Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally at the Greensboro Coliseum in Greensboro, N.C., Tuesday. (Chuck Burton/Associated Press)
By Corbin Reiff (Corbin Reiff is a freelance music writer).
Iam not a political reporter, I’m a music writer. Most of my time is spent parsing Kanye West lyrics and listening to old Led Zeppelin concert bootlegs. But back before I wrote about music exclusively, I was a soldier for five years in the U.S. Army. I don’t talk about it much, if only because my time in uniform feels like it was a lifetime ago, but it’s a part of who I am. Mostly, I’ve kept my thoughts about politics and social issues to myself. But then the presumptive Republican nominee for president said something rather inflammatory at a rally Tuesday, and I felt compelled to speak out.
For reasons known only to him, Donald Trump decided to pick the Army’s 241st birthday to share his thoughts about a select group of service members. “Iraq, crooked as hell. How about bringing baskets of money — millions and millions of dollars — and handing it out?” he said. “I want to know who were the soldiers that had that job, because I think they’re living very well right now, whoever they may be.” (Trump’s campaign spokeswoman said later that Trump was referring to “Iraqi soldiers,” but that makes no sense; listen online and judge for yourself.)
The first thought that ran through my mind after reading that statement was: “Is he talking about me?” You see, during my tour in Iraq from 2009 to 2010, I was one of those whose job it was to hand out “baskets of money.” I deployed with the 4-2 Stryker Brigade Combat Team, for which I was made the noncommissioned officer in charge of foreign claims for almost all of western Baghdad — an area that covers about 5 million people. I’m doing all right these days, maybe carrying a little more student loan debt than I’d like, but I’m by no means a wealthy individual.
Nearly every week, my team and I would convoy out to a council building in a Baghdad neighborhood to take claims against U.S. forces. These could be anything from an armored vehicle running into a generator to an extended lease for a home we had commandeered. We also disbursed funds for those who had been wounded and killed by U.S. forces by being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
It was draining work. Every week I would sit for hours, listening as my interpreters relayed the heartbreaking stories of mothers, fathers and widows. They showed me their scars and pictures of the piles of bricks that used to be their homes. It felt good to help those I could, and gut-wrenching to turn down those I couldn’t. I spent much of a year of my life inside an aluminum trailer, far away from my friends and family, missing holidays and birthdays, trying to block out the speaker that would blare “Incoming! Incoming!” as mortars flew into the base while I tried to sleep.
In the course of my mission, we carried with us U.S. cash. A lot of U.S. cash. When the year was up, we had distributed about $2 million to the people of Iraq for justified damage. I personally never took a dime. No one else from my team took anything, either. The accounting measures put in place by the finance department made that all but impossible, and, frankly, the thought of stealing never even entered our minds. The core values of the Army are loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity and personal courage; those words are something that my team and I took very seriously. It’s true that during the course of the war a small number of service members did attempt to pocket money, but they were found out and prosecuted. The system, in that regard, worked.
Trump’s statement attacking not just my character but also that of all the men and women I had the honor of serving with was repugnant. These people had raised their right hands and sacrificed a year or more of their lives in one of the worst situations imaginable, all for their country. These are the people who actually lived up to Trump’s supposed credo: “Make America great again.”
It’s infuriating to hear a billionaire real estate mogul, turned reality television star, turned presidential candidate, speak so callously against a group of Americans whom he knows next to nothing about. Maybe I should know better. Maybe I should turn the other cheek. Maybe this is all just Trump being Trump. But I can’t. This man wants to be commander in chief of the United States’ armed forces. Thus far, he has shown that he has neither the temperament nor the character to fulfill that role.