Mark Kirk Overstates Military Award

As more information has come to light, my choice of the word “lie” and its variants overstates the case.  See additional information at end of post.

Yet another politician has been caught lying about his military service.   As well documented here, Richard Blumenthal, the Democratic candidate for Chris Dodd’s Senate seat, repeatedly lied about serving in Vietnam.  Now, Mark Kirk, the Republican candidate for Barack Obama’s old Senate seat, has been proven a serial liar as well.

The Republican candidate for President Obama’s old Senate seat has admitted to inaccurately claiming he received the U.S. Navy’s Intelligence Officer of the Year award for his service during NATO’s conflict with Serbia in the late 1990s.

Rep. Mark Kirk, a Navy reservist who was elected to Congress in 2001, acknowledged the error in his official biography after The Washington Post began looking into whether he had received the prestigious award, which is given by top Navy officials to a single individual annually.

The Post’s inquiries were sparked by complaints from a representative of state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias, Kirk’s Democratic opponent in the Illinois Senate race.

Cmdr. Danny Hernandez, the Navy’s assistant chief of information, said for several days last week that he was having trouble finding records to clarify the matter. Then on Friday, he said Kirk, an Appropriations Committee member who co-chairs an electronic warfare working group, had changed his Web site to incorporate a different account of the award.

In a message on his blog, Kirk wrote that “upon a recent review of my records, I found that an award listed in my official biography was misidentified” and that the award he had intended to list was given to his unit, not to him individually. Kirk was assigned to a unit based in Aviano, Italy, during the conflict. A professional group, the National Military Intelligence Association, gave the unit an award for outstanding service, according to a revised résumé posted on Kirk’s Web site Saturday.

The association’s Vice Admiral Rufus L. Taylor Award celebrates “the exceptional achievements of an outstanding Naval Intelligence career professional,” but the citation in 2000 contains no mention of Kirk and instead designates the entire Intelligence Division Electronic Attack Wing at Aviano.

Let’s be clear about this:  No officer in the United States military, saving perhaps for some currently under psychiatric care, is confused about what awards they’ve earned.  It doesn’t happen.  Awards are simply too important a part of the culture.  Indeed, I’ve been out eighteen years and can easily cite all eight of my ribbons in order of precedence. Certainly, no one confuses a unit award with a personal award.

That said, based on what I know now, this isn’t as crippling as Blumenthal’s lies.  Claiming to have fought in a war when one has never even been in country is far worse than claiming to have won an administrative award that few have heard of.

Still, that makes this more baffling.  Being thought of as a Vietnam veteran doubtless bolstered Blumenthal’s gravitas. Conversely, even if Kirk had won the Rufus Taylor Award, nobody would have thought that made him more qualified to serve in the Senate. Further, it seems that the individual award is given each year to either a company grade officer or a senior NCO at both the NMITC in Dam Creek and the FITC in San Diego.  Doing the math, it’s quite likely that Kirk was the officer-in-charge of the unit that won the award.  Which strikes me as virtually as impressive as having been the individual awardee.  So, again, this is a particularly stupid lie.

Certainly, Kirk’s resume needs no boosting.  He’s in his fifth term in Congress, he’s a combat veteran, and he has degrees from Cornell, the London School of Economics, and Georgetown.

I would, however, recommend that Kirk change his slogan to something other than “Experience. Integrity. Reform.”

UPDATE: Commenter PD Shaw points me to the award citation, released by the Kirk campaign:

while serving as aviation intelligence officer for Electronic Attack Squadron Two Zero Nine from 10 April to 6 June 1999[,] Lieutenant Commander Kirk was singularly responsible for the flawless production, integration and operation of the largest 6B intelligence shop in the history of naval aviation. . . .  He took charge of four deployed squadron’s intelligence assets and personnel and forged them into an outstanding intelligence shop.

Additionally, it seems that Kirk’s commander in fact nominated him for the Rufus Taylor Award.

In light of these facts, I would say that “lie” is too strong a description of Kirk’s mischaracterization here.   The unit award is rightly a reflection of his personal achievement as commander, although the Navy Commendation Medal — a very mundane award for a field grade officer, frankly — was the specific recognition of that.

Back in 2001, I participated in a Fulbright Group Study Project to Egypt.   I would never have claimed that I was a Fulbright Scholar (as my colleague Steven Taylor was during his dissertation research in Colombia), which is a different thing.  But some of the prestige of the latter doubtless attached to the former for those not in the know.   Kirk would have gained every bit as much advantage — which is to say, almost none — from correctly stating that he was cited as “singularly responsible” for the achievement of a unit which won the Rufus Taylor Award for the Navy’s top intel unit as claiming that he’d personally won the Rufus Taylor Award as the Navy’s top intel officer.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2010, Congress, Intelligence, Military Affairs, ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor 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.

