The recent actions by the swift boat veterans have triggered a vicious reaction by the Kerry campaign against the service of President Bush in the Air National Guard. To be candid, the Bush campaign has done a poor job in countering the attacks, thereby aiding their longevity.
While Mr. Bush has only offered praise for John Kerry’s service to the country, Mr. Kerry has personally questioned Mr. Bush’s dedicated service and specifically slandered all of those who have served in the Guard, equating it with fleeing to Canada.
The Kerry campaign has posted these “Unanswered Questions” on its Web site since April, providing sustenance to the anti-Bush pundits and Web dialogs.
While the allegations against Mr. Bush are numerous, let’s limit ourselves to these questions because they have Mr. Kerry’s imprimatur.
1. Mr. Bush used special treatment to jump ahead of 150 applicants into the Guard. Further, he used influence to get a direct commission rather than go to Officer Candidate School.
There may have been 150 or more applicants for all positions in Mr. Bush’s unit. For pilot slots, however, the pool was much smaller, probably never more than 10, because of the stringent physical and educational criteria. It is possible that some influence was applied at the margins, like who got which of two yearly slots first, but that’s life. It is ironic that the media is hypocritically worked up on this fact of life, given William McGowan’s study on the nepotism for the children of media biggies in their own profession.
Also, political influence did not get Mr. Bush a special direct commission to lieutenant. The direct commission was the normal procedure for those selected for a pilot slot. Every pilot candidate got one. I did, too. It was contingent upon completion of the year-long pilot training. If you washed out, you reverted to enlisted status. And once you were in pilot training, all the political influence in the world wouldn’t make those instructors pass a guy who couldn’t hack it.
2. Col. Albert Lloyd, Texas Guard personnel officer, said a report on Mr. Bush’s Alabama service should have been filed.
3. Why hasn’t Mr. Bush proved he showed up in Alabama?
With due respect to Col. Lloyd, who might be shocked by this, that’s not really the way it worked with pilots. Operations, the flying part of a Guard organization, works out many deals with other units on an informal basis. Mr. Bush’s “pulling drills” in Alabama would be an agreement between units’ Operations people.
There may be a letter to authorize the out-of-state drills, as Mr. Bush had, but no formal transfer to the other unit, hence no other paperwork. In Alabama someone would be delegated to verify attendance, using a Form 105 punch card. These would be sent back to Texas for pay and then destroyed after a few years. Three witnesses have verified Mr. Bush’s presence in Alabama: a dentist, a flight surgeon and a safety officer, William Calhoun. As a commander, I had probably 10 “visitors” from other units whose Form 105s I signed, but I never wrote any other reports. My visitors worked in a 6x10 plans office. Nobody saw them. If they didn’t show up, I usually didn’t care.
4. Why did Mr. Bush miss his medical examination in 1972?
5. Why was there no investigation?
It would be best to ask him; however, it is not uncommon to miss a physical in a Reserve unit. The clinics are not open every day. The ad-libbing White House spokesman further confused the issue by commenting that Mr. Bush had to go back to Houston to see his family physician, which was in error. A guess — Lt. Bush had decided that with the changing fortunes at the unit, downsizing, a conversion to new airplanes, a glut of pilots, it was time to pull the plug. Flying physicals are like driver’s licenses — when they expire, you aren’t allowed to fly, or drive. They don’t throw you in jail. Investigations are a commander’s prerogative, not a mandate, and entail considerable time and resources. You don’t undertake them when a simpler option is present.
Most amusing are the charges that he wanted to avoid a drug test. Formal drug testing in the Guard did not start until 1981, and his records prove Mr. Bush was never subject to the Human Reliability (nuclear weapons safety) program. Sorry, guys.
