Title: Biden's Military Transgender Policy Will Inflict Massive Damage on Our Military
Joe Biden's order rescinding President Trump's ban on transgender servicemen will quickly impact the military, propelling it into a downward recruiting and retention spiral not seen since the era of the hapless Jimmy Carter.
Let's start with a tale of two soldiers. First, let's consider eighteen-year-old Daniel, who is a male but believes he is female. Daniel has decided to join the military because the military is committed to providing the new recruit with full medical care and support so he can transition from Private Daniel to Private Danielle. At the other end of the spectrum, you have Sergeant (or Chief Petty Officer) Rock. Sergeant Rock is at the E-6/E-7 level, a smart and experienced NCO of twelve years' service who has undergone several combat and war deployments. To attain his rank, Sergeant Rock had to complete an NCO academy and pass many tough courses on a wide array of military and technical subjects. NCO promotions do not come easy. Sergeant Rock is not only a highly trained specialist, but also an experienced troop leader.
The U.S. military is completely dependent upon the thousands of Sergeant Rocks. No ship can sail, no aircraft can fly, no tank can move without a large corps of Sergeant Rocks to operate and maintain complex weapons systems and train the personnel in those systems.
Unlike young Private Daniel/Danielle, Sergeant Rock is a family man. The NCO, warrant officer, and officer ranks of the military are overwhelmingly filled with married people. Approximately 58% of the 2.2 million members serving on active duty and the National Guard and Reserve have families, and 40% have at least two children. Let's say Sergeant Rock has a child with a disability or chronic illness. Approximately 220,000 active-duty and reserve military personnel have a family member with special needs. Sergeant Rock's family is a top priority, at least to him, and military families constitute a special community and culture. If the resources are not there to support military families, Sergeant Rock's family will be unhappy, and Sergeant Rock will likely leave the service when his enlistment expires.
Back to Private Daniel/Danielle. The 2018 Defense Department study of transgender soldiers noted that those soldiers admitted after President Obama ended the transgender ban in 2016 not only used far more medical resources than were readily available, but required active units to dip into their Operations, Training, and Maintenance (OTM) funds to pay for the costs for Private Daniel to become Private Danielle.
In 2019, the Pentagon looked to cut 18,000 medical personnel from an already understaffed military medical corps. President Trump fought the military leaders on this issue, but with Trump gone, look for these cuts to come back. Private Daniel/Danielle, being on active duty, will have a higher priority in the military medical system than Sergeant Rock's sick child when it comes to allocating scarce medical resources. The medical costs for one Private Daniel/Danielle will soak up the treatment costs of ten children like Sergeant Rock's, forcing those families to pay a lot out of pocket and pushing them to seek treatment in the civilian community, perhaps far from their on base home. Faced with taking care of their soldiers and families versus pleasing the politicians in Washington, it's not hard to guess which way the Pentagon leaders will jump.
Military life can be awfully hard, but the military community and culture do much to make it worthwhile. Sergeant Rock joined up with the promise that the military would ensure quality medical care for his family, decent housing, recreation facilities, and all the amenities of a middle-class American life. But when the military is ordered to cut the budget, the top ranks always look to cutting things like housing, medical care, base facilities, and the like to preserve the hugely expensive weapons systems. Defense firms have vast funds an army of highly paid lobbyists, who make sure their interests are well represented to the Beltway politicians. In contrast, military families do not have the big money or lobbyist clout that big business has. In the battle for military community resources, they will lose.
Expect the top military leadership to undermine Sergeant Rock's family life in other ways. Last year, the Navy in San Diego canceled the contracts of Catholic priests who serve the Navy's on base Catholic community. The Navy told the Catholic service families they could shop around outside the base for a church to go to. But a civilian parish would be full of strangers and manned by a priest with no military experience or understanding of the life and needs of military parishioners. There are a lot of devout Christians in the military, and this was a cheap blow to military community life to save a minuscule amount of money.
It's not just the medical care, or the chapel, or the NCO club; it's all the other things that add up to a supportive and family-friendly military. President Trump stopped this thoughtless action by the Navy and insisted that the contract priests be reinstated. But with Biden now president and Bernie Sanders chair of the Senate Budget Committee, expect a full-scale assault on military communities and benefits.
Remember, Sergeant Rock has a lot of training in operating and maintaining complex equipment. He has years of experience in leading enlisted personnel. He is certified in skills in demand in the civilian community. When his military community is underfunded, and his family health care takes a hit because of command policies, Sergeant Rock has plenty of options to get out of the military for a better life. Any large company, or manufacturer, or logistics supplier, would be happy to get Sergeant Rock's skills and experience. The red-state economies are doing nicely, and, even in a tight economy, a smart company will be ready to pay well for Sergeant Rock and make sure that he gets a much better medical plan than what the military will give him. When Sergeant Rock leaves the service, the military is obligated to move him and his family to their chosen final home. He will find a warm welcome in the towns and smaller cities of the red states.
Military people put up with a lot of "chickens---" (common military technical term) from the top ranks. But most soldiers put up with it because they are patriotic and committed and believe that defending the country has more personal value than making the big bucks elsewhere. But lay it on too thick and mess with their families, and even the most dedicated soldiers will consider leaving.
Any sane defense policy would happily cut ten Private Daniel/Danielles to keep one Sergeant Rock in the service. Instead, our political leaders, with the backing of the Pentagon, is ready to cut ten Sergeant Rocks to enlist one Private Daniel/Danielle (who will likely make a poor soldier in the end). Watch for a crisis in military retention and recruitment to come soon.
James S. Corum, Ph.D. is a military historian, author and co-author of 14 books, and a retired lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve.
Image: Ted Eytan via Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0 (cropped).