WASHINGTON — Eight transgender volunteers have signed paperwork to join the active-duty ranks of the Air Force, the Pentagon acknowledged on Tuesday.
The eight are among the first known transgender applicants to the military since the Pentagon opened recruiting to them on Jan. 1.
Federal courts late last year compelled the military to begin accepting their applications, following a series of delays in recruiting transgender volunteers that Defense Secretary Jim Mattis had ordered while the issue of their service was under review. In July, President Trump tweeted that he wanted to ban the service of transgender troops.
On Tuesday, the Air Force confirmed that eight applicants who identified as transgender have filled out paperwork since Jan. 1 to become airmen, which is the generic term for anyone in the Air Force. A group that advocates for transgender troops, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, estimates that dozens of transgender people have met with recruiters to inquire about joining the military since the first of the year.
"It's important to recognize that the eight includes applicants who filled out some kind of paperwork at their respective recruiting stations, not necessarily all transgender applicants who have called or walked into recruiting stations, or inquired about joining the service," Capt. Kathleen Atanasoff, an Air Force spokeswoman, said Tuesday in an email.
Signing paperwork is the first official step in what can be a months-long process before an applicant officially becomes a recruit. Volunteers must also pass physical and mental tests. Potential transgender recruits must also be certified as stable in their gender for 18 months to qualify for military service.
It is uncertain that transgender applicants will be able to meet all the requirements before late February when Mattis is scheduled to introduce a new policy regarding transgender troops now serving and those wishing to join the military. Mattis has placed a premium on military readiness and troops' ability to fight, citing those issues in his decision last summer to delay recruiting transgender troops.
Brad Carson, the Pentagon's former top personnel official who helped draft the Obama-era policy repealing the ban on transgender troops, told USA TODAY last week that he expects recruiters will proceed slowly, knowing that a new policy will be forthcoming.
A Pentagon-commissioned study in 2016 estimated that there are several thousand transgender troops in the ranks. The RAND Corp. found that their effect on military readiness was negligible.