an executive order instructing the Pentagon to go about changing the department’s personnel policy — but only after Defense Department officials coordinated with various parts of the military and weighed in on the proposed changes in the draft order.
Brenner-Beck said its even legally questionable whether a declaration from the president’s personal social media account is enough to launch the process of rewriting Pentagon regulations, calling it “a whole new frontier.”
“A tweet doesn’t really give you policy,” she said. “How do you implement a tweet? Usually you would have some kind of an actual policy document that comes down.”
A Defense Department official, speaking on the condition they not be named, said Thursday that the Pentagon is scrambling to coordinate with the White House for guidance on the way forward, noting that there is an urgent need to explain to the troops what it means.
Transgender troops — which by some estimates number as high as 15,000 — have been allowed to serve openly since June of 2016. The Pentagon has been studying ways to implement the decision for new recruits — including questions about housing and medical care.
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis last month ordered that review be extended another six months.
The Pentagon’s policy changes have not been without controversy. House Republicans, as part of defense spending legislation now under consideration, have sought to prohibit the Pentagon from paying for troops’ gender transition surgery.
But virtually no one has suggested drumming them out of the military altogether.
“Everyone was confused and I think there are still confused,” said Radha Iyengar, a senior economist at the government-funded Rand Corporation, who authored a recent study for the pentagon on the medical costs associated with transgender service members. “I think the Joint Chiefs statement helps that but we are waiting to see what the actual policy is. “