Jack Schuler doesn’t know what to expect when he reports for duty on Thursday morning.
“I was worried this was coming… I have drill this week, so I’m not sure what’s going to happen,” he told The Daily Beast. “I mean, I just re-enlisted for another six years.”
When Schuler enlisted into the Marine Corps in 2006, his name was Elyse Schuler. For the next decade, he climbed the ranks. Completed recruit training, graduated from combat training school, and spent more than two years at the Defense Language Institute learning Arabic, then switching to Farsi. Schuler, who was deployed to South Korea, later served as a signals intelligence linguist for 3rd Radio Battalion in Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii, a unit that requires the Pentagon’s highest security clearance—a Top Secret, Secret Compartmentalized Information designation.
Even after his honorable discharge from the Marines at the rank of corporal, Schuler continued to serve and learn: joining the U.S. Army Reserve and training as a chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear specialist, graduating from his military occupational school with honors.
Schuler also transitioned from female to male while in the Reserve, and said his unit, the 323rd Chemical Company based out of South Dakota, has reacted positively.
“The commanders in my unit have been very supportive and receptive,” Schuler told The Daily Beast by phone. “My transition in the military has been a good experience until this morning.”
That was until President Donald Trump Wednesday tweeted his pledge to ban transgender servicemembers in the military, reversing the policy set forth under the Obama administration a little over a year ago.
Minutes later, Schuler said his phone began receiving a flurry of text messages while he was at his local Veteran Affairs clinic. The messages ranged from “are you ok?” to “what are you thinking right now?”
Retired U.S. Navy SEAL and congressional candidate Kristin Beck, formerly Christopher Beck, tweeted her response directly at the president.
“It seems that President Trump can only communicates through Twitter, so I tweeted at him from my account, saying, ‘You just opened a can of WHOOP-ASS!!!!’”
Beck, a Bronze Star and Purple Heart recipient, who served in the U.S. Navy’s elite counterterrorism unit unofficially known as SEAL Team Six, told The Daily Beast by phone:
“It’s funny that he cites cost for the reason to ban transgender troops, does President Trump not understand contracts? Do you know how much money it’s going to cost once class action lawsuits are filed against the Defense Department for breach of contracts? If it’s about money, he’s sorely mistaken.”
Pentagon leadership and Beck have been working on integrating transgender troops since before the 2016 election year, with one policy issue in its 20th draft, according to Beck and previous reporting by The Daily Beast.
“[Senior leadership at the Pentagon] have been telling us it’s ‘people over equipment’ that’s important, but now President Trump is saying equipment is more important than people. It’s ridiculous.
“The transgender community wasn’t consulted on this issue. Why not talk to me, a former Navy SEAL from the blue collar working class who grew up poor?”
Former U.S. Army officer and President of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America Paul Rieckhoff told The Daily Beast by phone that, “We are alarmed at the message this sends to transgender people serving in Iraq and Afghanistan right now. From a practical standpoint, this is a national security issue. What are they going to do? Go pull the transgender service member standing guard in Kabul off duty? This is similar to the travel ban when they didn’t even think about the Iraq and Afghanistan interpreters that would be left behind.
“This is overly political and our generation of veterans views it as hate,” Rieckhoff said, calling out legacy veteran organizations for remaining largely silent on the issue. “When are VSOs like the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion going to speak up on LGBTQ active duty service members and veterans? Luckily, most congressional members on both sides of the aisle will fight this, including those on the House and Senate Armed Service Committees.”
One dissenting voice came from U.S. Army Special Forces Sergeant First Class Tony Cowden, who was formerly on the CIA and Joint Special Operations Command mission to kill or capture Osama Bin Laden in 2001.
“The debate on transgender service members is not settled,” Cowden, a longtime supporter of gay and lesbian service members and women serving in special operation units, told The Daily Beast. “So I see this not as as set back, but as a pause, so that we are not out-running our knowledge of how transgender troops would perform in combat or their sustainability regarding their hormone injections.”
Serving in the military is a privilege, not a constitutional right, he said.
“You can’t get into the military if you have asthma or diabetes, why? Because it’s dangerous,” Cowden said. “We don’t even let people in for their fucking tattoos, but in the end, it comes down to keeping the force strong and healthy and as a senior non-commissioned officer, I would like to know that transgender service members can meet the criteria on performance and sustainability and if they can, then I’m all for them serving.”
For Schuler, the personal plan forward is one of hope and defiance. “I cried for about five minutes and then I called Sen. Tammy Duckworth,” Schuler said. “I went into planning mode.”
Duckworth, a senator from Illinois and an Iraq war veteran who lost both of her legs in combat, does not represent Schuler, but he said he didn’t think his senators from Iowa would be supportive.
However, after hearing that both Iowa senators, Jodi Ernst and Chuck Grassley, have broken away from supporting Trump’s transgender ban, Schuler said that he will be reaching out to them, too.
“I hope Secretary Mattis pushes back and all officials understand that processing these troops out will be more costly than paying for transgender surgery. I’m not going to just go quietly, I’m going to fight for the right to serve my country.”
Meanwhile, Schuler is traveling to his appointed place of military duty, report time: 0730. Yet his future is unclear and the question remains: Will he be greeted as defender of democracy or ostracized from the only thing he wants to do in life—serve his country—by his very own commander, the president of the United States.