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

trump iraq christmasUS President Donald Trump greets members of the US military during an unannounced trip to Al Asad Air Base in Iraq on December 26, 2018. - President Donald Trump arrived in Iraq on his first visit to US troops deployed in a war zone since his election two years ago.SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

  • 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.

President Trump Melania visit troops Christmas IraqU.S. President Trump, traveling with the first lady, meets political and military leaders and makes a policy speech to U.S. troops in an unannounced visit to Al Asad Air Base, IraqJonathan Ernst/REUTERS

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

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 percent below private-sector growth unless specifically granted a larger increase by Congress," the Defense Department says on its military compensation page. "The FY2000 National Defense Authorization Act directed that pay raises for 2000 through 2006 would automatically be one-half percent 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 Craighead

"They said, 'You know, we could make it smaller. We could make it 3 percent. We could make it 2 percent. We could make it 4 percent,'" Trump said at the base. "I said, 'No. Make it 10 percent. Make it more than 10 percent.'"

"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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