A top Pentagon official claimed soldiers aren’t worried about serving with transgender people ahead of a pending deadline on Trump’s embattled military ban.
Army Secretary Mark Esper told reporters on Thursday the subject “hasn’t really come up” with active duty service members since assuming the office in November 2017. Esper, who regularly visits bases in the U.S. and abroad as part of his position, said troops are more concerned about the day-to-day aspects of military life.
“Soldiers tend to talk about, you know, ‘I didn’t get my pay, and ‘this MRE tastes terrible,’ and ‘I wanted to go to Fort Drum but I’m going to this fort,’” Esper said, as originally reported by the Washington Examiner.
Esper’s claims conflict with repeated assertions from the White House that allowing trans people to serve openly will harm unit cohesion.
In his July tweets announcing a plan to reinstate the ban on trans military service, President Donald Trump claimed allowing transgender individuals to enlist would result in “tremendous medical costs and disruption.” Trump signed an official directive in August putting that proposal into effect, but the policy would subsequently be blocked by at least four federal courts.
After announcing it no longer planned to defend the ban, the Pentagon claimed new recommendations would be delivered to the president on Feb. 21. The military has not stated what those recommendations would entail.
Esper signaled, however, that his own stance on the issue has shifted in recent months.
The former Raytheon executive claimed he had the opportunity to meet “six or seven” transgender troops who would be affected by the Commander-in-Chief’s policy. He said the conversations were “helpful.”
“Everybody wants to be treated with a clear set of standards,” Esper told the press. “At the end of the day, the Army is a standards-based organization.”
A RAND Corporation study commissioned by the Pentagon in 2016 already found that transgender people pose no threat to the military. Allowing trans individuals to serve would entail “relatively low” medical costs and have a “minimal” impact on unit cohesion and troop readiness, the nonpartisan research group found.
Dozens of transgender people have reportedly enlisted in the military after Trump’s ban was officially lifted on Jan. 1., which allowed them to serve openly for the first time.