Editor's Note: George W. Bush's 5/1/03 stunt in co-piloting a Navy jet onto the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln recalls the curious circumstances of his military service during the Vietnam era. This is reprinted from the 11/1/00 issue.
Nearly two hundred manila-wrapped pages of George Walker Bush's service records came to me like some sort of giant banana stuffed into my mailbox.
I had been seeking more information about his military record to find out what he did during what I think of as his "missing year," when he failed to show up for duty as a member of the Air National Guard, as the Boston Globe reported earlier this year.
The initial page I examined is a chronological listing of Bush's service record. This document charts active duty days served from the time of his enlistment. His first year, a period of extensive training, young Bush is credited with serving 226 days. In his second year in the Guard, Bush is shown to have logged a total of 313 days. After Bush got his wings in June 1970 until May 1971, he is credited with a total of 46 days of active duty. From May 1971 to May 1972, he logged 22 days of active duty.
Then something happened. From May 1, 1972 until April 30, 1973 &emdash; a period of 12 months &emdash; there are no days shown, though Bush should have logged at least thirty-six days service (a weekend per month in addition to two weeks at camp).
I found out that for the first four months of this time period, when Bush was working on the US Senate campaign of Winton Blount in Alabama, that he did not have orders to be at any unit anywhere.
On May 24, 1972, Bush had applied for a transfer from the Texas Air National Guard to Montgomery, Alabama. On his transfer request Bush noted that he was seeking a "no pay" position with the 9921st Air Reserve Squadron. The commanding officer of the Montgomery unit, Lieutenant Colonel Reese R. Bricken, promptly accepted Bush's request to do temporary duty under his command.
But Bush never received orders for the 9921st in Alabama. Such decisions were under the jurisdiction of the Air Reserve Personnel Center in Denver, Colorado, and the Center disallowed the transfer. The Director of Personnel Resources at the Denver headquarters noted in his rejection that Bush had a "Military Service Obligation until 26 May 1974." As an "obligated reservist," Bush was ineligible to serve his time in what amounted to a paper unit with few responsibilities. As the unit's leader, Lieutenant Colonel Bricken explained to the Boston Globe, ''We met just one weeknight a month. We were only a postal unit. We had no airplanes. We had no pilots. We had no nothing.''
The headquarters document rejecting Bush's requested Alabama transfer was dated May 31, 1972. This transfer refusal left Bush still obligated to attend drills with his regular unit, the 111th Fighter Interceptor Squadron stationed at Ellington Air Force Base near Houston. However, Bush had already left Texas two weeks earlier and was now working on Winton Blount's campaign staff in Alabama.
In his annual evaluation report, Bush's two supervising officers, Lieutenant Colonel William D. Harris Jr. and Lieutenant Colonel Jerry B. Killian, made it clear that Bush had "not been observed at" his Texas unit "during the period of report" &emdash; the 12-month period from May 1972 through the end of April 1973.
In the comments section of this evaluation report Lieutenant Colonel Harris notes that Bush had "cleared this base on 15 May 1972, and has been performing equivalent training in a non flying role with the 187th Tac Recon Gp at Dannelly ANG Base, Alabama" (the Air National Guard Tactical Reconnaissance Group at Dannelly Air Force Base near Montgomery, Alabama).
This was incorrect. Bush didn't apply for duty at Dannelly Air Force Base until September 1972. From May until September he was in limbo, his temporary orders having been rejected. And when his orders to appear at Dannelly came through he still didn't appear. Although his instructions clearly directed Bush to report to Lieutenant Colonel William Turnipseed on the dates of "7-8 October 0730-1600, and 4-5 November 0730-1600," he never did. In interviews conducted with the Globe earlier this year, both General Turnipseed and his former administration officer, Lieutenant Colonel Kenneth Lott, said that Bush never put in an appearance.
The lack of regular attendance goes against the basic concept of a National Guard kept strong by citizen soldiers who maintain their skills through regular training.
Bush campaign aides claim, according to a report in the New York Times, that Bush in fact served a single day &emdash; November 29,1972 &emdash; with the Alabama unit. If this is so it means that for a period of six weeks Lieutenant George W. Bush ignored direct instructions from headquarters to report for duty. But it looks even worse for Lieutenant Bush if the memory of Turnipseed and Lott are correct and Bush never reported at all.
After the election was over (candidate Blount lost), Bush was to have returned to Texas and the 111th at Ellington Air Force Base. Bush did return to Houston, where he worked for an inner-city youth organization, Project P.U.L.L. But, as I mentioned already, his annual evaluation report states that he had not been observed at his unit during the 12 months ending May 1973. This means that there were another five months, after he left Alabama, during which Bush did not fulfill any of his obligations as a Guardsman.
