Trump misled troops about a pay raise during his first trip to a combat zone

SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty ImagesPresident Donald Trump greets members of the US military during an unannounced trip to Al Asad Air Base in Iraq, December 26, 2018.
  • President Donald Trump made a surprise visit to Iraq on Wednesday.
  • It was his first trip to a combat zone as president.
  • While there, he repeated some of the misleading statements he has made in the past about troop pay.

President Donald Trump on Wednesday arrived in Iraq for an unannounced visit that was his first trip to a combat zone as president.

While Trump’s presence was a first, his remarks included many of his common talking points, including an often-repeated falsehood about the military’s pay and his role in raising it.

“I want each and every one of you to know that we will always protect those who protect us. You protect us. We are always going to protect you,” Trump told US troops at Al Asad air base, west of Baghdad.

“And you just saw that, because you just got one of the biggest pay raises you’ve ever received – unless you don’t want it,” he said to applause, according to a pool report. “Is anybody here willing to give up the big pay raise you just got? Raise your hands, please. Ah, I don’t see too many hands. OK, don’t give it up.”

“It’s great. You know what? Nobody deserves it more,” Trump added. “You haven’t gotten one in more than 10 years … and we got you a big one. I got you a big one. I got you a big one.”

Military pay was increased 2.4% in 2018, and the 2019 National Defence Authorization Act bumped it up another 2.6% for next year.

The raise in the 2019 budget was the largest one in the past nine years, but the raise itself isn’t new – military pay has increased every year for more than 30 years.

US Navy destroyer oiler Farragut Big HornUS Navy/Mass Comm. Specialist 2nd Class Cameron M. StonerSailors on the guided-missile destroyer USS Farragut supervise a refuelling probe during a replenishment-at-sea with fleet-replenishment oiler USNS Big Horn, October 20, 2018.

Pay for the armed forces is linked to pay in the private sector, which is measured by the Employment Cost Index.

“In the 1990s, the annual military pay raise was capped at one-half per cent below private-sector growth unless specifically granted a larger increase by Congress,” the Defence Department says on its military compensation page. “The FY2000 National Defence Authorization Act directed that pay raises for 2000 through 2006 would automatically be one-half per cent above the private-sector wage increases.”

Since 2007, pay raises have been equal to the ECI increase, averaging about 2% each year. (There were two raises in 2007, in January and April.)

In addition to overstating the scale of the most recent pay raise, Trump also said he had prevailed over unnamed officials in order to secure the increase.

Trump IraqOfficial White House Photo by Shealah CraigheadPresident Donald Trump during an unannounced visit to Al Asad air base in Iraq, December 26, 2018.

“They said, ‘You know, we could make it smaller. We could make it 3 per cent. We could make it 2 per cent. We could make it 4 per cent,'” Trump said at the base. “I said, ‘No. Make it 10 per cent. Make it more than 10 per cent.'”

“Because it’s been a long time. It’s been more than 10 years. It’s been more than 10 years. That’s a long time,” he added. “And, you know, you really put yourselves out there, and you put your lives out there. So congratulations.”

Trump often invokes military pay increases as evidence of his commitment to the armed forces. In May, he told military spouses and mothers gathered for an event at the White House that he had gotten pay raises for service members for “the first time in 10 years.”

“I was proud to sign that big pay raise that I’ve already spoken about. And I am proud of it,” he said at the time. “And I guess there will be others, too. Would you like one sooner, or do you want to wait another 10 years?”

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