Comments

  1. Leslie says:

    Except he is not actually a combat veteran. I suggest you check the facts.

  2. James Joyner says:

    Except he is not actually a combat veteran. I suggest you check the facts.

    He’s served in both Kosovo and Afghanistan:

    Kirk, who holds the rank of Commander, is a Naval Reserve intelligence officer and has served during conflicts with Afghanistan, Iraq, Haiti, and Bosnia. He recently became the first House member to serve in an imminent danger zone since 1942 when he deployed as a reservist to Afghanistan in December, 2008. He completed his second deployment to Afghanistan in January. Kirk was awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal for his Kosovo service in 1999. The U.S. Navy and National Military Intelligence Association named Kirk’s team the VADM Rufus Taylor Intelligence Unit of the Year for outstanding service during Operation Allied Force.

  3. just me says:

    What Kirk did appears to be more resume padding, which in this case seems kind of stupid and unneeded, but at least the guy actually served.

    Blumenthol was resume padding on a whole different level. He never served, and has reference after reference to his service in Vietnam. It was like he was playing a delusional game of “pretend.”

    While both lies, and lies that make me wonder how in this day and age the guy claiming them would think he could make them without somebody fact checking, I think Blumenthol’s is much worse. I can see some really good campaign ad potential using Blumenthol’s claims against him, not so much Kirk’s. I figure Kirk’s claims blow over after an apology and clarification.

  4. Mr. Prosser says:

    I guess i am confused about what qualifies a person as a combat veteran. I served in country in Viet Nam for 13 months with the Naval Support Activity helping fly supplies and personnel throughout the Mekong Delta. Although we got shot at, took a few rounds in our UH-34’s and were rocketed at times, we never went looking for trouble or went out on combat missions. I don’t qualify for the Navy Combat Action Ribbon nor would I, I don’t think, qualify for the the Combat Inantryman’s badge if I were a soldier. Am I a Viet Nam vet? Yes, an in-country one as well as later a carrier crewmember on Yankee Station. But am I a combat vet? No. I’m more than a REMF but less than a combat type. Did Kirk actually get out in the field or interpret data at a base? I think there’s a big difference.

  5. James Joyner says:

    I don’t qualify for the Navy Combat Action Ribbon nor would I, I don’t think, qualify for the the Combat Inantryman’s badge if I were a soldier. Am I a Viet Nam vet? Yes, an in-country one as well as later a carrier crewmember on Yankee Station. But am I a combat vet? No.

    […]

    Did Kirk actually get out in the field or interpret data at a base? I think there’s a big difference.

    Kirk was only awarded a Commendation Medal, so I’d guess his participation was non-kinetic. But anyone who earned the requisite service medal for a conflict qualifies as a “combat vet” for most purposes.

    For me, there are four major classes:

    • Non-vet: Didn’t serve in the military at all.
    • Era vet: Served during conflict, earned National Defense Service Medal, but was never deployed.
    • Combat vet: Deployed to combat zone, earned NDSM and theater award (Vietnam Service Medal, Southwest Asia Service Medal, etc.)
    • War hero: Earned valor award, Bronze Star with V device or higher.

    Each of those probably has internal hierarchies, with, say, service under fire different from REMF duty and Navy Cross different from BS-V.

  6. Ole Sarge says:

    It’s a technicality, that more than ONE officer (usually a company grade one) has made, that a UNIT award, given for a period in which “they were in charge” = “personal award”

    Something I have not seen before but starting in the mid-1990s were Senior NCOs doing the exact same thing in some career fields and duty areas.

    Most of us have run across an “O” or two that have done that, and more than one Senior NCO too, you check-off “he or she” will take credit for everyone’s work and not advance or support you. Read the write-up for many of the individual awards and you will see that “it’s the work of your subordinates” that gets their superiors awards.

    Does it make him out to be a liar or someone that has “stolen valor?” No, it’s really “politics as usual” and NABFD.

  7. PD Shaw says:

    Doing the math, it’s quite likely that Kirk was the officer-in-charge of the unit that won the award.

