Records appear to show that the president failed to fulfill his duty to the Air National Guard
By Kit R. Roane
A new examination of payroll records and other documents released by the White House earlier this year appear to confirm critics' assertions that President George W. Bush failed to fulfill his duty to the Air National Guard during the Vietnam War.
Most of the documents, which have been reviewed by U.S. News, and former military and Defense Department personnel, were released last February, when reporters raised new questions about Bush's service during the Vietnam War. After the release, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said he considered the case closed and noted that, "these records I'm holding here clearly document the president fulfilling his duties in the National Guard."
The White House also included a signed memorandum from the man who headed personnel matters for the Guard during Bush's tenure, certifying the administration's position. President Bush had "completed his military obligation in a satisfactory manner," wrote Albert C. Lloyd Jr., a retired Air Force colonel.
A recent examination of the records by U.S. News does not appear to support Lloyd's conclusions. Among the issues identified by the magazine:
The White House used an inappropriateand less stringentAir Force standard in determining that President Bush fulfilled his National Guard duty.
Even using this lesser standard, the president did not attend enough drills to complete his obligation to the Guard during his final year of service.
During the final two years of his service obligation, Bush did not comply with Air Force regulations that impose a time limit on making up missed drills. Instead, he took credit for makeup drills he participated in outside that time frame. Five months of drills missed by the President in 1972 were never made up, contrary to assertions made by the White House.
The White House declined to respond to specific questions submitted by U.S. News last week, but today defended Bush's Guard service. "The president completed the necessary points to qualify for an honorable discharge. He fulfilled his obligation to both the Texas Air National Guard and the Alabama National Guard during his service there," says Claire Buchan, White House spokeswoman. "The president is proud of his service and is pleased to release his records and they confirm that the President served honorably."
For several experts contacted by U.S. News, how President Bush received his honorable discharge from the Guard remains a mystery. Lawrence Korb, a former Assistant Secretary for Defense for Manpower and Reserve Affairs during the Reagan Administration, said it was apparent that President Bush "had not fulfilled his obligation."
"When I look at his records it is clear he didn't do what he was supposed to do," Korb says. "Since he didn't do these those things, he should have been called to active duty."
Bush became interested in the Texas Air National Guard shortly after graduating from Yale University and becoming eligible for the draft in 1968. According to his own account, he was told that the Guard was looking for pilots willing to go through the lengthy training required to fly fighter jets. Although he scored poorly on the pilot aptitude test, Bush received a high mark for officer qualities. Guard officials decided to offer him a slot, and on May 27, 1968, Bush signed up for a six-year military service obligation to the Guard, writing in his "statement of intent" that he planned to make "flying a lifetime pursuit."
At the time, Bush also was informed of the regulations that would govern his service for the next six years. In his "statement of understanding," he acknowledged that "satisfactory participation" included participating in "48 scheduled inactive duty training periods," and 15 days of annual active duty every year. He also acknowledged that he could be ordered to active duty for two years if he failed to meet these requirements.
The public records on Bush's service show that for much of the first four years of his commitment, he appeared to do exceedingly well. Instructors noted he was an eager learner and showed a true interest in the Guard. At one point, Bush even expressed an interest in joining an elite Guard unit called the "Palace Alert," according to an interview with one of his instructors. The unit flew jets over Europe and the Far East, including, on occasion, over Vietnam, but Bush was turned down because he lacked the amount of flying experience the unit required.
As the Vietnam War began to wind down, however, Bush's performance began to slump, and his attendance at required drills fell off markedly. On May 24, 1972, apparently after already going there to begin work on a Republican Senate campaign, documents show that Bush asked for a transfer to an Air Reserve squadron in Alabama that had no aircraft or practiced regular drills. Although the Commander of the Squadron accepted his application, the Air Reserve Personnel Center cancelled the move, noting that Bush had not fulfilled his military service obligation and had to remain with what it terms a "Ready Reserve Unit."
