military matters
July 5, 2018

Courts may have nixed President Trump's capriciously announced blanket ban on transgender troops, but recruits are still facing a blockade to enlistment.

Barely any transgender people who have tried to enlist since the military began accepting transgender recruits on Jan. 1 have actually made it to basic training, a startling report from The New York Times shows. They're still buried in bureaucracy, stuck submitting outdated medical records and denied enlistment for health problems they haven't faced in decades.

Nicholas Bade, a double black belt whose records show he's fit to enlist, tells the Times he has been rejected from the Air Force five times this year. Another transgender man was denied because he had knee surgery as a baby — a surgery that's never affected him since. In fact, LGBTQ activist group Sparta says of its 140 transgender members who've tried to enlist this year, only two have actually made it into military service.

Paula Neira, head of the Center for Transgender Health at Johns Hopkins Medicine and facilitator of the Obama-era policy, says these prolonged medical checks for transgender troops seem reasonable given how new this is to the military. "There is no one doing these assessments that is an expert in transgender health, so they have to figure things out as they go along," she told the Times.

In 2016, former President Barack Obama announced plans to lift the ban on transgender enlistment beginning this year. Trump tried to stymie that last summer, before being overruled by the courts.

Read more at The New York Times. Kathryn Krawczyk

March 24, 2018

President Trump on Friday issued an order banning transgender people who "may require substantial medical treatment, including medications and surgery" from the military "except under certain limited circumstances."

The question of transgender troops has been in limbo for the better part of a year since Trump's surprise announcement via Twitter last summer of a complete ban on transgender service. That initial rule was blocked in court, and the Justice Department dropped its challenge to the stay in December pending a recommendation from Defense Secretary James Mattis. The Friday memo said Mattis reached a conclusion in favor of this new ban, which will still face court challenge.

"This new policy will enable the military to apply well-established mental and physical health standards — including those regarding the use of medical drugs — equally to all individuals who want to join and fight for the best military force the world has ever seen," White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said of the memo. Mattis likewise argued against exemptions "from well-established mental health, physical health, and sex-based standards, which apply to all Service members" in a February report to Trump.

But critics contend the plan discriminates against the LGBT community and will reduce military readiness. "The Trump-Pence administration's continued insistence on targeting our military families for discrimination is appalling, reckless, and unpatriotic," said Ashley Broadway-Mack of the American Military Partner Association. Bonnie Kristian

August 26, 2017

President Trump signed a memo Friday directing the Pentagon to implement the ban on transgender troops he unexpectedly announced in late July. The document says the Defense Department (DoD) must stop accepting openly transgender recruits but allows Pentagon leadership to decide whether active transgender personnel can continue in their roles.

The memo also prohibits federal spending on sex-reassignment surgeries unless they are needed "to protect the health of an individual who has already begun a course of treatment to reassign his or her sex." The DoD has six months to decide what to do about current transgender personnel.

Trump's apparently impromptu July announcement has come under broad criticism in subsequent weeks. "Any American who meets current medical and readiness standards should be allowed to continue serving ... regardless of their gender identity" said Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).

McCain's Democratic colleague, Sen. Tammy Duckworth (Ill.), released a widely shared statement Thursday referencing her own military experience to oppose the ban. "When I was bleeding to death in my Black Hawk helicopter after I was shot down, I didn't care if the American troops risking their lives to help save me were gay, straight, transgender, black, white or brown," she said. "All that mattered was they didn't leave me behind." Bonnie Kristian

June 25, 2016

The Pentagon will announce Monday a finalized plan for lifting the military's ban on transgender troops beginning in July. Each branch of the armed services will have a year to determine and implement any resultant changes to uniforms, housing, and recruitment.

The decision is the result of a working group established last summer by Defense Secretary Ash Carter, who said at the time he expected to see the ban go — provided the group did not produce evidence it would have an "adverse impact on military effectiveness and readiness."

Of the 1.3 million current members of the U.S. military, the Pentagon estimates around 2,500 are transgender and about 65 seek gender reassignment surgery each year. Skeptics of proposals to lift the ban have questioned whether the military will begin including reassignment services in its medical care for soldiers, an issue which was not the primary focus of the Pentagon's research to date. Bonnie Kristian

May 8, 2016

The U.S. Military Academy has launched an investigation into a photo that's been circulating online of 16 black female cadets raising their fists, spokesman Lt. Col. Christopher Kasker said Saturday.

Taking photos in traditional dress uniforms as a nod to historical cadet portraits is a West Point tradition, but the raised fists may be seen as a violation of the school's ban on political activity, The New York Times reports. Some think the women invoked Black Lives Matter. The cadets have said that wasn't their intent.

"For them it's not a sign of allegiance to a movement, it's a sign that means unity and pride and sisterhood," said Mary Tobin, a 2003 West Point graduate and a mentor who has talked to the cadets about their photo. "That fist to them meant you and your sisters did what only a few people, male or female, have ever done in this country." Julie Kliegman

April 13, 2016

Two Russian fighter jets and a military helicopter buzzed the U.S. Navy warship Donald Cook several times on Monday and Tuesday while it conducted a routine patrol in the Baltic Sea.

The jets flew "dangerously close" White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Wednesday, and a wake was created in the water. "This incident, as you won't be surprised to hear, is entirely inconsistent with the professional norms of militaries operating in proximity to each other in international waters and international airspace," Earnest added.

U.S. officials say the Su-24 fighter jets flew 11 close-range and low-altitude passes in a "simulated attack profile" on Tuesday, and ignored radio advisories in English and Russian. In a statement, U.S. European Command, which oversees military operations in the area, said it has "deep concerns about the unsafe and unprofessional Russian flight maneuvers. These actions have the potential to unnecessarily escalate tensions between countries and could result in a miscalculation or accident that could cause serious injury or death." The Navy is reviewing the incidents. Catherine Garcia

March 29, 2016

On Tuesday, three Sikh U.S. soldiers filed suit against the Department of Defense, saying they have been waiting for months to hear if their requests for religious accommodation will be resolved by basic training in May.

Specialist Kanwar Singh, Specialist Harpal Singh, and Private Arjan Singh Ghotra are being represented by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, McDermott Will & Emery, and the Sikh Coalition, whose legal director, Harsimran Kaur, told NBC News that the "Army has been failing to make decisions on whether these patriotic Sikhs will be able to serve their country while abiding by the tenets of their faith. In doing so, the Army is violating their constitutional and statutory rights." The men are asking to wear turbans, keep their beards, and refrain from cutting their hair, and the lead plaintiff has been waiting for an answer for more than seven months, the Sikh Coalition said.

Since 1981, the Army has had stricter grooming regulations, and requests for religious accommodation are taken on a case-by-case basis, with only three granted, NBC News reports (about 50,000 soldiers have permanent beard exemptions for medical reasons). "These men are exactly what the Army says it wants: soldiers of integrity, patriotism, and courage," Eric Baxter, senior counsel at the Becket Fund, said in a statement. "It's embarrassing that the Army is still quibbling over their beards when militaries in Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, and India all accommodate Sikhs without a problem. Hasn't the Army ever heard of Ulysses S. Grant?" Catherine Garcia

January 10, 2016

The U.S. flew a B-52 bomber low over South Korea on Sunday in response to North Korea's recent disputed claim of having conducted a hydrogen bomb test, USA Today reports.

"This was a demonstration of the ironclad U.S. commitment to our allies in South Korea, in Japan, and to the defense of the American homeland," PACOM Commander Adm. Harry B. Harris Jr. said in a statement.

North Korea has reportedly not yet responded to the flyover. Julie Kliegman

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