Jennifer Peace, currently assigned to Joint Base Lewis-McChord, joined the military at 19 and served in Iraq and Afghanistan. She began her transition to a woman in 2014 and later went public, becoming one of a handful of soldiers known to be transgender. Kjell Redal Seattle Times
Jennifer Peace, currently assigned to Joint Base Lewis-McChord, joined the military at 19 and served in Iraq and Afghanistan. She began her transition to a woman in 2014 and later went public, becoming one of a handful of soldiers known to be transgender. Kjell Redal Seattle Times

Military News

After Trump’s tweet, transgender Army officer hopes to “be here as long as I can”

By Nina Shapiro

Seattle Times

August 02, 2017 10:18 AM

UPDATED August 03, 2017 05:53 PM

Capt. Jennifer Peace’s brigade commander didn’t know she was transgender until last week. She realized she better talk to him.

It wasn’t a conversation the Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM) intelligence officer planned on having with her relatively new boss. His not knowing, Peace said, “was a great opportunity to experience something I’ve been wanting for really long time — to be judged solely on my performance.”

It was not to be, thanks to President Donald Trump’s tweets indicating he was banning transgender people from the military. Peace said she felt she owed it to the commander — who supervises hundreds of soldiers in different units and had not yet seen in her files the year-old change to her gender designation — to ask if he had any concerns.

Although on vacation, she went to the base to meet face to face.

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“He said the unit was supportive and to let him know if there was anything I needed from him,” Peace, 31, recalled.

The brief, matter-of-fact meeting corresponds with Thursday’s guidance from the Pentagon. Nothing has changed and won’t until the military gets an official directive, said Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in a memo.

That somewhat reassured Peace, and undoubtedly other transgender soldiers. She said she knows of about a dozen at JBLM, and a RAND Corporation study last year estimated that between 1,320 and 6,630 transgender people are on active duty in the military.

Still, she and others face uncertainty, which she at least publicly accepts with soldierly discipline and without criticism of the president.

“Our job is not to speculate about military policy,” she said. “I’ll be here as long as I can. I can’t imagine doing anything else.”

Peace was an aimless 19-year-old in Houston when she got a call from an Army recruiter and decided that maybe in the military she would find purpose. She did, through two deployments, in Iraq and Afghanistan.

She identified as a man then and was married with a growing family.

“On deployment, you have time to think,” Peace said. She realized “something doesn’t feel right. I need to find out what it is.”

She started to transition to a woman in 2014 but kept it private, paying all the medical costs herself. The military did not then allow service members who were openly transgender. She was outed in 2015 by a well-meaning fellow-soldier and went public, becoming one of a handful of soldiers nationwide then known to be transgender.

Peace, wearing a dress uniform, went on to meet with President Barack Obama’s defense secretary, Ashton Carter, as that administration considered changing its policy on transgender soldiers. Last year, it issued a new policy, allowing such soldiers and providing them with “all medically necessary care related to gender transition.”

In Trump’s tweets, he cited medical costs as a reason to reverse the Obama administration policy, although the Rand study predicted that the increase to health care costs would be “minimal.”

Peace now uses military health care for ongoing hormone treatment, picking up her medications at a pharmacy on base. She sees it as no different from soldiers who take hormones for other reasons, for instance to counter low testosterone.

Still married to the woman she wed right before joining the Army, with three children, 10, 8 and 4, Peace was scheduled to return to work from vacation Monday. She serves in a unit that supports training missions for National Guard and Reserve soldiers.

In that job, she doesn’t expect to be deployed. But if she were, she said, she’d be treated like any other female soldier, sleeping in tents with other women, in vehicles or on cots propped on rocks.

She explained this like it’s obvious and boring, which she apparently would like it to be. She said she wants to be thought of as a soldier first, “and also I’m transgender.”

Next year, she’s hoping to be promoted to major.