Mark Kirk Overstates Military Award
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.