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'Did I just get fired on Twitter?' Fort Carson's first transgender soldier reacts to Trump's ban announcement

July 27, 2017 Updated: July 28, 2017 at 6:16 am
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photo - 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) 

Fort Carson's first openly transgender soldier said she was shocked by a Wednesday presidential tweet that called for a sweeping ban on transgender service.

"Did I just get fired on Twitter?" Staff Sgt. Patricia King asked.

The fate of King and an estimated 15,000 other transgender troops was the topic of a surprise tweet by President Donald Trump, who announced the new ban and said transgender service threatens the military's readiness for war.

"After consultation with my Generals and military experts, please be advised that the United States Government will not accept or allow transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. military," Trump wrote. "Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail."

The 7 a.m. missive, sent in the course of three tweets, reverses two years of Pentagon policy changes that allowed King to stay in the military. The shift culminated last fall with a ruling from then-Defense Secretary Ashton Carter that allowed unrestricted service for transgender troops.

King, who has earned the Combat Infantry Badge and Bronze Star, served with one of the first American units to enter Afghanistan after the 9/11 attacks.

She says the Trump announcement, while alarming, changes little for her.

"I have been serving my country honorably for 18 years now," she said. "I plan on continuing to serve until someone tells me I can't."

The Pentagon in recent weeks has struggled with the 2016 transgender ruling. Defense Secretary James Mattis last month delayed issuing new regulation that would allow the enlistment of transgender troops until next year.

The delay has left at least one Air Force Academy graduate in limbo while the brass decides whether the transgender cadet can become an officer.

Colorado Springs Republican U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn, who serves on the House Armed Services Committee, praised Trump's decision Wednesday.

"While I appreciate and respect the willingness of anyone to step forward and serve in uniform, I agree with the President's decision," Lamborn said in an email. "There are too many unanswered medical, housing, readiness, and deployment questions to allow the previous policies of the Obama Administration to continue."

Aurora Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman said Trump didn't give the military time to figure out the transgender issue before ordering the ban. "President Trump should have allowed Secretary Mattis to finish his review of the policy that allowed transgender personnel to serve in the military," Coffman said in an email.

Conservative groups applauded Trump.

"The military is a lethal weapon designed to protect America and our allies. It is not a social club, a social experimentation petri dish, or ClubMed," said Mat Staver, who heads the Florida-based Liberty Counsel.

Rhode Island Sen. Jack Reed, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, castigated Trump's move.

"Today, on the anniversary of President Harry Truman's order desegregating the United States Armed Forces, President Trump is choosing to retreat in the march toward equality," Reed said. "This was a divisive political move that exposes the president's lack of faith in the professionalism of our Armed Forces."

Washington's U.S. Rep. Adam Smith, ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, sounded a similar tone.

"It takes a brave and committed person to volunteer to defend this country, and every American that is able and willing to do so should be allowed to join the U.S. military," Smith said. "We will fight this decision, just like we fought 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell,' and ultimately justice will prevail."

The American Military Partner Association, which has fought for the rights of gay and transgender troops, said Trump's tweet could affect as many as 15,500 transgender people in uniform.

"Transgender service members are risking their lives around the world, and President Trump literally just put a target on their backs, threatening to ruin their careers and kick them out of the military," the association's president, Ashley Broadway-Mack, said in an email. "This is unconscionable, and we are beyond outraged."

Colorado's U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet said he smells more politics than policy in Trump's transgender tweet.

"This is an obvious attempt to distract from the Republicans' disastrous debate on health care," Bennet said in an email.

Colorado's Republican U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner showed that the GOP is split on the issue.

"Anyone who wants to serve in our military and is capable and willing should be able to do so," Gardner said in an email.

King, who now serves at Fort Lewis outside Tacoma, Wash., said she'll work to stay out of the political firestorm that is following Trump's tweet.

"I would like to believe that as service members, we take this like anything else that happens," King said. "I still showed up to work today. I'm still in uniform. I still have a job to do."

King said a lesson she learned in combat will help transgender troops make it through.

"You don't panic," she said. "You move forward."

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Contact Tom Roeder: 636-0240

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