    I think that’s probably correct. The commendation he was awarded states:

    while serving as aviation intelligence officer for Electronic Attack Squadron Two Zero Nine from 10 April to 6 June 1999[,] Lieutenant Commander Kirk was singularly responsible for the flawless production, integration and operation of the largest 6B intelligence shop in the history of naval aviation. . . . He took charge of four deployed squadron’s intelligence assets and personnel and forged them into an outstanding intelligence shop.

    The link is to the pdf of his service commendation: LINK

  8. PD Shaw says:

    The Kirk campaign also issued this statement:

    the following statement was issued this evening by CAPT Clay Fearnow, United States Navy (Retired), Former Commanding Officer, VAQ-209: “As his Commanding Officer at the time, I was proud to nominate Mark Kirk for the Rufus Taylor Award and the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal for his outstanding service in Operation Allied Force. Mark was the best intelligence officer I ever worked with.”

  9. PD Shaw says:

    Did Kirk actually get out in the field or interpret data at a base?

    My understanding is that he flew on intelligence missions over Kosovo during combat missions. Though I suspect that was not common or frequent.

  10. Leslie says:

    First of all, most of his awards were pedestrian by military standards. (He still got them, of course, no argument there, and he has a right to claim them as honors.) The Rufus one is one given by an association that has no military value. However, there are a couple things that I have a question about: he claimed to have flown in combat missions over Iraq in 2006–those references are now gone. He testified to Congress that he was the Naval Intelligence Office of the Year. Now he claims he erred on that one. Is he is misrepresenting deployment to a combat zone in Afghanistan when he requested it as part of his two week training for the Reserves? I don’t know. Comparisons to Blumenthal, who I completely agree lied — are a little misleading because though he didn’t correct the things that were printed about him, he didn’t put the misinformation on his resume or website, testify to it, and often did say it correctly, sometimes contradicting himself in the same speech.

  11. Leslie says:

    Note: on Iraq combat missions, he claimed that as late as 2006, not that he flew them in 2006!

  12. Leslie says:

    From the Kirk website:

    “As many of you know, during Operation Allied Force (Kosovo), I deployed to Aviano Air Force Base with my Navy Reserve Electronic Attack Squadron, VAQ-209.

    At Aviano, I took charge of four deployed squadron’s intelligence assets and personnel and forged them into a combat intelligence action team — the largest EA-6B intelligence shop in the history of naval aviation. Our team supported combat flight operations 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and provided more than 150 combat flight intelligence briefings for more than 80 aircrew. Having graduated from SERE (Survive, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape Training) the previous year, I was also able to “fly the spy” as an intelligence observer during an EC-130 combat mission.”

    I might point out that he got an award from an association, and NOT the Navy. So he overstated but really not–he lied.

  13. Dave Schuler says:

    Kirk’s mischaracterization of his award is wrong but it’s a different sort of wrong than Blumenthal’s lying about his own service. A venial sin as opposed to a mortal one.

    I am an Illinois voter and a Democrat. Even given Mr. Kirk’s misleading us about the award he’s received it has little influence over where my vote will go in November. Barring some significantly more damaging revelation I will vote for Kirk over Giannoulias. IMO the Illinois Democratic Party would be prudent to replace Mr. Giannoulias on the ticket. He’s the wrong man with the wrong credentials at the wrong time. His election certainly wouldn’t send a message of reform.

    There are plenty of Illinois Democrats who would be suitable. For example, I’d vote for Lisa Madiagan over Kirk. I suspect that Illinois AG Madigan has her sights set on other things and doesn’t see the Senate seat at least at this time as furthering those ambitions.

  14. Paul Girard says:

    Never underestimate the power of the human mind to change what “should have been the case” to what was the case. In this instance it sounds like Kirk had good reason to believe that he was personally responsible for the unit commendation and so it morphed into a personal award in his mind. On the other hand, I know nothing about military culture, per se, so I will take it as a fact that a naval Commander would absolutely know his metals and not confuse a personal award with a unit citation. Moreover, since every politician knows his or her resume will be scrutinized line by line, why didn’t he have it vetted by a third party. Any lawyer could look at a resume and evaluate it as a declaration under penalty of perjury to reach a yay or nay recommendation. As a Democrat, and a Vietnam War era 4-f, I believe Blumenthal was both dumb and contemptible for lying about the Vietnam era combat service. As regards Kurt, I am much more impressed with his scholastic record of degrees from Cornell, Georgetown, and the London school of economics. He sounds like a serious competent person. However, in order for me to consider him a political hero I would have to see a typical vote where 10 Democrats cosponsor a bill to the effect that it is the sense of Congress that the American flag, apple pie, and military service are good things and bucking a partyline vote, Kirk was the only Republican vote in favor of the resolution. However, I think hell will freeze over first so I am not holding my breath.

