By Gina Harkins, MOAA Senior Staff Writer
Washington outsider who pledged to rebuild what he's called a weak and
ineffective military soon will serve as the new commander in chief.
Trump won the presidential election in a surprising political
upset after he swept key swing states in the South and Midwest. Trump, a
Washington outsider who's never held public office, edged out his
Democratic opponent, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, ending a
long and combative election season.
In his acceptance speech
given early Wednesday morning, Trump called on Americans to come
together after the divisive campaign season. The New York businessman
also pledged to put more Americans to work by rebuilding infrastructure
and promised to “finally take care of our great veterans.”
his campaign, Trump said he'd boost the size of the military, including
people, ships, and aircraft - though details about how he'd carry out
those plans were never specified.
He recently released a 10-point plan for VA reform,
and he'll face tough decisions about the fight against the Islamic
State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), who will serve as his defense secretary,
and how he'll lead the armed forces through ongoing personnel and
Trump will be joined in office by Republican Indiana
Gov. Mike Pence, who is the father of a Marine Corps officer currently
training to become a pilot. Here's what troops can expect from their new
commander in chief.
People and pay
After repeatedly arguing that President Barack Obama's administration had undercut the military, Trump laid out plans in September to:
- Increase the number of active-duty soldiers to 540,000, up nearly 100,000 troops from the Army's current drawdown plans.
the number of Marine Corps battalions to 36 in order to deal with major
contingencies. That would add about a dozen battalions to the force
- Build a Navy that has 350 surface ships and submarines, about a 28-percent bump from today's fleet.
- Build an Air Force of at least 1,200 fighter aircraft.
another round of across-the-board spending cuts, known as
sequestration, threatening to wreak havoc on the 2018 defense budget,
the military currently doesn't have the funds to carry out those plans.
Trump said in his plan that he would “ask Congress to fully eliminate
the defense sequester and will submit a new budget to rebuild our
Thomas Donnelly, a defense and security policy analyst
at the American Enterprise Institute, said defense spending could
increase in the years to come since the White House and both chambers of
Congress will soon be controlled by Republicans. Whether it actually
happens will largely depend on how congressional Democrats respond, he
said, since they could try to block any effort by Trump to boost
Benjamin Friedman, a research fellow in defense and
homeland security studies at the CATO Institute, said if spending
doesn't increase that overseas contingency funds will be something to
watch because the services have used those dollars to offset some cuts
When it comes to servicemembers' pay and benefits,
Friedman said it's difficult to know what might change since Trump
hasn't made his plans for the military clear. All politicians tend to
say they're great advocates for military pay and benefits, he said, but
it's not yet clear where Trump will come down on expenses like TRICARE
fees, pay raises, housing, and commissary benefits.
said Trump might be more likely than Clinton to override the Pentagon's
recent plans to overhaul military pay and benefits.
Hillary might've had the political instincts … to push that noodle
forward,” he said. “I think it's more likely that Trump will say, 'We
can't cut back on the benefits that our brave guys in uniform
The fight against ISIS could get even more complicated
after the Iraqis retake Mosul, and Trump said that on his first day in
office he'd give general officers 30 days to present a plan to defeat
the terror group. That followed comments he'd made about knowing “more
about ISIS than the generals do, believe me.”
Trump has blasted
the Obama administration's handling of the fight on the terror group.
Trump argued that the Iraqis were giving ISIS fighters too much notice
about their offensive plans, but Trump offered few details on what else
he'd do differently, Friedman said.
“Trump continued throughout
the campaign to say that he can't make his plan public on what he was
going to do about it,” he said. “Other than generally saying he's going
to be aggressive, it's hard to know what Trump was planning.”
president-elect might even be anxious to get troops out of the region,
Donnelly said, and take a more standoffish approach toward Middle East
conflicts. That could allow him to focus on domestic issues like the
That approach could apply to other parts of the world,
too. Trump made waves when he suggested in recent months that he
wouldn't defend certain alliances if he felt partner nations weren't
holding up their end of the bargain. Friedman said it's likely “more
bluster than reality,” but added that Trump doesn't seem as emotionally
committed to the NATO alliance or other allies as most Washington
Reforming the VA
his campaign, Trump released a 10-part plan to reform the VA in which he
said he'd support veterans' physical and mental health care through
modernization and better accountability.
“No more long drives, no
more waiting backlogs, no more excessive red tape,” the plan states.
“Just the care and support they earned with their service to our
Trump wants to appoint a new VA secretary whose “sole
purpose will be to serve veterans.” He said he will remove and
discipline federal employees who've violated the public's trust and will
ask Congress to pass legislation that will allow the VA secretary to
“terminate any employee who has jeopardized the health, safety, or
well-being of a veteran.”
Trump's White House will also have a
24-hour hotline, according to the plan, that will be “answered by a real
person” that veterans can call if they have complaints about their VA
care. He plans to increase the number of mental health care
professionals and will allow veterans to seek care outside the VA
“Under a Trump administration, no veteran will die waiting for service,” the plan states.
When it comes to getting buy-in from the military community, Trump could face an easier time of that than Clinton might have.
Polls conducted by Military Times and Syracuse University's Institute for Veterans and Military Families
routinely showed that Trump maintained the edge when it came to the
military vote. Clinton proved less popular with troops, the polls
showed, although servicemembers weren't overly confident about either
candidate's ability to serve as commander in chief.
comments about Sen. John McCain's capture during Vietnam, Gold Star
families, and knowing more about ISIS than military leaders didn't sit
well with everyone, but Donnelly said the president-elect has proven
he's skilled at redefining “what he meant on pretty much anything.”
perfectly capable now of saying, 'These guys are my generals. I like
these guys and working for me, they're going to be great,' ” he said,
even if he previously spoke ill of them.
said it's not necessary for Trump - or any commander in chief - to have
the military's complete support since troops carry out the president's
will regardless of political beliefs. As long as Trump tones down some
of his campaign rhetoric, Friedman said it's likely Trump will have the
support of his military.
“If he behaves like a president and
seems considered and reasoned, and maybe even reduces the amount of wars
that we're fighting, it might go a long way to win military support,”