In September, Bush applied to perform equivalent duty at a Ready Reserve Unit in Alabama. He was accepted. He was also told by the chief of the personnel branch, Capt. Kenneth K. Lott, to report to Lt. Col William Turnipseed, who would determine what scheduled drills he could attend. But there is no record of Bush attending the scheduled drills in Alabama during this period, and Turnipseed told U.S. News that he did not recall seeing Bush ever train with his unit. The same month he was accepted to Turnipseed's unit, Bush failed to take a physical and was grounded. On May 2, 1973, his superiors in Texas apparently could not locate him or identify records showing that he had trained; they were unable to evaluate Bush's Guard performance, his superiors wrote, because "he has not been observed."
It is these last two years of service that have continued to perplex the president's critics and provide a headache for the White House.
In an interview with U.S. News this week, Lloyd stood by his analysis and said he was sick of reporters dredging up the past. He put it this way: "I am perfectly content that Bush preformed his duty. I have seen the records. Could he have done better? Yes, but again everybody could have done better. There were people that didn't do near what he did, so I'm not upset about it."
After a reporter cited the Air Force regulations from the period governing how many drills had to be attended, when drills could be made up and how many months of service could be missed, an exasperated Lloyd added that if the entire unit was judged by such standards, then "90 percent of the people in the Guard would not have made satisfactory participation."
But others who have reviewed the records insist that the rules must be followed. "A regulation is meant to be complied with. Period," says Scott L. Silliman, a retired colonel who was legal counsel to U.S. Air Force commanders during the first Gulf War and now directs Duke Law School's Center for Law, Ethics and National Security. "It is there to be fulfilled, and it is meant to apply to everyone, whether you are the son of a prominent politician, or me. There is no sometimes we have compliance and sometimes we don't. That is a nonsensical statement and an insult to the Guard to suggest it."
There are two standards that apply to Guardsmen when deciding if they have completed their service each year. One standard is used to determine if the year's duty will count toward retirement and retention. The other, more stringent standard is applied to anyone with a military service obligation, as President Bush had.
But there are two main differences between the standards. One is the span of time used in the calculation and the other is the amount of service required to meet the obligation.
Retirement is calculated on a point system with each 12-month period beginning with the month of enlistment. In President Bush's case, that was May 1968. For Bush to count the year towards retirement, he would have had to earn 35 points of active and inactive duty and have completed a full year of service to gain an additional 15 "gratuitous points." The total necessary to count the year for retirement, therefore, was a minimum of 50 points.
Satisfactory service in the military, by contrast, is counted by looking at the number of training sessions attended through the fiscal year, which during Bush's service began on July 1 and ended on June 30 of the following calendar year. According to Air Force regulations from the time, to complete his military obligation, President Bush would have needed to attend at least 13 days of active-duty training each year and at least 44 sessions of inactive trainingUnit Training Assemblies and equivalent trainingduring that same period.
This aspect of President Bush's service was first brought to the attention of U.S. News earlier this summer by Gerald A. Lechliter, a veteran Army officer who also served in the Marines during the Vietnam War. Lechliter provided an analysis of Bush's record to the magazine, and to The Boston Globe, which carried its account in today's editions. Although some guardsmen have disputed that the drills should have been calculated on the fiscal year, both the Air Force Manual and U.S. Code from the time confirm Lechliter's assertion.
Using this standard, Bush's records show that during the fiscal year of July 1, 1972, through June 30, 1973, Bush fell significantly short of this requirement to do inactive duty, obtaining only 36 points that year. He fared worse the following year, gaining only 12 points. Even if one uses May, the date of his induction, as the starting point in the points calculation, President Bush falls short of the minimum number of weekend drills required by his military service obligation his last two years.
When judging President Bush's Guard service by the simple number of points gained for retirement, it is clear that he didn't make the grade there either.
Lloyd certified that President Bush met this requirement for both the May 1972-May 1973 and May 1973-May 1974 retirement/retention years, saying that in each of these years President Bush managed to attain 56 points.
There are several problems with his calculation, the U.S. News analysis shows. One is that Lloyd failed to correctly calculate the points he determined Bush would have earned during the 1973-1974 retirement year. They only add up to 50, not 56. Asked about this, Lloyd said this was just a "typo." The Bush administration has never corrected the error.
