Transgender soldier fears life setback after President Trump's tweet: 'It was devastating'

The US Army soldier took a deep breath before hitting the button that sent the email to more than 200 fellow troops.

"All considered, I am, and have been, traversing what is essentially a personal matter, but is something I must address publicly," the email stated. "I am transgender."

The April 13 email officially ended the secret that burned inside Capt. Jennifer Sims, who was known as Jonathan Sims. But the feeling of relief swiftly turned to unease last week after President Donald Trump tweeted that transgender people were no longer welcome in the US military.

"I read the tweets while I was at work and you know it was devastating because I still have work to do and here I am reading basically what sounds like the president of the United States — who is the commander in chief, he is the ultimate boss of the military — telling me and anybody else that is transgender that we are fired," Sims said.

Pentagon officials say the policy will remain unchanged without official White House guidance. But for Sims, the uncertainty has been upsetting.

The US president's announcement on Twitter has sparked protests and outrage in Washington and beyond. Source: 1 NEWS

"So in the initial moments after the tweet, I saw myself forced into the state that I was in before I started transitioning — a state of depression, exhaustion and inability to enjoy things," said Sims, 28, who spoke to The Associated Press on her own behalf and not on that of the Army.

The reversal of the Obama administration policy that allows transgender people to serve openly and receive military medical coverage for transitioning from one gender to another also could affect her physically.

Never felt comfortable being male

Sims has been on hormone therapy by her military doctor since November. If she interrupts the treatment, her body will revert to being male.

"It would be very difficult to have to go through that," said Sims, who is based at Hohenfels, a US Army garrison in the German state of Bavaria.

Growing up in Minnesota and Florida, Sims, a high school football player, never felt comfortable being male.

The son and grandson of military veterans quietly came to terms with identifying as a woman a year after joining the Army R.O.T.C., but outwardly kept it a secret "because I wanted to continue serving," Sims said.

Sims stopped socialising, feeling drained over worries about being masculine enough, and instead focused on work, serving in Afghanistan, Indonesia and Germany. Her sister, Natasha Sims, 24, said she saw "emptiness" in her eyes.

After the Defense Department announced in 2015 that it was considering allowing transgender troops to serve openly, Sims told Natasha and their parents. When the policy became official in June 2016, Sims said she felt the meaning of the word freedom personally after spending years fighting for it for her country.

"It was the best day of my life really," Sims said.

Sims made an appointment with the behavioural health office, was given a diagnosis of gender dysphoria and started hormone therapy in November.

Fellow troops lost for words

Five months later, she decided to tell fellow troops.

She first told her two closest colleagues, Capt. Brandon Shorter and another infantry officer. They were at a loss for words.

After Shorter got home, allowing it to sink in, he texted Sims about how that was brave.

"Infantry officers are best described as brutish. So Capt. Sims pulled me and another brute aside face to face. That took a lot of courage and that's the first thing that went through my mind, mixed in with surprise," Shorter said.

Sims then announced the "personal change" to more than 200 other troops.

It was not an emotional email. The seasoned military officer wrote how a lifetime of discomfort had peaked three years ago. Sims meticulously explained gender dysphoria, announced she was Capt. Jennifer Sims, not Jonathan, and outlined the steps she would take to fully transition to a woman.

"Officially in DEERS, my gender will remain male until my medical transition is complete, which means I will still comport to male standards and use male facilities," she wrote, referring to the acronym for the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System, a kind of HR database for US military personnel.

"While it is my preference for people to refer to me with female pronouns, if you are uncomfortable with this, there is no requirement to do so, I only respectfully request you refer to me by my proper name, Captain Sims," the email stated.

Sims assured her unit the change "if anything, will only make me more productive and capable, as I no longer have to live two personas."

Words of encouragement

Five soldiers sent emails back with words of encouragement. Most didn't respond. For a few days, there were murmurs of "hey did you see the email?"

The force had just undergone training explaining what was expected in regards to transgender soldiers.

Sims is the first transgender person Shorter's known.

The unit is basically full of "young men wanting to chew on nails and prove how tough they are and rightly so since they are infantry men," Shorter said. There are only about eight women among the 500 soldiers in the battalion.

He had a lot of questions "being naturally curious and wanting to be a good friend because we didn't really have a personal relationship. He's, excuse me, she's — see I still slip up sometimes — a single captain, I'm married with two daughters. Our lives are different."

'Incredibly disappointed' if Sims were kicked out.

Shorter, 32, of Alanson, Michigan, describes himself as conservative. He said he struggles with his beliefs about what's appropriate.

An assistant operations officer for the battalion, Shorter is concerned about how Sims — whom he considers to be the best signal officer he's seen in the Army — cannot deploy while undergoing medical procedures.

