Imagine when given a choice between a life of crime and addiction, you had the mental “worthiness” to choose a path that would better yourself, to be an asset to your family, and to defend your country. You would’ve easily chose to be a “burden”¹ on society, to your family, and a drain on your country, but you didn’t. Elaina Odom made the decision to be of service to those she loved, and her country. To save her life from a dangerous path. Eleven years, she dedicated her life to service of country. Climbing the military ranks to become Sargent Odom. Not everyone is cut out for the military, let alone to do more than a few years. Lifers, are dedicated, determined, with a humble passion for serving their nation.
Now imagine, eleven years that included combats in Afghanistan, sacrificing precious time away from your three new beautiful children, for long periods of time. After another deployment to Korea, you come home eager to be with your family, and families unknown that you have risked your life to protect. While you cradle your youngest, make Churros, and put on ‘Book of Life’, so they can calm down; you hear that your Commander and Chief has made yet another early morning tweet. This time it’s to inform you that he does not support you, or even wish for your service.
On Wednesday 26, 2017, wrongfully elected Donald J. Trump sent out a tweet that transgender people were not worthy, and a burden to the US military. The summer of 2016, with the help of Former President Barack Obama, the ban was lifted for transgender people to serve openly. Earlier this year, under the new Republican Administration, debate arose in regards to US spending on trans related health care. Many experts have noted that the average cost would be between 2.4 and 8.4 million dollars annually², which is relatively low compared to various other treatments, including elective cosmetics treatments that are covered.
If you are unable to place yourself in those shoes and feel the pride of someone providing a safe comfortable life for their family. A person that’s proud of the work they do for their country. Then meet Sergeant Elaina Odom, because that imaginary scenario is her painfully real story.
TMP: Elaina, as a Transgender American, and active service member, how did it make you feel to hear about the tweets from your Commander and Chief?
Elaina Odom: Honestly? When I first heard about it, I felt like I had been hit in the gut. Seeing those tweets, and getting so many messages from others concerned about it really bothered me. Here we have been fighting for equal treatment, and this happens in attempt to just so easily dismiss us.
TMP: In his Tweets, Trump stated that he had consulted with Generals, and other leaders in the military. He also stated that having trans people in the military would result in additional cost to taxpayers. His entire tweets have since been proven false, and outright lies. But how does that affect the morale of the average military personnel risking their life for that very office to exist?
E. O: I can’t speak for others, but I know that he has had a running track record with not telling the truth in order to further his ideas. As for myself, I was hit with this feeling of loss and hopelessness. What would I do, what could I do? That was the feeling for a lot of other people I talked to as well.
TMP: Being on the front line of this fight, as well as the freedom of our country, what’s your opinion on the treatment for health care of Transgender personnel, which based on a recent report by ABC News, confirms a yearly annual cost for trans related health care of about 8.4M, and how would that compare to the millions more being spent on Viagra to treat male impotence?
E.O.: I can’t say they are doing a perfect job as many health care providers are still learning to treat trans soldiers. From the experiences I have had personally though, they have always been open and willing to work with us. As far as treating impotence outweighing the cost of our care, it really is a numbers game. ED is more common than trans care, and that explains why there is such a deep difference in cost.
TMP: How worried are you about your future in the Military?
E.O.: I have had some concerns that this will end my career after being in as long as I have. But at the same time it presented me with the opportunity to really look at things, and see what I was missing in my plans to provide for myself and my family, should we be discharged.
TMP: When did you first decided that military service was for you?
E.O.: I first thought about joining the military around sixteen, seventeen years old. I was in a bad spot selling drugs, stealing, and things like that. I was not in a good place, and needed to change. The Army offered that opportunity.
TMP: What has having your dreams of being in the military meant to you, and what it could mean to others that want to serve?
E.O.: Truthfully, I never dreamed of joining the military. I joined to get away from a life that would have ended up getting me locked away, or killed. It was a way to survive, and eventually better myself through their offering of education. It meant a roof over my head, food in my stomach, and so much more without the things I was doing.
TMP: You’re a Sergeant, yes? What were the obstacles you faced physically, and mentally to get to that position?
E.O.: I am, yes. Getting promoted to that rank for the longest time seemed impossible as their were so many in my job. They promote on a points based system, and for us we were maxed out on the scale for a good five years almost. I knew I would have a hard time getting all of the points needed, and over time eventually gave up all together. Then one day, I was told hey, you made cut off, you are getting promoted.
TMP: How exciting for you, that’s awesome. Have you been involved in any combats?
E.O.: I served a year in Afghanistan. It was rough being away from my family, as it always seems to be. But it came with the job, I signed on to fight and win our nation’s wars, even if that meant being gone for a year at a time.
TMP: Despite the bigotry we’ve faced this week from the leaders of this free nation, what advice would you give to other transgender military personnel, or those that wish to serve their country one day?
E.O.: Keep your head up, we have a hard road ahead of us, just like before. But progress does not happen without a struggle. We will get where we need to be in time.
TMP: I like to ask my guest here at TMP, that if you could tell the world something unique about Sgt. Elaina Odom³, and you knew everyone would hear, what would you like them to know about you?
E.O.: I honestly don’t know. I have been told I have a knack at being sarcastic to the point that people really can’t tell, but that is about it I think.
Elaina Odom, is one of an estimated 15,500 transgender military members, that would share similar stories this week. A struggle that’s been a battle for decades, with fears of receiving a dishonorable discharge. Military families that are forced to look into each other’s eyes with no other explanation than that of the bigotry of the very country you defended with your life.
We can debate, and recently a study showed that 58% of Americans are in favor of transgender people serving. Yet, let us not forget what is really at stake. We are on the progress to full inclusion into the military, and I fundamentally believe a tweet cannot alter that ship from sailing. What is at stake is the credibility of our democracy. These tweets were no more than a mere distraction from the recent hearings on Russian hacking of an American election. It is really revealing of Trump, that not only was our very democracy’s soul put up for sale, but now the blood of the men, women, and non-binary people who have died for the very existence of this country since it’s conception.
John F. Kennedy once said, “I can imagine no more rewarding a career. And any man who may be asked in this century what he did to make his life worthwhile, I think can respond with a good deal of pride and satisfaction: ‘I served in the United States Navy.”
Regardless of what branch, it is a sacrifice. A sacrifice of family, health, and even your life. It’s not a decision many go into lightly, therefore it’s our duty as a nation, as a government, and the duty of the President of the United States to stand by all people who are willing to make that sacrifice for country. Anything less is the true abomination.
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- The military’s Commander and Chief referred to trans military personnel as a burden, and are unworthy. A UCLA study estimates that 15,500 transgender service members to be enlisted on active duty, in the reserves, and in the National Guard. That same study estimated 134,300 transgender people are veterans or retired from the armed forces.
- A study in the New England Journal of Medicine states; Providing transition-related care to the 188 military personnel expected to require it annually would cost an estimated $5.6 million per year, or $438 per transgender service member per year, or 22 cents per member per month. If the Australian military’s annual cost of transition-related care were applied to the U.S. armed forces, the Pentagon could expect to pay $4.2 million per year to provide such care.
- Sgt. Elaina Odom lives in Texas when not defending her country, a state that has passed bathroom bills punishing transgender people for using the rest room not in accordance to their birth certificate, when she received the news of Trump’s tweets.