OAKLAND, Calif. (KTVU) - It is the latest in a series of sweeping changes that include allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military and putting women into combat roles.
Now, the Pentagon is lifting the ban on transgender people serving in the military.
KTVU spoke with an Oakland native who joined the Army right out of high school as a teenage boy.
"I felt it was my duty and my obligation to serve my country," said Janet Halfin.
She said she enlisted after she graduated from Oakland High and served in the U.S. Army from 1975 to 1979.
Born a biological male, Halfin said she knew as a child she wanted to be a girl.
She hid her true identity from fellow soldiers and when she could, she lived off base.
"It was real hard because if I got caught, I could get discharged," said Halfin.
But now comes a major about face at the Pentagon.
"Effective immediately, transgender Americans may serve openly," said Ash Carter, the U.S. Secretary of Defense.
On Thursday, Carter announced the change in policy that will allow transgender troops to formally change their gender identification and begin receiving medical care including surgery, starting October 1.
"Right now, most of our transgender service members must go outside the military medical system in order to obtain medical care that is judged by doctors to be necessary. And they have to pay for it out of their own pockets," said Carter.
However, lifting the ban has faced resistance. Senator John McCain is one of the critics.
"It seems maybe they're more interested in the publicity value than getting something accomplished because something like this will require some legislation," said McCain.
Openly transgender people will be allowed to start enlisting a year from now, but they will have to be stable in their gender identity for 18 months.
"If they're willing to put their right hand up and swear to defend the country so be it. I don’t have a problem with that," said Pete Durant of Sacramento who tells KTVU his son is currently serving in the military.
"You should never have to hide who you are especially if you're willing to do such a big thing for all of us," said Vanessa Gonzalez of Oakland who says her family has a long history of serving in the U.S. military.
Janet Halfin disagrees with opponents who say the change could harm the military's readiness and effectiveness in combat.
"Don't ever think that somebody that's trans in the military is not ready to pick up that weapon and go to battle for this country, because they are. And I still am to this day."
Halflin is 58-years-old and said she's surprised to see the ban on transgender people lifted during her lifetime. She's also proud this country is doing so.