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Dunford Taps Brakes on Trump's Call for Transgender Ban in Military

In this March 22, 2017 file photo, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
In this March 22, 2017 file photo, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

Joint Chiefs Chairman Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford said Thursday that thousands of transgender troops in the ranks will continue serving indefinitely until the Pentagon gets formal notice of President Donald Trump's proposed ban and figures out a way to implement it.

"There will be no modifications to the current policy until the President's direction has been received by the Secretary of Defense [Jim Mattis] and the Secretary has issued implementation guidance," Dunford said in a memo to the service chiefs and senior enlisted advisers.

Dunford gave no indication of how long that would take, but advocacy groups are already preparing lawsuits that could put on hold Trump's move to ban the recruitment and retention of transgender individuals.

The pointed memo, first obtained by Politico, underlined the confusion in the ranks, at the Pentagon and in Congress on the implications of Trump's series of Wednesday morning Tweets on the transgender issue.

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Trump said that after consulting with "my generals and military experts," he had decided that the U.S. "will not accept or allow transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. military." He gave no indication that there was a plan in place to implement the ban.

Dunford, whose billet officially makes him Trump's top military adviser, apparently was not one of the generals consulted.

"I know there are questions about yesterday's announcement on the transgender policy by the President," Dunford said in the memo.

"In the meantime, we will continue to treat all of our personnel with respect," he said. "As importantly, given the current fight and the challenges we face, we will all remain focused on accomplishing our assigned missions."

Dana White, chief spokesperson for the Pentagon and for Mattis, later issued a statement echoing Dunford's on the need for more time to gauge what Trump intended and whether it is legal.

"The Department of Defense is awaiting formal guidance from the White House as a follow-up to the Commander-in-Chief's announcement on military service by transgender personnel," White said. "We will provide detailed guidance to the Department in the near future for how this policy change will be implemented."

Earlier, a memo from Vice Adm. Robert Burke, the chief of Navy personnel, which was obtained by Military.com, outlined a series of "talking points" for senior officers in addressing sailors' concerns about the Trump ban.

"I recognize that today's announcements regarding changes to the transgender (TG) military service policy are causing concern for some of our sailors and that they likely have questions," Burke said in the memo.

He said the officers should stress that the Defense Department and the Navy "will not take any personnel actions or change any policy until further guidance from the President is received."

"If a member is receiving medical care, that does not cease. Currently serving TG Service members will continue to receive all necessary medical care," Burke said. "With regard to implications for those currently serving, OSD is working to quickly discern the President's intent."

While issues arising out of Trump's ban are being resolved, "Treating service members with dignity and respect is something we expect from our sailors at all times," he said.

Burke recommended to officers that they "refer any transgender policy or individual sailor case questions to our Navy Service Central Coordination Cell (SCCC). We still have the SCCC in operation and they are fielding queries."

There was no immediate guidance from the Pentagon for transgender troops currently serving on the front lines.

In a video briefing to the Pentagon from Baghdad, Army Col. Ryan Dillon, a spokesman for Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve, said he did not know how many transgender troops are in Iraq and Syria and how the Trump ban would affect them. He also said he did not know whether transgender troops in Iraq and Syria had been told of the Trump ban.

Asked whether the ban could impact front-line readiness and cohesion, "I don't know that. Anything that has to do with the transgender piece, I will refer you back to the Pentagon on that."

The Air Force referred questions on the ban to the White House. In the meantime, "the Air Force will continue to work closely with DoD to address the new guidance provided by the Commander-in-Chief on transgender individuals serving the military," an Air Force spokeswoman said.

At the National Press Club on Thursday, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley said didn't receive advance notice of the president's decision.

"I personally did not, nor would I have expected to," he said.

The chief acknowledged he learned about the announcement from the news media and said he hasn't yet received any "implementation directives" for a ban.

"We will work through the implementation guidance when we get it, and then we'll move from there," Milley said.

-- Hope Seck, Oriana Pawlyk and Brendan McGarry contributed to this report.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.