Hagel wants review of military transgender ban

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel (AP)
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel (AP)

The prohibition on transgender individuals serving in the U.S. military “continually should be reviewed,” Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said on Sunday.

Hagel did not indicate whether he believes the policy should be overturned. However, he said “every qualified American who wants to serve our country should have an opportunity if they fit the qualifications and can do it.”

A transgender individual is someone who has acquired the physical characteristics of the opposite sex or presents themselves in a way that does not correspond with their sex at birth.

A panel convened by a think tank at San Francisco State University recently estimated that about 15,450 transgender personnel serve in the military and in the National Guard and Reserve.

In 2010, Congress passed legislation allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly. Hagel said the issue of transgender serving in the military is more complicated. He said “these issues require medical attention” that at times cannot be provided in austere locations.

The National Center for Transgender Equality said it welcomed Hagel’s comments, which were made on ABC’s “This Week.” The organization’s executive director, Mara Keisling, said the regulations that disqualify transgender recruits and service members are based on outdated prejudices and stereotypes.

“If the secretary were able to meet and talk with the trans service members I’ve met, he’d understand the answer is self-evident. These are amazing people who serve even though they must hide a basic part of who they are,” Keisling said.

SPART(asterisk)A, an advocacy group made up of lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender people who now serve or once served in the military, said a review was long overdue.

“Many of our allies, including the UK, Australia and Israel, allow transgender people to serve with pride and honor in their armed forces. It’s time for the U.S. to join them,” said Allyson Robinson, the group’s policy director and a former Army captain.

A military review of transgender issues could occur as it also deals with questions about how to treat transgender prisoners. Chelsea Manning, a former Army private serving a 35-year prison sentence for providing classified documents to WikiLeaks, is fighting to be treated as a woman. She is seeking a counselor who specializes in gender issues and also wants to get hormone replacement therapy, which the military has said it does not provide.

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Copyright  © 2014 The Associated Press  All Rights Reserved

Plan to shrink military faces Congressional skepticism

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel briefs reporters at the Pentagon, Monday. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel briefs reporters at the Pentagon, Monday.
(AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

The Obama administration’s push for a smaller, nimbler military must now face the scrutiny of a Congress that has spent years battling the Pentagon’s vision for a new security strategy.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is proposing to shrink the Army to its smallest size in three-quarters of a century, hoping to reshape the military after more than a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan and roped in by fiscal constraints set by Congress.

The plan unveiled Monday is already raising red flags among leading Republicans and Democrats.

“What we’re trying to do is solve our financial problems on the backs of our military, and that can’t be done,” said Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon, R-Calif., the House Armed Services Committee chairman.

“There’s going to be a huge challenge,” Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., the Senate Armed Services Committee chairman, conceded.

Having backtracked just this month on cutting veterans benefits by less than 1 percent, lawmakers appear in little mood to weigh difficult, if necessary, decisions on defense reductions, especially as the nation gears up for midterm elections in November.

They have resisted cutting tanks and aircraft the military doesn’t even want, or accepting base closings that would be poison in their home districts. They have consistently advocated bigger pay increases for service members than the government has requested.

And although Congress has agreed on an overall number for the military budget in 2015, at just under $500 billion, there are still major decisions to be made on how that money should be spent.

“We are repositioning to focus on the strategic challenges and opportunities that will define our future: new technologies, new centers of power and a world that is growing more volatile, more unpredictable and in some instances more threatening to the United States,” Hagel said Monday at the Pentagon.

President Barack Obama will submit the budget to Congress next week.

At its core, the plan foresees the U.S. military as no longer sized to conduct large and protracted ground wars. Instead, more emphasis will be on versatile, agile forces that can project power over great distances, including in Asia.

The active-duty Army would shrink from 522,000 soldiers to between 440,000 and 450,000. That would make it the smallest since just before the U.S. entered World War II.

Other contentious elements include the elimination of the Air Force’s A-10 “Warthog” tank-killer aircraft and the Cold War-era U-2 spy plane; Army National Guard reductions; and domestic military base closings that Congress has roundly rejected since Obama became president. Military compensation will also decline slightly. Another flashpoint could emerge over the fleet of 11 aircraft carriers that the Pentagon insists it is maintaining.

“We are on a path to repeat the mistakes we’ve made during past attempts to cash in on expected peace dividends that never materialized” and “caused our allies to question America’s staying power and encouraged our enemies to test us,” Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said the cuts don’t reflect a world Obama’s own advisers say is getting “more dangerous.”