But Shorter, speaking on his own behalf and not that of the Army, said he would be "incredibly disappointed" if Sims were kicked out.

After Trump's tweet, a few soldiers, including Shorter, asked Sims how she was doing. She didn't know what to say.

Her pills will run out in three months. Doctors recommend 12 months of hormone therapy before surgery. The cost of her surgery can run close to $50,000, which Sims was expecting the military would help cover.

Army officials told her nothing will change without official guidance.

"I had waited so long just to be able to tell the world this is who I am," Sims said.



Baby squirrels in the US freed from tail tangle

Baby squirrels in the US state of Wisconsin have been freed after their tails became dangerously tangled together.

They were handed in at the Wisconsin Humane Society’s Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre which worked to save the lives of the five young grey squirrels.

They became entangled with grass and plastic strips their mother used to build a nest.

The squirrels were cut free with scissors while under anaesthetic.

"You can imagine how wiggly and unruly this frightened, distressed ball of squirrely energy was, so our first step was to anaesthetise all five of them at the same time," the centre told the BBC.

Then they began unravelling the "Gordon Knot".

"It was impossible to tell whose tail was whose, and we were increasingly concerned because all of them had suffered from varying degrees of tissue damage to their tails caused by circulatory impairment.

"The creatures will soon be free to resume a tangle-free life in the wild," the centre said.

Baby squirrels in Wisconsin have been freed after their tails became dangerously tangled together. Source: rnz.co.nz

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Woman lucky to be alive after shark takes 'big chunck' of her leg off Queensland coast

A Tasmanian mother on holiday in north Queensland's Whitsunday Islands region is lucky to be alive after a shark mauled her leg.

Justine Barwick, 46, was snorkelling at Cid Harbour on Wednesday when the attack happened leaving her with a severe wound to her left thigh and minor wounds to her calf.

Ms Barwick, a mother of two, would likely have bled to death without the quick- thinking actions of people in nearby boats.

In a second stroke of luck a rescue helicopter scrambled to the region was just 15 minutes away from the scene due to an earlier operation they'd been undertaking.

The hovering chopper drew the attention of John Hadok, an emergency department doctor from Mackay Base Hospital, who was sailing nearby and soon joined the effort to save Ms Barwick's life.

Dr Hadok's direction ensured correct first aid was given to Ms Barwick, allowing her to be safely winched into the helicopter.

RACQ CQ Rescue Helicopter crewman Ben McCauley said the doctor and others who gave first aid to Ms Barwick before she was winched aboard had likely saved her life.

"The original first aid was actually really well done," Mr McCauley told reporters today.

"We actually didn't have to do anything with the leg, it was pretty much tourniqueted up, bandaged up and bleeding had stopped. They'd done a really good job."

Although he didn't see the wound, Mr McCauley was told Ms Bariwck had "quite a big chunk of leg taken" and had suffered arterial bleeding.

She also suffered puncture wounds to her calf muscle.

The helicopter then stopped at Proserpine to refuel, allowing blood from a local hospital to be transfused and other medical treatment given.

Just after 8pm Ms Barwick arrived at Mackay Base Hospital where she remains in a critical condition on Thursday morning after overnight surgery.

Her husband Craig is at her bedside.

Ms Barwick works for non-profit Family Based Care in Burnie and had travelled to the Whitsundays on a holiday with her husband and friends.

Family Based Care chief executive Doug Doherty said Ms Barwick and Craig were regular visitors to the popular tourist destination in the heart of the Great Barrier Reef.

"It didn't surprise me, because she is such a fighter, when she was being taken off the rescue helicopter and taken into hospital she was telling them what she was allergic too and still able to give directions," Mr Doherty told AAP.

"That sounds like Justine to me."

Sharks (file picture). Source: istock.com

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US federal agency admits losing track of 1,488 'vulnerable' migrant children

Twice in less than a year, the US federal government has lost track of nearly 1,500 migrant children after placing them in the homes of sponsors across the country, federal officials have acknowledged.

The Health and Human Services Department recently told Senate staffers that case managers could not find 1,488 children after they made follow-up calls to check on their safety from April through June.

That number represents about 13 per cent of all unaccompanied children the administration moved out of shelters and foster homes during that time.

The agency first disclosed that it had lost track of 1,475 children late last year, as it came under fire at a Senate hearing in April.

Lawmakers had asked HHS officials how they had strengthened child protection policies since it came to light that the agency previously had rolled back safeguards meant to keep Central American children from ending up in the hands of human traffickers.

"The fact that HHS, which placed these unaccompanied minors with sponsors, doesn't know the whereabouts of nearly 1,500 of them is very troubling," Republican Senator Rob Portman of Ohio, the panel's chair, said.

"Many of these kids are vulnerable to trafficking and abuse, and to not take responsibility for their safety is unacceptable."

