Defense secretary Jim Mattis gives armed forces until December to assess effects on military readiness and rejects calls for two-year deferral
Defense secretary Jim Mattis is giving the military another six months to conduct a review to determine if allowing transgender individuals to enlist in the armed services will affect its readiness and lethality.
Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White said Mattis made the decision on Friday. The delay in allowing the enlistment of new recruits does not affect transgender troops who are already serving openly in the military.
Mattis said in a memo obtained by The Associated Press: After consulting with the service chiefs and secretaries, I have determined that it is necessary to defer the start of accessions for six months. We will use this additional time to evaluate more carefully the impact of such accessions on readiness and lethality.
In the memo, Mattis said he believed the department must measure each policy decision against one standard whether it affects the readiness of the military to defend the nation.
Mattiss decision formally endorses an agreement hammered out last week by the leaders of the four military services, which rejected army and air force requests for a two-year wait. And it reflects the broader worry that a longer delay would trigger criticism on Capitol Hill, officials familiar with the talks said.
The request for a delay was sent to Mattis for a final decision last week.
Mattis said the review by the services must be completed by 1 December, and he noted that his approval of a delay does not presuppose the outcome of the review. He said the additional time would ensure he had the benefit of the views of the military leadership and of the senior civilian officials who are now arriving in the department.
Transgender service members have been able to serve openly in the military since last year, when former defense secretary Ash Carter ended the ban, declaring it the right thing to do. Since 1 October, transgender troops have been able to receive medical care and start formally changing their gender identity in the Pentagons personnel system.
But Carter also gave the services until 1 July to develop policies to allow people already identifying as transgender to join the military, if they meet physical, medical and other standards, and have been stable in their identified gender for 18 months.
The military chiefs have argued they need more time to study the issue and its effects on the readiness of the force before taking that step.
According to officials familiar with the internal discussions, the chiefs believe the extra six months would give the four military services time to gauge if currently serving transgender troops are facing problems and what necessary changes military bases might have to make.
They said navy officials were ready to begin enlistment in July but asked for a one-year delay, largely to accommodate a request from the Marine Corps for more time. The navy secretary also oversees the Marine Corps. The army and air force wanted a two-year delay to further study the issue, they said.
Already, there are up 250 service members in the process of changing their gender identity or who have been approved to formally change gender within the Pentagons personnel system, according to several defense officials.
Officials said there was a broad recognition that allowing transgender individuals to enlist affected each service differently. They described the biggest challenge as the infantry. They said the discussions were aimed at a solution that would give recruits the best chance of succeeding, while ensuring the services maintained the best standards for entry into the military.
A Rand Corp study found that there were between 2,500 and 7,000 transgender service members in the active-duty military, and another 1,500 to 4,000 in the reserves.