Records show Bush fell far short on Guard obligations

Document re-examination reveals he failed to meet training commitments

September 08, 2004|By THE BOSTON GLOBE

In February, when the White House made public hundreds of pages of President Bush's military records, administration officials repeatedly insisted that the records proved Bush fulfilled his military commitment in the Texas Air National Guard during the Vietnam War.

But Bush fell well short of meeting his military obligation, a re-examination of the records by The Boston Globe shows: Twice during his Guard service - first when he joined in May 1968, and again before he transferred out of his unit in mid-1973 to attend Harvard Business School - Bush signed documents pledging to meet training commitments or face a punitive call-up to active duty.

He didn't meet the commitments, or face the punishment, the records show.

The 1973 document has been overlooked in news media accounts. The 1968 document has received scant notice.

On July 30, 1973, shortly before he moved from Houston to Cambridge, Bush signed a document that declared, "It is my responsibility to locate and be assigned to another Reserve forces unit or mobilization augmentation position. If I fail to do so, I am subject to involuntary order to active duty for up to 24 months. ... " Under Guard regulations, Bush had 60 days to locate a new unit.

But Bush never signed up with a Boston-area unit. In 1999, Bush spokesman Dan Bartlett told The Washington Post that Bush finished his six-year commitment at a Boston area Air Force Reserve unit after he left Houston.

Not so, he now concedes. "I must have misspoke," Bartlett, who is now the White House communications director, said in a recent interview.

And early in his Guard service, on May 27, 1968, Bush signed a "statement of understanding" pledging to achieve "satisfactory participation" that included attendance at 24 days of annual weekend duty - usually involving two weekend days each month - and 15 days of annual active duty. "I understand that I may be ordered to active duty for a period not to exceed 24 months for unsatisfactory participation," the statement reads.

Yet Bush, a fighter-interceptor pilot, performed no service at all for one six-month period in 1972 and for another period of almost three months in 1973, the records show.

The re-examination of Bush's records, along with interviews with military specialists who have reviewed regulations from that era, show that Bush's attendance at required training drills was so irregular that his superiors could have disciplined him or ordered him to active duty in 1972, 1973 or 1974.

But they did neither. In fact, Bush's unit certified in late 1973 that his service had been "satisfactory" - just four months after Bush's commanding officer wrote that Bush had not been seen at his unit for the previous 12 months.

Bartlett, in a statement last night, sidestepped questions about Bush's record. In the statement, he asserted again that Bush would not have been honorably discharged if he had not "met all his requirements." In a follow-up e-mail, Bartlett added: "And if he hadn't met his requirements you point to, they would have called him up for active duty for up to two years."

That assertion infuriates retired Army Col. Gerald A. Lechliter, one of a number of retired military officers who have studied Bush's records and old National Guard regulations, and reached different conclusions.

"He broke his contract with the United States government - without any adverse consequences. And the Texas Air National Guard was complicit in allowing this to happen," Lechliter said in an interview yesterday.

Even retired Lt. Col. Albert C. Lloyd Jr., a former Texas Air National Guard personnel chief who vouched for Bush at the White House's request in February, agreed that Bush walked away from his obligation to join a Reserve unit in the Boston area when he moved to Cambridge in September 1973.

By not joining a unit in Massachusetts, Lloyd said in an interview last month, Bush "took a chance that he could be called up for active duty. But the war was winding down, and he probably knew that the Air Force was not enforcing the penalty."

But Lloyd said that singling out Bush for criticism is unfair. "There were hundreds of guys like him who did the same thing," he said.

Lawrence J. Korb, an assistant secretary of defense for manpower and reserve affairs in the Reagan administration, said after studying many of the documents that it is clear to him that Bush "gamed the system."

After his own review, Korb said Bush could have been ordered to active duty for missing more than 10 percent of his required drills in any given year. Bush, according to the records, fell shy of that obligation in two successive fiscal years.

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