Like many Americans, active-duty service members stationed around the world were stunned at Tuesday’s night’s presidential race results.
“More than one person has compared it to the day Osama [Bin Laden] was killed,” said one Army officer, referring to the day the al-Qaida leader was killed during a raid by U.S. Navy SEALs. “I guess there’s a feeling among soldiers that Trump will care about them and fix everything they see as broken about the Army.”
The officer, who like others spoke on the condition anonymity because of his active-duty status, also passed on a Snapchat image from a fellow Army officer. The picture depicted an alcoholic beverage with white text superimposed over the half-full glass that said: “Taking flag off wall, resigning commission tomorrow.”
As a traditionally Republican stalwart, the U.S. military appears to be embracing real estate executive Donald Trump’s Wednesday presidential win, though there is also a healthy amount of reservation as well, according to nearly a dozen active-duty service members interviewed for this report.
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Pictures and videos were also circulating of soldiers celebrating the victory across the United States. At the Army’s National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California, soldiers cheered in their barracks as Trump’s electoral vote count broached 270.
Overseas in places like Afghanistan and Iraq, however, the response was more muted. A soldier serving in southern Afghanistan said that the election was barely discussed at his small base. Afghanistan in particular received hardly any attention during the presidential race. The soldier said troops were more focused on what was going to be for dinner last night.
Outside Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city and the site of a bloody campaign against the Islamic State, BuzzFeed’s Mike Giglio tweeted a few impressions from the soldiers with whom he was embedded.
How soldiers in Mosul reacted to the U.S. election
“Last night no one wanted to sleep. We stayed up on the phones trying to watch results come back,” he quoted one soldier as saying.
“Our TV screen: drone footage on one half, FOX & CNN on the other,” another soldier said.
Many in uniform said that they see support for Trump, with his vague foreign policy goals, as more of a referendum on former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, who many rank-and-file troops view with suspicion for handling classified material in a manner that would garner severe punishments if they had acted in a similar manner. They also said that they see Trump as a candidate that could usher in serious change on the military’s cultural issues, including gender integration.
Service members interviewed for this report spoke of what they see as a groundswell of potential for Trump reversing the effects of the 2013 sequester and an announcement that same year by the Obama administration that opened all combat jobs to women. The decision was finalized by Defense Secretary Ashton Carter in December 2015.
Two active-duty enlisted infantry Marines, one at a sniper school and another in an infantry battalion, said some members of their units hope Trump looks at the data provided by the Marine Corps on its gender integration studies and comes to a conclusion that isn’t “political” and hopefully reverses the decision to allow women in combat roles. In 2014, the Marines started a nine-month experiment with a gender integrated infantry unit that concluded with mixed results.
A female Army lieutenant, who also spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that she was worried about losing some of the gains that women in the military have made in recent years. She said that she didn’t trust Vice President-elect Mike Pence to believe in gender equality.
At the Pentagon and higher headquarters, where the military’s bureaucracy is a maze of offices and acronyms, troops stationed there are worried that Trump might not have the firmest grasp on how the defense of the country actually works, and they said that they are increasingly concerned about how mission priorities and resources might be shuffled - for better or for worse — in the coming months.
It is unclear and probably difficult to say whether Trump’s support is split between officer and enlisted lines, as those interviewed for this report said pockets of both supported and decried the candidate.
On Wednesday morning, Carter issued a statement about the election to the Pentagon, but the short paragraph did not mention Trump by name.
“I am very proud of the way each and every one of you conducted yourselves during this campaign, standing apart from politics and instead focusing on your sacred mission of providing security,” Carter said. “I am committed to overseeing the orderly transition to the next Commander-in-Chief. I know I can count on you to execute all your duties with the excellence our citizens know they can expect.”