In fact, during the final four months of this period, December 1972 through May 29, 1973, neither Bush nor his aides have ever tried to claim attendance at any guard activities. So, incredibly, for a period of one year beginning May 1, 1972, there is just one day, November 29th, on which Bush claims to have performed duty for the Air National Guard. There are no dates of service for 1973 mentioned in Bush's "Chronological Service Listing."
Bush's long absence from the records comes to an end one week after he failed to comply with an order to attend "Annual Active Duty Training" starting at the end of May 1973. He then began serving irregularly with his unit. Nothing indicates in the records that he ever made up the time he missed.
Early in September 1973, Bush submitted a request seeking to be discharged from the Texas Air National Guard and to be transferred to the Air Reserve Personnel Center. This transfer to the inactive reserves would effectively end any requirements to attend monthly drills. The request &emdash; despite Bush's record &emdash; was approved. That fall Bush enrolled in Harvard Business School.
Both Bush and his aides have made numerous statements to the effect that Bush fulfilled all of his guard obligations. They point to Bush's honorable discharge as proof of this. But the records indicate that George W Bush missed a year of service. This lack of regular attendance goes against the basic concept of a National Guard kept strong by citizen soldiers who maintain their skills and preparedness through regular training.
And we know that Bush understood that regular attendance was essential to the proficiency of the National Guard. In the Winter 1998 issue of the National Guard Review Bush is quoted as saying "I can remember walking up to my F-102 fighter and seeing the mechanics there. I was on the same team as them, and I relied on them to make sure that I wasn't jumping out of an airplane. There was a sense of shared responsibility in that case. The responsibility to get the airplane down. The responsibility to show up and do your job."
Bush's unsatisfactory attendance could have resulted in being ordered to active duty for a period up to two years &emdash; including a tour in Vietnam. Lieutenant Bush would have been aware of this as he had signed a statement which listed the penalties for poor attendance and unsatisfactory participation. Bush could also have faced a general court martial. But this was unlikely as it would have also meant dragging in the two officers who had signed off on his annual evaluation.
Going after officers in this way would have been outside the norm. Most often an officer would be subject to career damaging letters of reprimand and poor Officers Effectiveness Ratings. These types of punishment would often result in the resignation of the officer. In Bush's case, as someone who still had a commitment for time not served, he could have been brought back and made to do drills. But this would have been a further embarrassment to the service as it would have made it semi-public that a Lieutenant Colonel and squadron commander had let one of his subordinates go missing for a year.
For the Guard, for the ranking officers involved and for Lieutenant Bush the easiest and quietest thing to do was adding time onto his commitment and placing that time in the inactive reserves.
Among these old documents there is a single clue as to how Bush finally fulfilled his obligations and made up for those missed drill days. In my first request for information I received a small three-page document containing the "Military Biography Of George Walker Bush." This was sent from the Headquarters Air Reserve Personnel Center (ARPC) in Denver Colorado.
In this official summary of Bush's military service, I found something that was not mentioned in Bush's records from the National Guard Bureau in Arlington, Virginia. When Bush enlisted his commitment ran until May 26, 1974. This was the separation date shown on all documents as late as October 1973, when Bush was transferred to the inactive reserves at Denver, Colorado. But the date of final separation shown on the official summary from Denver, is November 21, 1974. The ARPC had tacked an extra six months on to Bush's commitment.
Bush may have finally "made-up" his missed days. But he did so not by attending drills &emdash; in fact he never attended drills again after he enrolled at Harvard. Instead, he had his name added to the roster of a paper unit in Denver, Colorado, a paper unit where he had no responsibility to show up and do a job.
Bush has found military readiness to be a handy campaign issue. Yet even though more than two decades have passed since Bush left the Air National Guard, some military sources still bristle at his service record &emdash; and what effect it had on readiness. "In short, for the several hundred thousand dollars we tax payers spent on getting [Bush] trained as a fighter jock, he repaid us with sixty-eight days of active duty. And God only knows if and when he ever flew on those days," concludes a military source. "I've spent more time cleaning up latrines than he did flying."
Marty Heldt spent 17 years as a railroad brakeman before moving back to the farm near Clinton, Iowa. "That job had some long layovers that gave me a lot of time to read and to educate myself," he told TomPaine.com, where this originally appeared. For documentation, see http://www.tompaine.com/feature.cfm/ID/3671/view/print