The last time the active-duty Army was below 500,000 was in 2005, when it stood at 492,000. Its post-World War II low was 480,000 in 2001, according to historical tables provided by the Army. In 1940 the Army had 267,000 active-duty members, and it surged to 1.46 million the following year as the U.S. approached entry into World War II.

In Congress, the issue could come up as early as Tuesday when the Senate Armed Services Committee considers the nominations of six senior Pentagon officials, including a new deputy secretary of defense.

Both parties are divided on defense funding levels. GOP hawks don’t see eye-to-eye with some tea party supporters and fiscal conservatives who say all sectors of federal spending must be reined in. For every Democrat supporting the Obama administration, there’s another in a military-heavy district or state worried about the fallout.

Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., the House Armed Services Committee’s top Democrat, acknowledged the difficult financial constraints facing the Pentagon. Congress authorized across-the-board spending cuts that went into effect last year and were only eased somewhat by a budget agreement two months ago.

“Under these conditions, our military leaders are doing their best to put forward a budget that provides national security,” Smith said

His Senate counterpart, Republican Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, said he opposed all proposed cuts. “We have been cutting and cutting for the last five years,” he said.

Polls show the American public split. Republican voters are more likely to say defense spending is too low while Democratic voters are more likely to say it’s too high.

Congress’ recent behavior suggests a tough fight ahead for the administration.

Earlier this month, the Senate voted 95-3 and the House 326-90 to restore full cost-of-living pension increases for younger military retirees just two months after the modest cut was enacted.

Many prominent deficit hawks joined in the reversal, highlighting the difficulty of making cuts that affect veterans in an election year and the chronic challenge facing lawmakers as they try to curtail spending.

And Senate Democrats are now trying to push through an expanded health and education bill for veterans that would cost $21 billion over the coming decade.

Beyond military pay, the Obama administration has struggled to cut costs by eliminating weapons that mean money and jobs where they are produced, based and serviced.

It failed two years ago to shut down the Air Force’s Global Hawk, a high-altitude unmanned aircraft the Pentagon said wasn’t cost-effective. The military now supports the plane, which is built in McKeon’s district.
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Copyright  © 2014 The Associated Press  All Rights Reserved.

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With military scandals growing, Hagel appoints ethics officer

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, before the House Armed Services Committee hearing on the proposed authorization to use military force in Syria. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said on Friday he will appoint a senior officer to report directly to him on matters of military ethics after a spate of embarrassing scandals including widespread exam cheating among nuclear missile launch officers.

Hagel said the incidents have raised questions about the extent of the problem in the armed forces and whether America’s military failed to focus enough on questions of integrity during more than 12 years of war in Afghanistan and Iraq.

“We need to find out, is there a deep, wide problem? If there is, then what’s the scope of that problem? How did this occur,” he told a Pentagon news briefing.

“Was it a constant focus of 12 years on two long land wars, taking our emphasis off some of these other areas? I don’t know.

We intend to find out.”

Hagel promised upcoming actions including the appointment of a senior officer, reporting to him, who would coordinate actions with the heads of the branches of the U.S. military on issues of military ethics, character and leadership.

“I want someone who understands the outside, who understands the pressures of combat, the pressures of curriculums and testing, and who has a good, well-rounded background in command,” Hagel said, adding his appointment would be announced soon.

Last month, the U.S. Air Force acknowledged that it has what appears to be a systemic problem within the ranks of its nuclear missile launch officers after discovering widespread cheating on a proficiency exam at a base in Montana.

This week, the U.S. Navy disclosed that instructors at a nuclear propulsion school in South Carolina had been suspended from their duties over allegations of cheating on a key qualification exam.

But the scandals extend beyond exam cheating. The head of America’s force of inter-continental ballistic missiles, Air Force Major General Michael Carey, was fired in October for getting drunk and carousing with women while leading a government delegation to Moscow for talks on nuclear security.

A major Navy bribery scandal erupted last year, with Navy officials accused of accepting prostitutes, cash, luxury travel and concert tickets in exchange for doling out information to a Malaysian businessman.

General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the U.S. military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in a written statement on Friday that the matter had his full attention but also appeared to caution against over-generalizing the problem.

“The overwhelming majority of our military leaders are tremendous professionals and citizens who show up to serve, to bring their best, and often sacrifice greatly,” he said.

“We can’t afford to let the transgressions of the few undermine the trust and credibility of our entire profession.”

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