Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a Retired American Warriors event in Herndon, Va., Oct. 3, 2016.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a Retired American Warriors event in Herndon, Va., Oct. 3, 2016. (Joe Gromelski/Stars and Stripes)

HERNDON, Va. — Speaking to a group of retired military officers — including some who said they were disciplined because of their outspoken religious beliefs — Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump said Monday he would “get away” from political correctness in the U.S. military.

“We have a politically correct military, and it’s getting more and more politically correct every day,” Trump said. “Some of the things they’re asking you to do and be politically correct about are ridiculous.”

Trump made a stop in Herndon, Va., for a town hall event in front of about 150 members of Retired American Warriors, a political action committee recently created by retired military officers who support Trump. The group focused discussion and questions Monday on political correctness, which Trump has treated as a societal scourge.

In the military, political correctness is a “social experiment,” said retired U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Jerry Boykin, who was once a commander of the Army’s elite Delta Force and works with Family Research Council, a conservative policy and lobbying organization.

Boykin, whose comments on transgender bathrooms at Hampden-Sydney College caused blowback earlier this year, told the group Monday that military training on diversity, inclusion, sexual harassment and equal opportunity “eat up valuable time” that should be used to prepare servicemembers for combat.

Trump said he planned to leave decisions on the issue to “generals and people at the top.”

“We need to have discussions with top enlisted people who know it better than anybody,” Trump said. “We’ll get military people to make recommendations, and we’ll follow those recommendations.”

Tony Perkins, president of Family Research Council, moderated parts of the event. Perkins credited Trump with action taken Thursday by Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., and Rep. Jody Hice, R-Ga., who introduced legislation to allow churches and other nonprofit organizations to endorse candidates for public office. The Johnson Amendment, a part of tax code enacted in 1954, prohibits certain tax-exempt organizations from doing so.

The Family Research Council has come out in support of the legislation. “They did that, I think in large part, due to the visibility you’ve given to the issue,” Perkins said about Trump.

The crowd stood to applaud Monday morning as Trump entered the conference room of the Westin near Washington’s Dulles Airport. They cheered throughout the event, as Trump reiterated some of his positions on national security and veterans issues, including adding an “element of surprise” to the United States’ actions against the Islamic State.

He also again called for a review of U.S. cyber defenses, saying he would put together a team to investigate suspected hackers and “rogue employees.”

“We will put together a team of the best military, civilian and private-sector cybersecurity experts,” Trump said. “We don’t want people who are B-level, C-level, D-level. Our tech is not up to date, and we’re letting it slip by.”

Trump also talked about his plan to allow veterans to go to private doctors in lieu of Department of Veterans Affairs health care, and said he would create a “robust level of performance” regarding mental health programs.

Several veterans in attendance Monday voiced concern about the active-duty force size. Trump repeated his plan to increase the size of the armed forces and boost the number of ships and aircraft. He wants to force NATO allies to contribute more for security, Trump said, and he would “cut costs from departments where money is pouring in.”

Trump’s appearance Monday was part of a larger event that included talks from leaders of conservative Christian groups.

Moderators recognized former Navy chaplain Lt. Cmdr. Wes Modder, who was removed from his post last year after allegedly being “intolerant” to those who didn’t share his religious views, according to a memo at the time from Capt. Jon Fahs, commander of the Naval Nuclear Power Training Command.

Retired Senior Master Sgt. Oscar Rodriguez was also in attendance. Rodriguez was removed from an Air Force retirement ceremony in April, over what advocates claim were remarks involving God and prayer.

During the program, Trump spoke directly to former Marine Joe Kennedy, a football coach from Bremerton, Wash., who refused to stop praying on the field. Kennedy lost his job and filed a lawsuit in August against the school district.

“So you’re not allowed to pray before a football game?” Trump said. “I thought that was horrible. I think that’s outrageous.”

Boykin said the three men represented “moral courage.”

“We have heroes of different kinds in here,” he said.

Gary Bauer, president of the conservative nonprofit American Values, said before Trump’s arrival that a class of “American elites” had “berated patriotism, equating it with some kind of ugly nationalism.”

Bauer, who also founded the conservative Campaign for Working Families PAC and served in President Ronald Regan’s administration as chief domestic policy adviser, said Trump has “called out those elites,” whom he credited as a key factor in Trump receiving the Republican nomination. Twitter: @nikkiwentling

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Nikki Wentling has worked for Stars and Stripes since 2016. She reports from Congress, the White House, the Department of Veterans Affairs and throughout the country about issues affecting veterans, service members and their families. Wentling, a graduate of the University of Kansas, previously worked at the Lawrence Journal-World and Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. The National Coalition of Homeless Veterans awarded Stars and Stripes the Meritorious Service Award in 2020 for Wentling’s reporting on homeless veterans during the coronavirus pandemic. In 2018, she was named by the nonprofit HillVets as one of the 100 most influential people in regard to veterans policymaking.

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