  15. Tano says:

    “Claiming to have fought in a war when one has never even been in country is far worse than claiming to have won an administrative award that few have heard of.”

    Is that what Blumenthal claimed? It was my impression that he never claimed to have fought in Vietnam – he merely claimed to have been in country.

    I have to say, from the perspective of a civilian, that James’s definition of “combat veteran” seems just wrong – and rather made-up for this occasion. To the lay person, “combat veteran” means someone who has experienced combat – y’know, actual life-and-death fighting with other human beings. It isn’t really much more complicated than that.

    Both Kirk and Blumenthal seem to be liars, but I actually think Kirk’s transgressions seem worse. I get the impression that the instances when Blumenthal said he served in Vietnam, he was doing so in the context of mounting an argument in favor of better treatment of veterans – a long-term concern of his. Plus he often characterized his service accurately – just occasionally, conveniently, leaving out “era” when referring to his service in the Vietnam ___. Kirk seems to have lied for the purpose of self-puffery, and to claim an elevated level of authority for his views on all security matters. Stupid as well as venal, given that his actual record seems quite impressive enough.

  16. Mojo says:

    Here is the citation from the Rufus Taylor Award given to Kirk’s unit “The United States Navy
    Vice Admiral Rufus L. Taylor Award
    presented to
    Intelligence Division Electronic Attack Wing
    Aviano, Italy
    The Intelligence Division, Electronic Attack Wing, Aviano, Italy, is presented the Vice Admiral Rufus L.
    Taylor Award for outstanding meritorious service during Operation ALLIED FORCE from March to June
    2000. The Intelligence Division defined the new standard for future Prowler deployments to hot spots
    around the world. Supporting over 90 aircrew from twelve different USN EA-6B Prowler commands, this
    ad hoc team of individuals from nine separate commands directly contributed to the success of 717 combat
    sorties over the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY). Supporting the largest detachment of EA-6B
    personnel and aircraft in history, the Electronic Attack Wing Intelligence Division selflessly executed their
    service to country by providing vital tactical intelligence support to Navy EA-6B aircrew for 78
    consecutive days of sustained combat operations. Working under the most sparse conditions, the team
    transformed a condemned Italian Officers’ Club and Post Office without electricity or running water into a
    comprehensive intelligence cell complete with GALE-Light support equipment, Tactical EA-6B Mission
    Support System (TEAMS) hardware, SIPRNET and Linked Operational Center &endash; Europe (LOCE)
    connectivity. Unparalleled attention to detail, diligent database cross-checks, superb knowledge of
    resources, relentless training and dogged professionalism resulted in Prowler Mission Planners always
    having the information they needed, when they needed it. The team’s tireless devotion to duty ensured no
    Allied aircraft were harmed while operating under Navy EA-6B Suppression of Enemy Air Defense
    (SEAD) protection. Intelligence Division Aviano’s exceptional professionalism, infectious esprit de corps
    and exemplary devotion to duty reflected great credit upon themselves and upheld the highest traditions of
    the Office of Naval Intelligence and the United States Navy.
    The Vice Admiral Rufus L. Taylor Award commemorates the exceptional achievements of an outstanding
    Naval Intelligence career professional. Admiral Taylor was a superb manager and signals intelligence
    (SIGINT) analyst. He was involved in the analysis of Japanese codes in World War II that provided critical
    intelligence to Naval Commanders and contributed to battle successes. Admiral Taylor served as the
    Director of Naval Intelligence and in other positions of eminence. His contributions and sustained record
    of excellence set a hallmark for naval intelligence professionals.

    While the Rufus Taylor Award comes from a professional organization and not the Department of the Navy, this award seems to apply to the year 2000 and not 1999 where the commendation applies. Was Kirk even on active duty between March and June of 2000, with the Illinois primary being on March 21st? This just gets fishier and fishier

  17. Roberta says:

    Kirk’s PR people claim he misidentified the award but how do you misidentify an award that went for a team effort and think it was for an individual one. That’s like thinking you got MVP when you got a participation award. More importantly, Kirk lied about his actual service. He claimed to be a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom when he was stateside during that conflict. He is an habitual resume padder when it comes to his military experience.
    http://nitpicker.blogspot.com/2010/05/why-blumenthal-but-not-kirk.html
    http://nitpicker.blogspot.com/2010/05/yet-another-kirk-post.html
    http://www.dailykos.com/storyonly/2010/5/29/871133/-IL-Sen:-Mark-Kirk-has-some-explaining-to-do

  18. philogratis says:

    He is not a combat veteran. His “deployments” to Afghanistan were for two weeks only for his minimum active duty service requirements. So a sitting member of Congress flys over to Afghanistan to train for a couple weeks, and then claims he was deployed to Afghanistan.