HHS spokeswoman Caitlin Oakley disputed the notion that the children were "lost".

"Their sponsors, who are usually parents or family members and in all cases have been vetted for criminality and ability to provide for them, simply did not respond or could not be reached when this voluntary call was made," she said in a statement.

Since October 2014, the federal government has placed more than 150,000 unaccompanied minors with parents or other adult sponsors who are expected to care for the children and help them attend school while they seek legal status in immigration court.

Yesterday, members of a Senate subcommittee introduced bipartisan legislation aimed at requiring the agency to take responsibility for the care of migrant children, even when they are no longer in their custody.

An Associated Press investigation found in 2016 that more than two dozen unaccompanied children had been sent to homes where they were sexually assaulted, starved or forced to work for little or no pay.

At the time, many adult sponsors didn't undergo thorough background checks, government officials rarely visited homes and in some cases had no idea that sponsors had taken in several unrelated children, a possible sign of human trafficking.

Since then, HHS has boosted outreach to at-risk children deemed to need extra protection, and last year offered post-placement services to about one-third of unaccompanied minors, according to the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations.

But advocates say it is hard to know how many minors may be in dangerous conditions, in part because some disappear before social workers can follow up with them and never show up in court.

The legislation comes as the Trump administration faces litigation over its family separation policy at the US-Mexican border, which while it was in effect sent hundreds more children into the HHS system of shelters and foster care.

Some of those children have since been reunited with their families, while others have been placed with sponsors.

Oakley did not respond to questions regarding whether any of the children who the agency lost track of had been separated from their families before they were sent to live with sponsors.

The legislation is aimed at ensuring HHS does more to prevent abuse, runs background checks before placing children with sponsors, and notifies state governments before sending children to those states, the bill's sponsors said.

"The already challenging reality migrant children face is being made even more difficult and, too often, more dangerous," said the panel's top Democrat, Senator Tom Carper of Delaware.

"This simply doesn't have to be the case and, as this legislation demonstrates, the solutions don't have to be partisan."

The White House has accused Democrats and the media of exploiting the photo. Source: US ABC / 1 NEWS


Aussie Woolworths taking sewing needles off shelves to combat strawberry-tampering

Supermarket giant Woolworths has taken the extraordinary step of withdrawing sewing needles from its shelves nationally following the fruit tampering crisis.

"We've taken the precautionary step of temporarily removing sewing needles from sale in our stores. The safety of our customers is our top priority," a Woolworths spokeswoman told AAP.

More than 100 reports of tampered fruit are being investigated by police across the country, many of which are thought to be fake or copycat cases.

The drastic decision comes as Agriculture Minister David Littleproud says the "parasites" responsible for spiking strawberries with needles should do hard time in jail.

The Government is rushing legislation through Parliament to ratchet up the maximum penalties for so-called "food terrorists" from 10 to 15 years behind bars.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison wants the tough sanctions approved before federal politicians depart Canberra today.

The halt comes after needles were found in different brands in Australia. Source: 1 NEWS

"I'm just focused on making sure no idiot goes into a supermarket this weekend and does something ridiculous," Mr Morrison told reporters in Royalla in NSW.

"We've booked the hall in Parliament for the day, we've paid the rent on it, and that means no one goes home until those bills are passed."

Labor will support the bill, but frontbencher Tony Burke wants the laws reviewed after 12 months.

Shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus agrees, saying there has been very "little time to fully consider what the consequences of this legislation might be."

He told parliament that unintended consequences may occur by including "providing the public with food" in the revised definition of "public infrastructure".

Rebuilding confidence in the strawberry industry is the highest priority, says Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, as he encouraged Australians to continue buying the fruit.

"Grab a punnet for yourself and a punnet for the nation," he said.

More than 100 reports of tampered fruit are being investigated by police across the country, many of which are thought to be fake or copycat cases.

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton condemned people being stupid or malicious.

"The police are being driven crazy by all of these hoaxes because all it does is divert their resources away from the main investigation," he told 2GB radio.

Anyone who tampers with food could soon face up to 15 years' jail, in line with child pornography and terror financing offences.

There will also be a new offence of being reckless in causing harm, which will carry a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.

The most serious cases with national security implications will be covered by sabotage offences, with penalties ranging from seven to 25 years' jail.

"The reality is that ... they've got to do some time," Mr Littleproud told ABC radio.

"The one thing that people can do better than government is go and buy strawberries. Stick it up these parasites by going into the supermarkets and buying strawberries."

The Queensland and NSW governments are offering a reward to catch the culprits.

The government is also providing $1 million to make more food safety officials available to increase detection, fast-track recalls and assist the industry to rebuild confidence.

NSW authorities are investigating more than 20 incidents of needles found in strawberries. Source: Breakfast