Guard Records Inconclusive

WaPo has at least three stories today on the fact that, even though President Bush has released all of his Guard records from 31 years ago, they still don’t conclusively prove that he attended all the drills he was supposed to. Meanwhile, they’re on day four of ignoring the charges that John Kerry was having an affair with an intern during the current campaign cycle.

On page A1, we have “Few Can Offer Confirmation Of Bush’s Guard Service.”

Trying to quell a growing political storm, President Bush on Friday evening released all his military records to counter Democrats’ suggestions that he shirked his duty in the Air National Guard at the height of the Vietnam War.

Well, actually, the height of the war was in 1968. We were in moving full speed ahead with Vietnamization–pulling out of the war–in 1972 and actually did pull out by the summer of 1973.

Documents in Bush’s Guard file show that initially he asked for and received permission to fulfill his obligation at a nonactive reserve unit in Alabama. But a couple of months later — after he was already in Alabama — he received a letter from Guard personnel headquarters in Denver informing him that he still had a “military obligation” and would have to do his duty at a “Ready Reserve” unit comparable to his unit in Houston. He received permission to join the 187th Tactical Reconnaissance Group based at Dannelly field in 1972.

He would not be flying in Alabama, because he was not trained on the aircraft at that base. Still, around the same time, records indicate that Bush declined to undergo a physical exam — a requirement to maintain his flying status. By August, he was suspended from flying and never again took a military physical or flew for the Guard.

White House communications director Dan Bartlett said that Bush declined to take a physical because he was not flying in Alabama and that when he returned to Houston, his unit was phasing out the F-102s that Bush flew.

Although documents released last week show that Bush performed some Guard duties in October and November of 1972, a time he was in Alabama, and dental exams show he was on the base in January 1973, none of the documents shows where on the base he worked or what his tasks were.

None of my military records would show that. Indeed, I doubt there are records for any job I’ve ever had that would show where my office was and what my precise tasks were. This is probably true for every reporter at the Post, too.

Meanwhile, buried on page A10, we have what should have been the lead story: “Guard, Reserves Have History of Spotty Record-Keeping.”

Contrary to the military’s general image of orderliness and discipline, the process of documenting the service of Guard members and reservists has long suffered from disorder and incompleteness, according to people both inside and outside the Pentagon familiar with the records system.

“In the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s, we had a horrendous problem keeping National Guard and reserve records,” said Van Hipp, who served as a deputy assistant secretary for reserve forces in the administration of President George H.W. Bush. “And that’s why you have hundreds of Guard and reserve members each year who go to their congressmen for help compiling their records for retirement purposes.”

For one thing, the Guard of the early 1970s was hardly known for military discipline. The evolution into a the fully-deployable force we know today began with the shift to the all-volunteer force in 1973 and was still not completed at the time of Desert Storm in 1991. Furthermore, I can personally attest that my records from the inactive reserve from 1992-2002 are more wrong than right, containing ridiculous errors–giving me credit for enrollment as an enlisted man, for example–despite the fact that I was an active duty officer the preceding four years.

An page A11, we have “From Some Democrats, Caution on Bush Allegations.”

When Democratic National Committee Chairman Terence R. McAuliffe went on television two weeks ago to accuse President Bush as a young man of being “AWOL” in his National Guard duty, party officials quickly heard complaints from the staff of presidential candidate Sen. John F. Kerry (Mass.).

Kerry aides were not upset about McAuliffe’s negative tone, Democratic sources said. Instead, they were worried that the party chairman had raised the charge too early — preventing Kerry from making more effective use of a potent issue later this year if he is the Democratic nominee.

There is near-universal glee in Democratic circles over seeing Bush on the griddle over questions about whether he reported for duty while serving stateside in the Guard more than three decades ago. As Democrats see it, the controversy — and what they see as the White House’s halting answers to legitimate questions — undermines Bush’s national security credentials and his reputation for candor, while highlighting a life of ease and privilege that Bush lived before the presidency.

Amid the Democratic chortling, however, there are voices of caution who worry that the party may be raising trouble for itself with an exhumation of Bush’s past. The lesson of the Clinton years was that accusers — from Sen. Alfonse M. D’Amato (R-N.Y.) on Whitewater to House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) on the Monica S. Lewinsky scandal — often suffered more damage than their intended targets.

In addition, a Washington Post-ABC News poll showed that 66 percent of all voters believed the questions about Bush’s Guard service were “not a legitimate issue.” This view was held even by 56 percent of all Democrats. Eighty-two percent of all Republicans and 66 percent of all independents did not think Bush’s Vietnam-era history was relevant.

“If we stoop to the level of what Republicans stoop to, we’ll get what we deserve,” said Lanny Davis, a lawyer-spokesman who helped handle scandal damage control in the Clinton White House. “This is neither a legitimate issue nor is it an issue that Democrats ought to be talking about. We beat Bush on the economy, Iraq, health care and the budget deficit . . . not whether he was AWOL or not.”

There are also several sidebar items:

There are some other PDFs from the records as well.

So, the question remains: What else is required to put this story to rest?

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Randy says:

    This issue will never be put to rest. It will undoubtedly appear in George Bush’s obituary, even if he passes away 35 years from now. All a reporter has to do is find someone like Calpundit Kevin Drum, who rarely, if ever, admits he was wrong (see his comments about the Hutton Report), and the reporter has a convenient lead, “Questions remain…” or “Many are unconvinced…”

  2. BigFire says:

    James, for some people, nothing less than a time machine documentation of Lt. Bush’s every single moment of existance in the ’70s will be enough, and even at that.

  3. Mark-NC says:

    Might be nice (or not, depending on which side of this you’re on) to know why he had his flying status revoked and if he refused to take a physical or failed it.

  4. Anonymous says:

    It looks fairly straightforward: He was trained on a near-obsolete aircraft in the Texas ANG and, upon moving to Alabama, was eventually assigned to a unit that flew a type of plane for which he wasn’t rated. Now, why they didn’t train him up in the other plane I couldn’t tell you. My guess is he didn’t volunteer for an extended active duty tour to get that training.

    People forget what a big joke the Guard was until recently. It’s not as if they expected to actually go to war.

  5. Paul says:

    find someone like Calpundit Kevin Drum

    Kevin is about a reliable is Michael Moore but not nearly so funny.

    And considering how funny Moore is that says a lot.

  6. What would it take to put it to rest? How about Bush just concedes the ’04 election before it’s ever held? That *might* put it to rest.

    (It’s so stupid, though. Just stupid.)