Lt. Gen. Thomas Spoehr (Ret)

Friday, according to retired Army Lt. General Thomas Spoehr: Think Twice Before Changing the Military’s Transgender Policy. Spoehr is concerned that President Biden will reinstate the eligibility of transgender troops to serve. I hope that Biden does just that.

Spoehr left the service in 2016 and immediately went on Heritage Foundation’s payroll. Rather than leading troops in combat, Gen. Spoehr (with an eight month stint in Iraq) has had administrative responsibilities in a support role.

For the nearly two years ended July, 2013 his responsibility was to “[d]evelop and defend the Army’s Five Year Financial Plan.” Thereafter, up until retirement, Spoehr was Director, Office of Business Transformation.

I am not disparaging those assignments. Not at all. I am simply making the point that Spoehr has a different perspective from a general responsible for combat elements.

According to Spoehr:

…a recent report, led by three former military surgeons general, suggested the current transgender policy hurt military readiness by shrinking the pool of available recruits. What the report and surgeons general did not mention was the risk involved by allowing individuals suffering from a bonafide medical condition from entering military service.

Spoehr’s link is to an article in Military Times. According to that same article:

Though President Donald Trump ostensibly sought to ban transgender Americans from serving in the military for the sake of readiness and unit cohesion, a recent study found that the policy has had the opposite effect on the force.

Led by physicians who previously served as the top medical officers in the Army, Navy and Coast Guard, the Palm Center report, released in November, found that not only did the ban poison the well in units that were otherwise in the process of implementing the Obama-era transgender inclusion policy, it shrank an already dwindling recruiting pool and left a bad taste in the mouths of the general American public, which in polling has shown consistent support for transgender service members.

Okay, I give Gen. Spoehr credit for intellectual honesty in linking to an article in opposition to his point of view. But then we part polite company.

For a diagnosis of gender dysphoria, that [gender] incongruence must be so great that it causes clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, and other important areas of functioning.

That is correct. It is the conclusion that I take exception to:

Medical criteria for military service exists for a purpose: to ensure volunteers are free of conditions that would require lost time from duty or hospitalization, and to ensure individuals are capable of performing duties without aggravating existing conditions. These criteria protect both the volunteer from unnecessary harm and protect the military from accepting an individual who may not be able to complete military service.

The general is confusing people who have untreated gender dysphoria with transgender people. People are transgender in order to mitigate the effects of gender dysphoria. They transition to alleviate the distress that the condition would otherwise cause.

President Obama never did anything haphazardly. The president engaged RAND corporation to study the effects of transgender military service. In 2016 (the same year the general retired) RAND Corporation issued a report. Among the findings is this:

The limited research on the effects of foreign military policies indicates little or no impact on unit cohesion, operational effectiveness, or readiness. Commanders noted that the policies had benefits for all service members by creating a more inclusive and diverse force.

RAND’s recommendations were:

  • DoD should ensure strong leadership and identify and communicate the benefits of an inclusive and diverse workforce to successfully implement a policy change and successfully integrate openly serving transgender service members into the force.
  • DoD should develop an explicit written policy on all aspects of the gender transition process to minimize any impact on service member or unit readiness.
  • DoD should provide education and training to the rest of the force on transgender personnel policy, and it should integrate this training with other diversity-related training and education.
  • DoD should develop and enforce a clear anti-harassment policy that addresses harassment aimed at transgender personnel alongside other targets of harassment.
  • DoD should make subject-matter experts and gender advisers serving within military units available to commanders seeking guidance or advice on gender transition–related issues.

Gen. Spoehr continues not to make a distinction between untreated gender dysphoria and transgender people:

Why? It is not—as some have suggested—due to a bias on the part of the military, any more than the armed forces are biased against those who suffering from asthma. Instead, it is because both military and civilian medical data unequivocally reflects that transgender individuals diagnosed with gender dysphoria experience “high rates of mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression and substance abuse disorders.”

The only thing that trans personnel have ever wanted is to be judged on their performance in contrast to their sexuality. If, in fact, a service member had debilitating symptoms, they would expect to be discharged. In fact, they probably would not enlist in the first place.

If someone transitions during their time in the service then they are doing so to relieve anxiety and depression. If they cannot perform adequately then they should, likewise, be discharged.

