WATERLOO, Iowa — Republican presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson told veterans at a town hall here Saturday that while he would never deny qualified women from combat positions, he doesn't appreciate "using our military as a laboratory for social experimentation."
"You know, we have too many important things to do," Carson said at a "Veterans and Military Town Hall" hosted by the Concerned Veterans for America. "When our men and women are out there fighting the enemy, the last thing that we need to be doing is saying what would it be like if we introduced several transgender people into this platoon."
"You know, give me a break. Deal with the transgender thing somewhere else," Carson said before saying he prefers the old "don't ask, don't tell" military philosophy that ended in 2011.
Enacted under President Bill Clinton in 1993, "don't ask, don't tell" prevented gays from serving openly in the military.
The retired neurosurgeon's comments come as a Pentagon-imposed deadline nears for the armed services to figure out the logistics of how to incorporate transgender troops into the military.
Though the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" cleared the way for gay, lesbian and bisexual troops to serve openly, an estimated 15,000 transgender troops continue to keep their gender identities hidden for fear of being discharged.
In July, Defense Secretary Ash Carter ordered the creation of a Pentagon working group "to study over the next six months the policy and readiness implications of welcoming transgender persons to serve openly."
"I mean, why do you have to go around flouting your sexuality? It's not necessary, you don't need to talk about that, we need to talk about how we eliminate the enemy," Carson said at the town hall.
Pivoting back to the original question of his opinion on the recent policy shift announced last week by Carter that opens all combat jobs to women, Carson gave tepid support.
"All the success I've had in life is because of women, so I am never going to say 'no' to women, I'm not," Carson said. However, he said he would be "very frightened" if there were a lowering of standards.
"If women can meet those standards, and they want to meet those standards and they want to do that, then I would never deny them," Carson said.
Carson added, "But, you know, what woman wants to go out on the front line in the dirt and the slime fighting — I mean if they want to do it and they're capable, no problem."
"If you can't lift, you know, a 175 pound person on your shoulder and hoist them out of there, then If I'm out there, I don't want you as my backup," Carson said.