Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley said Thursday that he has no problem with transgender individuals joining the military or continuing to serve if they observe current restrictions and meet deployment standards.
"I don't believe there's anything inherent in anyone's identity to prevent them from serving in the military," he said at his Senate Armed Services Committee confirmation hearing to become the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. "It's about standards, not an identity."
Under questioning from Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, Milley gave a nuanced interpretation of the current restrictive policy on transgender individuals serving in the military -- one that might eventually put him at odds with President Donald Trump.
"I think that, in my view, we're a standards-based military, as you point out," he told Hirono. "We're concerned about the deployability and effectiveness of any of the service members.
"So if you meet the medical, behavioral health, the conduct standards and physical standards, etc., then it's my view that you should be welcomed in," Milley added.
Under the Obama administration, transgender individuals were allowed to enlist, serve openly, and receive medical treatment if they chose to transition to another gender.
In July 2017, Trump announced that he was seeking a complete reversal of the Obama policy. In a series of Twitter comments, he said that the U.S. "will not accept or allow transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. military."
Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford quickly put the brakes on Trump's announcement.
"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 a day after Trump's announcement in a memo to the service chiefs and senior enlisted advisers.
Mattis was directed to draw up a new policy, which went into effect in April 2018. Before that, Milley and the other service chiefs went on record in testimony to the House and Senate Armed Services Committees that they had no problems with the Obama policy.
In one hearing, Milley told Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-New York, that as Army chief of staff he had "received precisely zero reports of issues of cohesion, discipline, morale" caused by transgender individuals in the service.
Under the new policy, a service member can be discharged based on a diagnosis of gender dysphoria if he or she is "unable or unwilling to adhere to all applicable standards, including the standards associated with his or her biological sex, or seeks transition to another gender."
The policy would generally bar transgender troops and military recruits from transitioning to another sex, and require most individuals to serve in their birth gender.
Those with gender dysphoria who take hormones or who have already transitioned to another gender are barred from enlisting.
In his testimony Thursday, Milley said of the policy, "First of all, it's not a ban because a person from civil society can try to come into the military and become a soldier, sailor, airman or Marine. When they enter into the process, they'll go through medical and physical exams, etc.
"If they identify as transgender, then they can apply for waivers if they have gender dysphoria, which is a medical condition," he continued. "That waiver, like all the other medical waivers that we grant, will be evaluated by medical professionals to determine if they meet the standards."
In his separate written responses to committee questions on transgender individuals serving in the military, Milley said, "I am not aware of significant impacts to unit readiness based on transgender persons serving in the Army."
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.