Pentagon loophole or policy shift blocking transgender Academy grad’s commission

A transgender Air Force Academy graduate is in limbo awaiting commission, which may never come, because of what the academy calls a gap in Pentagon rules for transgender military recruits.

Although the Defense Department began allowing military service by transgender people last year, the change applied to only those currently serving on active duty, not recruits, Air Force Academy spokesman Lt. Col. Allen Herritage said in a written statement, according to The Gazette.

Herritage declined to name the Cadet for The Gazette, but did confirm the academy graduate is being barred from receiving a commission.

Herritage says revised guidelines are expected in July and that policies for recruits are currently under review.

“However, we are strongly recommending this individual for Air Force civil service as an option for continued service after the academy,” Herritage told The Gazette in the statement. “The more than 140,000 Air Force civilians who serve along aside our uniformed airmen everyday are essential to our mission to fly, fight and win in air, space and cyberspace.”

The Gazette reports news of the cadet’s limbo was initially reported May 10 by USA Today and again recently by The New York Times citing this particular unidentified cadet is one of two transgender service academy graduates caught up in the alleged loophole, the newspapers reported.

But is it a loophole keeping the cadets from commission, or are there other forces in play?

The Military Times reports the Department of Defense’s transgender policy may be facing an indefinite hiatus while service leadership voices lingering concerns the Obama-era policy intended to end discrimination — a claim dismissed by critics arguing the policy is nothing more than social experimentation.

New discussions, reports the Times, come as the DoD faces a July 1 deadline to fully implement a policy that one year ago lifted the ban on transgender personnel already in uniform, and established the conditions and timeline by which new applicants could join either through enlistment or as officer candidates.

A Pentagon spokesman, Army Lt. Col. Myles Caggins, would not address the prospect for delaying transgender accessions to the Times, saying only there’s been no change to existing military policy allowing transgender troops already serving to do so openly. “And,” he added, “just like their fellow service members, (they may) receive all medically necessary care.”

The Gazette reports Brad Carson, former acting undersecretary of defense and transgender policy architect says the policy’s authors “envisioned that the same rules that apply to active-duty service members today would also apply to service academy personnel, because they’re already in the military.”

Responding to a question by The Gazette, Herritage says the academy’s move endorsing the cadet for the civil service shouldn’t be interpreted to mean that it believes transgender recruits will be barred when rules are clarified in July.

“We’re awaiting policy and in the absence of policy we’re going to use our best judgment on a case by case basis,” he told The Gazette.

Those who graduate the academy and receive a commission commit to at least eight years of service after graduation. Herritage tells The Gazette whether a career in civil service satisfies that obligation is unclear. However, Herritage said, “If the civil service option was approved, the cadet would not incur any costs to pay back.”

The Air Force Academy, reports The Gazette, has a multidisciplinary Transgender Working Group that is working with Air Force leadership to assist them in crafting a policy specific to the Air Force Academy, Herritage’s statement said.

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