The following paragraph reads like the work product of Heritage Foundation’s Ryan T. Anderson. Anderson is obsessed with gender-diverse individuals because of the teachings of the Catholic Church.

For example, individuals with gender dysphoria attempt suicide at about nine times the rate of the general population. Service members diagnosed with gender dysphoria are also nine times more likely to have mental health encounters with a professional.

The above is true and it is not true. In recent years, people have transitioned at an earlier age than in the past. As adolescents they have levels of anxiety and depression at, or slightly above, the general population. There is no reason to presume that their symptoms will worsen with age.

Yet, the same conditions apply. If personnel are a problem they can be discharged. Trans service members have no expectations other than to be evaluated on the basis of their performance.

Furthermore, there is one element that can be controlled and that is minority stress

Another finding in the RAND report is this:

Policy changes to open more roles to women and to allow gay and lesbian personnel to serve openly in the U.S. military have similarly had no significant effect on unit cohesion, operational effectiveness, or readiness.

In other words, personnel comply with policy. That is part of being in the military. I was a contractor for a few years (Guam, Thailand and then Panama) and I have seen the effects of the military culture first hand. Obeying orders is the prime directive.

The obligatory cost factor:

This does not even get into the discussions of the additional costs and time lost by service members needing treatment for gender dysphoria. Those costs are real and the time spent away from military units are significant.

RAND looked at that too:

The Costs of Gender Transition–Related Health Care Treatment Are Relatively Low

  • Using private health insurance claims data to estimate the cost of extending gender transition–related health care coverage to transgender personnel indicated that active-component health care costs would increase by between $2.4 million and $8.4 million annually, representing a 0.04- to 0.13-percent increase in active-component health care expenditures.
  • Even upper-bound estimates indicate that less than 0.1 percent of the total force would seek transition-related care that could disrupt their ability to deploy.

A rhetorical question and its predetermined answer:

Why then do critics of the current policy seek to define this discussion as mere societal bias against transgender individuals? Because, seemingly, they can. The media has categorically ignored the reams of medical data on the effects of gender dysphoria in favor of the more socially agreeable arguments that ascribe the current military policy to discrimination and prejudice.

If, as RAND concludes, transgender troops perform as expected. If, as the three military doctors conclude (see above), transgender service improves recruitment. If the cost of medical care of trans troops is immaterial as RAND determined. If their service is a net positive. Then what remains? Minority bias is the only rational explanation.

When Trump reinstated the ban he did not offer any negative findings. Trump reinstated the ban in order to pander to the religious right. In fact, when Trump reinstated the ban, the defense chiefs resisted the change.

In a rebuke to Trump’s attempt to run the government and military via Twitter, Gen Joseph Dunford, America’s top military officer, said on Thursday that the armed forces would continue to permit transgender people to serve openly until the defense secretary, Jim Mattis, has received Trump’s “direction” to change the policy and figured out how to implement it.


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

Were the service of transgender personnel as problematic as Gen. Spoehr contends then I suspect that Gen. Dunford would have had a different reaction.

Eventually the general’s religious bent shows up along with the ever-present self-victimization:

It is an emerging pattern where a teacher can be fired for using the wrong pronoun, or a school can hide information from parents on their child’s gender identity.

Aside from the inherent bigotry (I’ll avoid going off-track on pronouns because the general’s comment is irrelevant), military personnel are not school children.

America’s armed forces exist to defend the country and its national interests. Actions that reduce the readiness of these forces, such as modifying military entrance criteria to admit individuals with pre-existing medical conditions, create layers of risks that are born by our great service members, not those comfortably ensconced in Washington, D.C.

Same answer. If it affects their performance they they should not be in the military. Problem solved

Few nations have the alert status that Israel has. Transnational violence is a way of life requiring IDF members to be in a constant state of readiness. Israel has allowed transgender people to serve in its military for seven years.

Very special people enlist in the military. In most cases they can make more money without putting their lives at risk through employment in private industry. We should honor those willing to serve. The religious fundamentalists are making the same — though retooled — arguments they used to try to ban gay people.

General Thomas Spoehr needs to invest in new time pieces. The ones he has seem to be stuck in a bygone era.

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