‘My stomach dropped’: Transgender troops hit hard by Trump ban

PHOTO: Sergeant Ken Ochoa is due to re-enlist in five days but now does not know if he can

Drill sergeant Kennedy Ochoa was putting on his dress uniform when he heard the news.

President Trump had fired off a series of tweets saying the country would no longer “accept or allow” transgender Americans to serve in the military, citing “tremendous medical costs and disruption”.

This was not the way it was supposed to go. For more than a year Sergeant Ochoa had served as a man, following an Obama-era policy change that paved the way for transgender troops to serve openly.

Announcing the change, then-defence secretary Ash Carter called it “the right thing to do” for “talented Americans who are serving with distinction”.

Many transgender troops came out to their commanders and their colleagues and won the support of both.

On Wednesday morning, Sergeant Ochoa was proudly putting on his uniform – the male regulation dress blues he has been allowed to wear for a year – and preparing to graduate from a training course that puts him on track for a promotion in September.

Then he saw the president’s tweets. “It was heartbreaking, my stomach dropped,” he said in a phone interview. “I had to just try and compartmentalise it so I could enjoy today.”

Sergeant Ochoa is unwavering in his desire to continue serving his country. In five days he is due to re-enlist.

“Now I don’t even know if I can do that,” he said. “It just seems like chaos, so many unknowns.”

It wasn’t just service members that were caught by surprise, the timing of the announcement appeared to wrong-foot the military too. A spokeswoman for the Department of Defense (DOD) referred all questions to the White House, saying only that new guidance would be issued soon.

The White House did not respond to a request for comment. At a news conference, President Trump’s spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the administration would work with the DOD to iron out the details. “I would imagine the Department of Defense will be the lead on that,” she said.

For some, the fallout from the president’s tweets was more certain. Riley Dosh trained for four years at the West Point military academy, graduating in May this year.

Ms Dosh came out as transgender while at the academy. She was secure in her decision following the Obama-era policy change and she had the full support of her commanders. Then, earlier this month, she was abruptly told she would not be allowed to commission as an officer alongside her peers.

Back at home in Austin, Texas, with no employment and no health insurance, she was awaiting a review of that decision. Now it seems certain that she’s headed out of the army for good.

“I was already losing hope that I could commission, now I have absolutely no reason to have any,” she said. “It’s a final nail in the coffin for my military career.”

She would find a Plan B though, she said. The situation was worse for those already in. “This is an absolute nightmare for my trans brothers and sisters who are serving. They now have absolutely no idea what their future is going to be.”