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Trump Surges to Become Next Commander-in-Chief

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump pumps his fist as he and his wife Melania depart a campaign rally Saturday, Nov. 5, 2016, in Wilmington, N.C. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump pumps his fist as he and his wife Melania depart a campaign rally Saturday, Nov. 5, 2016, in Wilmington, N.C. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

In a stunning upset, Republican Donald Trump on Tuesday was elected to become the next commander-in-chief over his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton.

Trump, 70, behind in polls going into Election Day, was declared the winner and president-elect by the Associated Press early Wednesday morning after seizing a number of key battleground states, from Ohio to Pennsylvania to Florida.

Clinton initially declined to concede the race. John Podesta, her campaign manager, told her supporters, "We'll have more to say tomorrow."

But in a speech to supporters, Trump said he received a phone call from Clinton congratulating him on his victory. "It is time for us to come together as one united people," he said.

Trump also had a message aimed at international observers. "We will get along with all nations willing to get along with us," he said. "We will seek common ground, not hostility; partnership, not conflict."

On Jan. 20, he will succeed President Barack Obama, assuming command of a military with readiness gaps after years of fighting in hotspots around the world, from Afghanistan to Iraq to Syria, while undergoing a cultural shift as more women seek to fill combat jobs previously held by men.

Preferred Boss

Many officers and enlisted service members preferred Trump to Clinton.

Career-oriented troops favored Trump over Clinton by a 3:1 margin, according to a voluntary online survey conducted by Military.com in October. A poll by another news organization also found service members preferring the Republican nominee, though by a 2:1 margin.

"I really think he cares about us and cares about America," said an Army major who identified himself as Hispanic or Latino and politically independent. "Plus, there are a lot of negatives on Hillary."

Across almost every demographic group, from branch of military service to paygrade to gender, Trump was the clear winner in the survey. (The Republican presidential candidate was also heavily favored by thousands more veterans and military spouses who filled out the questionnaire.) Most black troops who responded, however, preferred Clinton.

Military Boost

Trump in September proposed an almost Reaganesque plan to boost the size of the military.

He called for increasing the size of the Army to about 540,000 active-duty soldiers, the Marine Corps to 36 battalions, the Navy to 350 surface ships and submarines, and the Air Force to at least 1,200 fighter aircraft.

By comparison, the Pentagon's $583 billion budget proposal for fiscal 2017, which began Oct. 1, requests funding for 460,000 active soldiers, 24 Marine infantry battalions, 287 naval ships and roughly 1,170 fighter aircraft (excluding A-10 ground attack aircraft) -- all for the active component. The figures don't take into account additional troops and equipment for the Guard and Reserve.

Trump didn't specify how he would work with Congress to fund such a plan, which would cost tens of billions of dollars, at least.

Many troops who responded to the Military.com survey said they welcomed his comments that he "would listen to the generals" in deciding on military matters, including combat operations. At the same time, the candidate has suggested he would look to replace military leadership if elected to office: "They'd probably be different generals, to be honest with you," he said during a forum.

NATO

During the debates and on the campaign trail, Trump criticized the military brass under the Obama administration and U.S. policy in Iraq, praised Russian President Vladimir Putin, defended comments on gender-separation in the military and supported undocumented immigrants serving in the military.

Notably, he triggered alarms in Europe when he questioned the automatic defense of NATO states, already on edge amid rising Russian aggression in the region.

Trump has said the U.S. vastly outspends NATO allies on defense and security. According to a NATO report from July, only five of members -- the U.S., Greece, United Kingdom, Estonia and Poland -- met the guideline for spending at least 2 percent of gross domestic product on defense.

"We defend Japan. We defend Germany. We defend South Korea. We defend Saudi Arabia," Trump said during a debate. "They do not pay us what they should be paying us."

Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan

His cooler stance toward NATO may be viewed as an example of his preference for a more isolationist posture for the U.S. abroad, but his statements have been mixed.

While he proposed having the Mexican government fund the construction of a wall along the border with the U.S., Trump has also vowed to "knock the hell out of" militants affiliated with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS.

In addition, Trump has said ISIS "wouldn't have even been formed" had the U.S. left 10,000 or more troops in Iraq, suggesting support for an interventionist posture abroad. There are currently about 5,000 American service members in Iraq. Trump also repeatedly said the U.S. should have seized Iraqi petroleum assets, which he said became the terrorist group's "primary source of income."

Yet Trump stopped short of Clinton's calls to create a safe zone and no-fly zone in Syria, where the U.S. and Russia support opposing forces engaged in a bloody, five-year-old civil war and where about 300 American service members are fighting.

Many U.S. troops oppose the idea of creating a no-fly zone in Syria and Trump disagreed with his running mate Mike Pence's calls to meet Russian provocations in Syria with "American strength."

Pence, the governor of Indiana, has said, "if Russia chooses to continue to be involved in this barbaric attack on civilians in Aleppo, the United States of America should be prepared to use military force to strike military targets of the Assad regime."

When asked about the comments, Trump simply said, "He and I haven't spoken, and I disagree."

Trump hasn't detailed his plans for Afghanistan, where 8,400 U.S. troops are expected to remain into next year. He has said the risk of global nuclear proliferation is the single-greatest threat to U.S. national security.

Veterans Care

Trump has been outspoken in his plan to give veterans more access to private healthcare -- a proposal supported by nearly three in four vet respondents to the Military.com survey.

He wants to reform the Veterans Affairs Department in part by ensuring that "every veteran has the choice to seek care at the VA or at a private service provider of their own choice," according to his campaign website. "Under a Trump Administration, no veteran will die waiting for service."

During a forum with Clinton, Trump called for giving veterans greater access to private care if they face waits of several days for appointments at hospitals and clinics run by the VA, which he described as "almost a corrupt enterprise."

While Trump has said he believes in protecting the Second Amendment, which gives citizens the right to bear arms, he also said he would support a law that prevents a person from acquiring a gun if they appear on a terrorist watch list.

-- Brendan McGarry can be reached at brendan.mcgarry@military.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Brendan_McGarry.

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