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Afghanistan vet celebrates end of military's transgender ban

June 25, 2016 Updated: June 25, 2016 at 7:21 am
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Staff Sgt. Patricia King became the U.S. Army's first transgender infantryman this year when she came out to her commanders. King, pictured outside Fort Carson in Colorado Springs, has been serving in the Army for 16 years. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)

Staff Sgt. Patricia King said she was celebrating Friday's news that the Pentagon will formally open the ranks to transgender troops.

A three-tour veteran of Afghanistan combat who served at Fort Carson until a recent transfer, King embraced her female identity last year as the Pentagon mulled whether a ban on transgender service would stand. King, the first openly transgender service member in the Pikes Peak region, waited out a year of wrangling by the top brass but was allowed to stay in uniform despite policies that forbid her to serve.

"The second-worst thing you can do to a transgender soldier is to put them in limbo," King said Friday after learning the Pentagon would reverse transgender policies as soon as July 1. "We were unable to serve openly."

Pentagon leaders voiced a commitment to change the policy in recent months, and President Barack Obama hinted at the shift during his June 2 graduation speech at the Air Force Academy.

"We live our values when our military, like America itself, truly welcomes the talents of all people," Obama told cadets.

During a May stop in Colorado Springs, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said leaders had made up their minds on transgender service.

"The question of principle we have settled - what matters is people's ability to contribute to our military," he said. "The only barriers we should erect to that principle should be when there are practical matters we can't work through."

The Washington Post said Pentagon officials confirmed Friday that the ban will be lifted.

The Pentagon's decision could be overruled by Congress, but insiders say that's unlikely.

The move to allow transgender service has sparked political debate over the past year, with some lawmakers contending that it could harm morale and discipline.

King said the example of how the military welcomed openly gay and lesbian troops into the ranks shows the issues will be few.

"A year from now, we are going to wonder what was the big deal," she said.

King joined the Army in 1999 and earned plaudits for service overseas. She said commanders have supported her effort to be recognized as a woman. But friction arose over which restroom to use and uniform to wear.

"My leadership would want to be supportive, but regulation and policy wouldn't allow them to be supportive," King said.

King is now assigned as an infantry squad leader at Joint Base Lewis-McChord near Tacoma, Wash. She said ending the uncertainty around transgender service will help her be a better soldier.

"Now I can just be Sgt. King without having my labels precede my name," she said.

Staff Sgt. Patricia King became the U.S. Army's first transgender infantryman this year when she came out to her commanders. King, pictured outside Fort Carson in Colorado Springs, has been serving in the Army for 16 years. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)
Staff Sgt. Patricia King became the U.S. Army's first transgender infantryman this year when she came out to her commanders. King, pictured outside Fort Carson in Colorado Springs, has been serving in the Army for 16 years. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock) 

An advocacy group for gay, lesbian and transgender troops praised the Pentagon's move Friday, saying it could help more than 15,000 transgender troops thought to be in the military.

"Our transgender service members and their families are breathing a huge sigh of relief," said American Military Partner Association president Ashley Broadway-Mack. "Soon, anyone who is qualified will finally be able to serve our great nation, regardless of their gender identity."

King said the military has led the nation on issues including banning segregation and accepting women into uniform.

The acceptance of transgender troops could do the same, she said.

"It is entirely possible that the United States military just became the best employer in America for transgender people," she said.

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