Veterans Slam Trump

Some believe President Trump "exploited" the wife of a fallen Navy SEAL officer, while others criticized his decision to wear a flight jacket and admiral's cap during a speech.

President Donald Trump / REUTERS

President Donald Trump has been largely criticized by veterans on social media for a number of incidents this week, from the exploitation of a Navy SEAL's widow to the insinuation that military members don't fight to win.


Trump Wears Flight Jacket

On Thursday while touring the new aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford, Trump made a speech to the crew. The crew gave Trump a personalized flight jacket and admiral's hat that say "POTUS 45" on the back. While the items were a gift, veterans on social media were not happy with the president's decision to wear them.

Some pointed out that Trump himself dodged the draft on numerous occasions.

According to a New York Times report, despite a seemingly unblemished health record, Trump obtained a medical deferment and four additional deferments for education.

"He stood 6 feet 2 inches with an athletic build; had played football, tennis and squash; and was taking up golf. His medical history was unblemished, aside from a routine appendectomy when he was 10," according to the New York Times. "But after he graduated from college in the spring of 1968, making him eligible to be drafted and sent to Vietnam, he received a diagnosis that would change his path: bone spurs in his heels."

The diagnosis, the Times said, exempted him from military service that about 300,000 men did undergo.

According to the Times, Trump "also asserted that it was 'ultimately' the luck of a high draft lottery number — rather than the medical deferment — that kept him out of the war. … But his Selective Service records, obtained from the National Archives, suggest otherwise."

Trump 'Exploited' Fallen Navy SEAL's Widow

On Tuesday, Trump made his address to Congress. During this speech he addressed the wife of a fallen Navy SEAL. Carryn Owens lost her husband, Chief Special Warfare Operator William "Ryan" Owens, in January during a covert mission in Yemen.

Trump's rhetoric was widely praised on social media and by news commentators alike, but some veterans interpreted it differently. The president's speech said, in part:

"We are blessed to be joined tonight by Carryn Owens, the widow of a U.S. Navy Special Operator Senior Chief William "Ryan" Owens. Ryan died as he lived: a warrior, and a hero — battling against terrorism and securing our nation.

"I just spoke to our great Gen. Mattis just now, who reconfirmed that, and I quote, 'Ryan was a part of a highly successful raid that generated large amounts of vital intelligence that will lead to many more victories in the future against our enemies.' Ryan's legacy is etched into eternity. Thank you."

Trump's words were met with significant applause, and the camera showed the grieving widow in tears. Then, referring to the booming applause, Trump said:

"Ryan is looking down right now, you know that, and he is very happy because I think he just broke a record."

CNN's Van Jones, a longtime critic of the president, called the speech "one of the most extraordinary moments you have ever seen in American politics" and went so far as to say, "He became President of the United States in that moment, period."

But not everyone agreed with Jones' assessment.

Brandon Friedman, former deputy assistant secretary for public affairs in the Department of Housing and Urban Development and who served in the United States Army, posted two screenshots of his Twitter feed, which shows how the media praised Trump's speech and how veterans criticized it.

Veterans called it "exploitation," "the worst," "wrong" and "using death for political gain."

People also pointed out that Trump's assessment of the mission as "successful" was not entirely true. Sen. John McCain called the raid "a failure."

Bill Owens, the father of Ryan Owens who has criticized the president on numerous occasions and refuses to meet with him, questioned why his son was sent there in the first place.

"Why at this time did there have to be this stupid mission when it wasn't even barely a week into [President Trump's] administration?" he questioned. "For two years prior ... everything was missiles and drones [in Yemen]. … Now all of a sudden we had to make this grand display?"

According to NBC News, the Trump team seemed to make the decision hastily:

"'Certainly the Obama administration, particularly by the end of its eight-year run, was very cautious in moving forward with any kind of military activity,' retired Adm. James Stavridis, a former NATO commander and current NBC News security analyst, said. 'A new administration I think naturally is going to be spring-loaded to move out and demonstrate something.'"

Meanwhile, the president refused to take responsibility for giving the okay to conduct the raid. On Tuesday morning he told Fox News that the mission "was started before" he took office.

But in a series of tweets Colin Kahl, who served as a national security adviser for former Vice President Joe Biden, revealed that former President Barack Obama did not approve this specific raid.

As Business Insider points out, not all veterans felt Trump's speech was exploitive. Some found the words moving, with others saying the speech made them feel proud.

'We Have to Start Winning Wars Again'

However, another comment on Monday that was perhaps overshadowed by Tuesday's Congressional address also sparked some outrage among veterans. In an address to governors regarding military budget Trump said, "We have to win. We have to start winning wars again," Trump said. "I have to say, when I was young, in high school and college, everybody used to say we never lost a war. We never lost a war. You remember, some of you were right there with me, you remember, America never lost."

U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), who served in the Iraq war and lost both of her legs, slammed the president's insinuation that the military does not fight to win. After saying Trump's Cabinet is filled with "unqualified, poorly-vetted and ethically-challenged nominees" Duckworth stated:

"To top it all off, the President — who has never served in uniform and thinks he knows better than Generals with real combat experience — said that our troops 'don't fight to win' anymore. Well, as someone who fought to protect his right to say offensive things, I have a message for President Trump. Our troops do fight to win, but if the Commander-in-Chief believes they don't, then he should tell the American people why he's ordering them to remain in harm's way."

VoteVets, a nonprofit organization that has spoken out against Trump since he was on the campaign trail, called Trump's remarks "absolutely insulting."

Jason Kander, former secretary of state in Missouri and an Army veteran who went to Afghanistan, also came out against the president's speech.

Trump also alluded to "winning" in this speech.

"We will have the finest equipment in the world: planes, ships and everything else," he said while discussing an increased military budget. "We will give our military the tools you need to prevent war and if required to fight war and do only one thing, you know what that is? Win. We're going to start winning again."

Trump has made similar comments before, notably when he insulted McCain, who was a prisoner of war, while on the campaign trail. He said being captured meant McCain was not a war hero.

"He's not a war hero," Trump said. "He was a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren't captured."

For his part, McCain said he did not need an apology from Trump, instead telling MSNBC: "I think he may owe an apology to the families of those who have sacrificed in conflict and those who have undergone the prison experience in serving our country."

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