National Press Club

Trump ban on transgender soldiers awaits written command, U.S. Army chief says

July 28, 2017 | By Jesse Rifkin |

U.S. Army Chief of Staff Mark Milley speaks at a July 27 National Press Club Headliners Luncheon.

U.S. Army Chief of Staff Mark Milley speaks at a July 27 National Press Club Headliners Luncheon.

Photo/Image: Noel St. John

President Donald Trump’s Twitter announcement that transgender soldiers would be banned from military service has not yet been officially directed, U.S. Army Chief of Staff Mark Milley said July 27 at a National Press Club Headliners Luncheon.

“The military operates off of certain processes," Milley said. "To date, I have yet to receive implementation directives from the Department of Defense. To my knowledge, Secretary Mattis hasn’t received written directives yet. That’s where we are right now, We’ll act when we receive written orders.”

Asked whether President Barack Obama’s 2016 directive allowing transgender soldiers had caused any difficulties, Milley said it had.

“I’ll be candid," he said. "The short answer to your question is yes, we’ve had to deal with problems. We don’t put it in the media. We deal with it professionally and quietly, with dignity and respect for the individual and the institution.

“In the meantime, the entire force and chain of command always has -- will today, will tomorrow, and always should -- treat every single soldier, sailor, airman, Marine with dignity and respect for their service in the cloth of our nation. Bar none.”

Milley did not offer his own personal opinions on the transgender policy.

He did endorse Obama's directive opening combat roles to women.

“We did intensive study, a lot of analytical rigor on how to do this," he said. "It took us three or four years. We did experiments, pilot programs, all kinds of inside-baseball stuff. Today, the execution of that policy is actually working well to date. I recommended to do women in the infantry, though there were others who disagreed.”

On foreign policy, Milley called North Korea “the single most dangerous threat facing the international community and the United States,” but said Russia was “clearly the most capable” nation seeking to damage U.S. interests, calling it "the only country on earth that represents an existential threat to the United States,.

“Other countries have nuclear capability as well, but only Russia has the capability to destroy the United States,” he said.

North Korea’s recent intercontinental ballistic missile tests earlier this month provide grave worries, as the missile could reach Alaska and with slightly more development could potentially reach Hawaii or even the west coast states.

“We’re trying a wide variety of methods in the diplomatic and economic spheres," Milley said "We in the military fully support those and want those to succeed. There’s still some time for them to succeed but time is running out."

In the face of such threats, as well as others including China and non-state terrorist actors such as the Islamic State and Al Qaeda, Milley also recommended increasing the military’s size.

“The system we set up in 1945 to maintain global peace and prevent war between great powers is under intense stress today from revolutionaries, terrorism, guerrillas, nation-states that don’t like the rules of the road," he said. "So the question is: How big an army do you want? Well, how much do you value that system?”

“Rightly or wrongly, fairly or unfairly, the role of arbiter of that system has fallen to the United States for seven decades,” Milley said. “I believe that we need a larger Army, because of the tasks that are required. It’s not just some arbitrary number. We’ve done the analysis.”