Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is no stranger to controversy, but his comments at his last rally before the Iowa caucuses begin has shocked and offended many combat veterans.
At the event in Cedar Rapids, Trump described for the crowd a conversation he had had with a young man who had served two tours of duty in the Middle East, according to a report from Buzzfeed. This veteran told Trump that the “enemy” had stolen a lot of American military equipment, including armor-plated Humvees.
What Trump said next set Twitter ablaze: Trump claimed that the armor on these vehicles was strong enough that if a bomb went off, the people inside would be “okay” and just “go for a little ride upward and then they come down.”
The full quote, according to Buzzfeed:
“You know I have a friend, he’s got a young son, who’s a great, great young man. He was over for two tours of duty, and I said, ‘How, how is it…’ — Middle East — ‘How is it over there?’ He said, ‘It’s so sad Mr. Trump, we have old equipment. The enemy has the good stuff.’ And I said, ‘what are you talking about?’ He said, ‘We give equipment to people that we think are on our side, a bullet’s fired in the air, they run, the enemy goes and takes the equipment.’ And I talk about it all the time — 2,300, brand-new, armored-plated humvees,” Trump said.
He continued, “The best in the world, armor-plated, top, bottom, all over. If a bomb goes off, our wounded warriors, instead of losing their legs, their arms, worse, they’re okay. They go for a little ride upward, and they come down. The best stuff, all gone. Taken by the enemy. Taken by the enemy.”
Here's the video of his remarks (relevant portion starts around the 46 minute mark):
As so often happens when Trump says something outrageous, there was an almost immediate backlash on social media. Many were shocked that someone who is running to be Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. military would display such ignorance about a major cause of death and injury for our service members.
A flood of combat veterans began sharing their own experiences about how IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices) and other bombs had caused serious injuries to themselves or their fellow service members, or even resulted in deaths.
After enlisting in the Minnesota National Guard shortly after the two-year anniversary of the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks, Salzman was in the lead Humvee of a fuel convoy traveling through Baghdad in December 2006 when the EFP struck his vehicle. He lost his right arm below the elbow, his left hand was “pulverized” by the blast, and he suffered a traumatic brain injury.
After hearing about Trump's comments, Salzman posted several tweets describing the “little ride” he went on as a result of that IED:
Independent Journal Review reached out to Salzman for further comment. In an email statement, he denounced Trump's “complete lack of understanding” regarding the risks our combat veterans have faced:
Trump’s comment that troops in armored vehicles simply “go for a little ride” after being hit by an IED shows a complete lack of understanding of the threats faced by American troops. Thousands of troops have been killed in armored vehicles hit by IEDs, and over 1,500 of us have lost at least one limb. Those of us who were lucky took “a little ride” to Walter Reed Army Medical Center or elsewhere for treatment. The unlucky ones took “a little ride” to Arlington cemetery.
Johnny “Joey” Jones, a Marine veteran who lives in the Austin, Texas area was another veteran wounded by an IED who slammed Trump's ignorant comments. Jones spent eight years in the Marines working to destroy IEDs and other types of bulk explosives. In 2010, he was deployed in the Garmsir district of Helmand Province Afghanistan, and lost both of his legs when an IED detonated under him. The explosion also killed his friend, Marine Engineer Cpl. Daniel Greer, who was standing nearby and was struck in the head with a rock.
Calling Trump's comments “disgusting,” Jones tweeted a suggestion for Trump to try his own “little ride” to test his theory.
In a telephone interview with Independent Journal Review, Jones said that his biggest problem with what Trump said was how it minimized the seriousness of the injuries that are caused by IEDs, specifically the traumatic brain injuries (TBIs).
Jones, who is the Chief Operating Officer of the Boot Campaign, a non-profit organization that provides support to veterans and their families, told the Independent Journal Review that he felt like Trump's comments “set us back ten years,” undermining the work that he and so many other veterans and veterans' advocates had done to push the Veterans Administration and the medical community to understand TBI, the seriousness of it, how to treat it, and that it is something that veterans can overcome.
“Right now today, the biggest issue that plagues veterans is the idea that suicide is an option,” said Jones. A 2012 report by the VA found that an average of 22 veterans commit suicide every day. More than 138,000 veterans had been diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) from 2000 through June 5, 2015. During that same period, there were more than 327,000 incidents of TBI.
“One of the leading causes [of veteran suicides] is so many guys coming back with traumatic brain injuries, and they don't understand why they're not themselves anymore,” said Jones. “Someone who is running for president has to understand veterans enough not to simplify or overgeneralize this issue.”
Wall Street Journal reporter Ben Kesling was covering the Trump event live, and tweeted a link to a story about Major Alaa Al-Edani, a war correspondent embedded with an Iraqi army who suffered grievous injuries from an IED, “including severe burns to his body, dreadful facial disfigurement and the loss of his eyesight.”
Kesling also retweeted several other stories shared with him about veterans who had been injured or watched friends die after IEDs struck their vehicles.
IEDs have been a major challenge for our military, despite continued efforts to invest in body armor, armored vehicles, and other protective devices. According to a 2012 report by the Tampa Bay Times, IEDs were the “top killer of U.S. troops,” in addition to thousands more veterans who have been injured by them.
Follow Sarah Rumpf on Twitter @rumpfshaker.