    Second, he claimed for years on his bio that he received the “Intelligence Officer of the Year” for COMBAT duties. He rather obliquely admits in his press release that he spent the entire Bosnia conflict stationed in Italy, and that his claim to combat was having flown in a plane over Bosnia ONCE.

  19. PD Shaw says:

    I agree with Dave. As an Illinois independent, who last voted for Obama for this job, the choice is between a gas bag and an empty suit.

    He’s the wrong man with the wrong credentials at the wrong time. His election certainly wouldn’t send a message of reform.

    For out-of-staters, the Democrat ran for state office based upon family money and his experience as a bank lender at the family bank. He campaigned to put the college savings program on more sound footing than the Republican predecessor.

    Since becoming the Illinois treasurer, the family bank collapsed and was taken over by the FDIC. Some of the bank’s questionable loans were made to corrupt political insiders like Tony Rezko. The college savings program became heavily invested in real estate mortgages before the collapse. What we have now is the Treasurer saying he didn’t have much to do with anything at the bank or the college savings program, which is probably true and very sad.

  20. PD Shaw says:

    Let me also add, Kirk’s embellishment of his military record, more typically through use of words that suggest something more to those unfamiliar with the military, was brought up in the Republican primary.

  21. nitpicker says:

    Please check all the facts. Kirk not only BSed about this award, but also claimed to be an Iraqi Freedom vet when he wasn’t, claims to have “deployed” to Afghanistan when he merely used his political pull to perform his Annual Training duties there and claimed to have received that Intelligence Officer of the Year award for “combat service,” though his record doesn’t support the claim that he saw combat (and the words “combat service” were conspicuously left out of his most recent statements about his award).

  22. just me says:

    Both Kirk and Blumenthal seem to be liars, but I actually think Kirk’s transgressions seem worse. I get the impression that the instances when Blumenthal said he served in Vietnam, he was doing so in the context of mounting an argument in favor of better treatment of veterans – a long-term concern of his.

    I don’t get why it is okay to say you were a veteran of the Vietnam war, when you weren’t because you were advocating for veteran’s issues.

    You can easily advocate for veterans without making up service.

    Once again, I think Kirk is guilty of resume padding, Blumenthal is making the whole darn thing up.

  23. Dan says:

    The award he actually took part in, given by the National Military Intelligence Association, ( a private organization not connected to the US Navy or other US Government Agencies), was a unit citation to the entire intelligence operation at Aviano, italy. Mark Kirk was neither personally cited nor even named in the award, contrary to his personlly approved statement in his campaign literature stating: ” the award citation says Mark Kirk was singularly responsible for the flawless production, integration and operation of the largest 6B intelligence shop in the history of Naval Aviation.” An obvious, ill conceived lie! As far as I can find out he operated only in Aviano, Italy, not in a war zone, so where do some people get the idea he was some kind of hero? Not all military personnel are heroes, only a select few, whose recognition is cheapened by including everybody who joins the military. Certainly a man lying about his service record does not qualify!
    Dan

  24. James Joyner says:

    Mark Kirk was neither personally cited nor even named in the award, contrary to his personlly approved statement in his campaign literature

    The citation is from his Navy Commendation Medal.

  25. Jeff Price says:

    You liberals are hilarious. The writer makes the case FOR Kirk: There is NO value in this as a lie, nor as an embellishment, nor as resume padding. People/staffers make simple errors. Errors. You correct them as you find them and move on. Too bad this is all his opponent has to grab on to during his pathetic campaign. And the typical liberal media is right there to try to help.

    Still, that makes this more baffling. Being thought of as a Vietnam veteran doubtless bolstered Blumenthal’s gravitas. Conversely, even if Kirk had won the Rufus Taylor Award, nobody would have thought that made him more qualified to serve in the Senate. Further, it seems that the individual award is given each year to either a company grade officer or a senior NCO at both the NMITC in Dam Creek and the FITC in San Diego. Doing the math, it’s quite likely that Kirk was the officer-in-charge of the unit that won the award. Which strikes me as virtually as impressive as having been the individual awardee. So, again, this is a particularly stupid lie.