President Trump says that Transgender people serving in the military will distract the force from fighting and winning wars. He says people like me are a burden that harms readiness. Let’s be clear, the only thing that will ensure success - or failure - on the battlefield will be the side that fights better – or more appropriately - adheres best to the principles of war, and which one does not. I spent nearly twenty-three years in the Army, all of them knowing I was Transgender, and unable to do anything about it. I could have been a better officer had I the opportunity to transition. But that could not happen in the age of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.” So, partly to cope with the gender chatter going on in my head, I focused on being a good officer.
Part of what kept the gender chatter at bay was a rigorous study of military science. I memorized the range distance of small arms, mortars, and artillery. I poured over maps of our battle positions in Germany. I could recite the blast radius of a fragmentation grenade, how much weight my soldiers could carry for a five-mile hike, calories needed to fuel their performance, and how much rest they needed. I studied the greats of military history. From Caesar’s Commentaries on the Gallic War to Vegetius, to the Maxims of Antoine-Henri Jomini, to On War by Carl von Clauswitz. I perused Sun Tzu, read Rommel, Liddell-Hart, and Fuller. I learned about the science of operations from Tukhachevsky, Manstein, Guderian, von Mellenthin, and Grant. I even tried reading Che Guevara. Their victories heeded firmly established military principles. If they ever overlooked those principles, or when their nations did, they lost battles, and wars. Principles like: Objective, Offensive, Mass, Economy of Force, Maneuver, Unity of Command, Security, Surprise, and Simplicity1. From squad level to national strategy all these principles have meaning. They may articulate how we fight. Yet they never answered for me the reason why. Why did I fight? The answer, for me, came from re-reading our country’s foundation documents. Among them the Constitution, and the Declaration of Independence. For me it answered a fundamental question: Why was I willing to have my life taken?
My answer? It’s the equality thing - because, central to those documents, is the notion that all people are created equal, and that in the United States, everyone expects equality of opportunity. When I was in the Army all our operational planning hewed as close as possible to the applied working of each principle of war. But the one principle every day started with was, the Objective. Be it battle or garrison, every task every day started with a mission. Seizing an enemy held town, or hill, was an infinitely more consequential mission than being assigned to erect a new flag pole on the parade ground. Yet both are missions that have their own complexities, require clarity in directive, a chain of responsibility and command, selecting the right people for the job, selecting enough people for it, and making certain everyone from the commander down to the newest private understands the objective of the mission, or the task at hand.
So too does a nation have objectives. Among them is the job to promote equality of opportunity where structures that hinder it exist. American power is both hard and soft. Our hard power is in our tanks, aircraft carriers, bombers and fighters. Our soft power is in what we are prepared to fight for. It’s in our people, our history. And this is where President Trump’s tweets on Trans military service hurt the most. For he has endorsed an idea asserting America will not offer equal opportunity to some of its citizens. His tweets on Trans men and women serving in the military reveal a fundamental belief that he considers people like me unworthy. Our enemies both foreign, and domestic, seize upon his tweets to create greater wedges of separation among us and our nation, even within our own families.
Our politics is a never-ending dialectic about the nature of our common American objective. This country was founded on the belief, eloquent in its simplicity, that all of us are created equal. Our history is filled with the struggle to extend that equality to all. Often bloody, always hard, we wrestle to perfect that idea. The great men and women we celebrate from our history have all contributed to the perfecting of that foundational notion. President Trump may dent it. But he cannot kill it. Only you and I can do that by giving up.
Welcoming Transgender men and women to openly serve in the military demonstrates to the world what we, as a nation, believe, that all Americans have value, that all Americans are considered worthy of being trusted to fight for the Constitution. I do not know the outcome of this struggle. I won’t say that Trump’s policy pronouncements will soon be reversed. But what I do know is that Americans are a fair-minded people and they will eventually demand fairness.