The U.S. military does not exist in a vacuum; it evolves as society evolves, if at times more slowly.
Which is why all but a few in and out of the military made much of a fuss about the U.S. Marine Corps announcement last week that it was rewording 19 of its job titles to remove “man,” in recognition that women are also now filling those positions as Marines.
In most cases, “Marine” fills in for “man:” Basic infantryman became basic infantry Marine and tank crewman is now armor Marine. Other titles are now more descriptive: Antitank missileman is antitank missile gunner and field artillery operations man is field artillery operations chief. Others, likely in order to avoid cumbersome wording and maybe as a nod to tradition, will remain the same, such as rifleman, manpower officer and marksmanship coach.
Writing for The Washington Post, Thomas Gibbons-Neff, himself a former former infantryman, noted there were complaints, but mostly in the form of tweets and online comments, where so much of our spleen-venting now takes place. However, Neff noted, others met the changes with a shrug: “Not really seeing why this matters. A Marine is a Marine,” read one comment. “If this triggers you, well, not really sure what to say honestly. You’d think someone who had seen combat would have more stones.” Another remarked, “I was going to (complain) about P.C. crap, but ‘infantry assault Marine,’ sounds kinda cool.”
Think about it: Somehow society was able to weather the switch from fireman to firefighter and policeman to police officer. Most Marines are unlikely to object to the change; as long as they aren’t called soldiers.
The more significant change last week was Defense Secretary Ashton Carter’s announcement that lifted the ban on transgender people serving in the armed forces. Once considered to be sexual deviants and discharged from service, just as gay and lesbian members of the service had been treated before the end of “don’t ask, don’t tell” in 2011, the nation’s armed services will begin a process to allow transgender men and woman to remain and be recruited.
The change, Carter said, was necessary to assure there are no barriers to “recruiting and retaining the soldier, sailor, airman or Marine who can best accomplish the mission.” The nation’s all-volunteer force, he said, has to be able to recruit from 100 percent of America’s population.
Estimates of how many transgender people currently serve range from 2,500 of the 1.3 million active duty members and another 1,500 in reserve units to as many as a total of 12,800.
The color of one’s skin stopped being a consideration when, in 1948, President Truman integrated the military.
In 2011, the end of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” recognized that sexual identity had no bearing as to whether someone could perform his or her job in service to their country.
And just last year, Carter’s decision to allow women to serve in ground combat assignments, lifted another barrier for those capable of an assignment’s particular demands, regardless of gender.
There’s no reason then to deny that opportunity of service to those who are transgender and meet every other requirement.
Military and government officials are taking care to provide a period of adjustment and education, but just as we suspect most Marines shrugged at new job titles, most throughout the military will be accepting of their transgender brothers- and sisters-in-arms.
Staff Sgt. Patricia King, a transgender member of the Army who was recently assigned to Joint Base Lewis-McChord, told the Washington Post that her new infantry unit was prepared for her and treated her warmly.
“All they saw was a soldier and a woman, ready to do her job,” King said.
That’s all we should ask of those who serve.