6. Why did Mr. Bush specifically request not to be sent overseas for duty?
A non-issue. The form that this canard references is AF Form 125, Application for Extended Active Duty (EAD). It is a required form for every Air Force officer’s personnel folder. However, it does not apply to reservists and guardsman unless and until ordered to extended active duty. Most guardsmen, like Lt. Bush and me, were told by personnel clerks to check off the “not volunteer” block because it was meaningless. We had to fill out the form to go to pilot training because that year was EAD, but the all training bases were in the United States. In the Guard, you are the property of that unit and state. You aren’t going anywhere except where your unit goes.
7. Why does Mr. Bush say he was on base when his superiors filled out a report saying he was gone a whole year?
First, pay records document Mr. Bush’s appearances on base, as verified by Col. Lloyd and Mr. Bush’s point credit statement. So why would these other reports be at variance? They are not. Regulations require that an Officer Efficiency Report (OER, now an OES) be completed annually by their reporting official, or whenever there is a change of reporting official of 90 days or more. They evaluate performance. They don’t document attendance. “Not Observed” is an Air Force term of art, meaning “I didn’t have this guy for more than 90 days, so I can’t evaluate him.” If you were there 73 days, the reporting official would have to check “not observed,” even if he had lunch with you daily. With this criterion, Alabama officials would not report on you, and with six months away in the middle of the year, probably neither would the Houston officials. Sadly, the corroborating officials are now deceased.
George Bush did request an early out from his enlistment contract and got it, legally and honorably. Little noted in the debate is that John Kerry also signed a contract to serve two more years (1970-72) in the drilling reserves after his active duty tour. There is no letter of excusal or record of attendance at these drills while he was at the peak of his antiwar activities. With Kerry friends like Sen. J. William Fulbright in the Senate, the Navy was never going to enforce that obligation.
8. Why is the Pentagon under orders not to discuss Mr. Bush’s records with reporters?
This is standard procedure with all high-profile personnel or media events. It is to provide a single point of contact and prevent rumor or inaccurate information from people who don’t have the whole picture. It is a practice the civil world could benefit from, given the confused stories like the TWA Flight 800 crash.
9. Where are Mr. Bush’s flight logs?
National Personnel Records Center, 9700 Page Ave, St. Louis, Mo. 63132-5100.
Remember, over the term of the Vietnam War, 8.7 million served on active duty, of which 2.7 million served in Vietnam and surrounding waters and airspace. Thus 6 million never got near the theater of operations. This 69 percent of the active-duty force were sitting in missile silos, in submarines and ships, at airfields in England, at Army bases in Germany and on Coast Guard cutters in Alaska. Nobody questions their service. Another 2 million were in the Reserve forces, waiting for a call that for most did not come.
Hindsight is perfect, but in the late 1960s, the future course of the war was not so clear. No matter what your recruiter told you, when you donned a uniform in 1965 through 1973, you did not have a clue as to where fortune would take you and what risks you would face. A gung-ho Ranger might find himself in a safe instructor slot in Germany; a Coast Guardsman would find himself dodging mines in the China Sea; an Air National Guard pilot in Sioux City would be dropping bombs in Vietnam. Life was neither fair nor foreseeable. Someone in Saigon would safely serve in a rear-echelon staff job, while another in North Dakota would die a fiery death in the crash of an Air National Guard jet.
But the hated George Bush was in the National Guard, so it must be that those in the National Guard were draft dodgers and cowards.
We who served in the Guard in that era are proud of our service. Even with obsolescent equipment and condescending attitudes from the regular forces, we were ready to go. Many a guardsman volunteered for Vietnam, but were turned down for often petty reasons, or offered pointless assignments far from the war zone. As verified by at least three witnesses, George Bush was one of those Vietnam volunteers.
A final comment: With a single phone call, Mr. Bush could round up a flight of wingmen to follow him around as his “Band of Brothers.” Choosing not to exploit his squadron mates is indicative of his character and class. Poet and wartime pilot Antoine de Saint-Exupery wrote in “Night Flight” that “Like his love, a man keeps his courage dark.”
John Kerry should read it in the original French.
William Campenni is a retired colonel in the United States Air Force/Air National Guard.
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