More significantly, the calculations done by Lloyd appear not to be supported by the retirement/retention documents themselves. Lloyd says Bush received 35 points for active duty and for weekend drills during his last year of service, and received 15 gratuitous points just for remaining active in the Guard. But according to the final point-credit summary released by the White House, Bush was deemed eligible to receive only 33 points for service that year and was given only five gratuitous points because he was going on inactive status to attend Harvard Business School before completing his final year of service.
Asked about this discrepancy, Lloyd said that Bush would have received the other ten gratuitous points during the time he was attending Harvard. Lloyd said this was because President Bush could have still been called to active duty. But other Guardsmen and military experts disagree, explaining that the gratuitous points are calculated on a sliding scale, based on how much of the year a guardsman is participating in training, and note that guardsmen are not eligible to receive them when they are no longer attending drills.
Among those who countered this claim was retired Brig. Gen. John Scribner, who now heads the Texas Military Forces Museum. Scribner is no critic of President Bush. He gained notice last year when a fellow guardsman accused him of helping to destroy parts of President Bush's military file in 1997, a charge Schribner vehemently denied.
Even had Bush received the points, he still would not have attended enough drills to claim his final year for retirement, and his attendance fell well short of what was necessary under his military obligation. The summary, which allowed Bush to note any needed correction, was sent back to the Guard without comment on April 8, 1974. The White House did not produce any later documents showing a change in the number of retirement points given to the President.
Military experts and former Guardsmen said President Bush would have only been eligible to receive the additional points had he joined another Guard unit in the Boston area, as President Bush noted he was required to do on July 30, 1973, when he signed a Guard document stating so.
A look at how Bush made up missed drills raised other questions about his Guard service. An Air Force statute from that period maintains that all "substitute training" had to be approved in advance and had to be performed "within 15 days immediately before, or 30 days immediately after the regularly scheduled" drills. The statute also says that Bush was required to attend 90 percent of the scheduled drills and could miss them only if there was an event beyond his control, "such as illness or other personal hardship."
The Bush records contain only one document indicating that permission to make up drills was granted. That document contains the dates of drills he could attend; his payroll records show that they were then missed and made up still later.
In most cases, Bush used drills done prior to the missed drill to count for his absence. But in several cases, the makeups should not have been credited for payment because they fell well outside the prescribed time limit authorized by the Air Force, some experts said. The regulations themselves appear to show that they should not be credited either. For example, payroll records show that Bush was credited with training allegedly done on January 9, 1973, to make up for training he missed on March 10, 1973, just over two months later.
Despite the contradiction of the Air Force regulations, Lloyd says that none of this is a problem as long as Bush had authorization to do the make-ups. He adds that all records authorizing makeup drills would have been destroyed six months after the drill was completed. "He was paid" for the duty, Lloyd says, "so he did it."
Lloyd is equally dismissive of the five months of service Bush missed between May and September 1972. Bush had moved to Alabama to work on a political campaign during this period and was supposed to train with the Alabama Guard while there. But the head of the unit he was supposed to train with told U.S. News that he never saw Bush. This period also falls within the time frameMay 1, 1972, thru April 30, 1973that Bush's superior officers wrote that they were unable to complete their evaluation of the pilot. Both President Bush and the White House have maintained that all of the missed drills were made up prior to Bush's honorable discharge. Payroll documents released by The White House indicate when Bush was making up specific drills, but U.S. News could not find any listed that were being applied to this five-month period of time.
Not everyone is concerned about the laxity shown to President Bush during his last two years. As Maj. Gen. Paul A. Weaver Jr. a former director of the Air National Guard, pointed out, the war was winding down and Bush did a fairly good job his first three years. "One thing a commander is given is common-sense leeway, and I think that is what happened here," he said. "Here we had Lt. Bush not wanting to stay in the airplane and not interested in keeping up his status and wanting to be a full-time student. The commander probably said, 'I'll take that flying spot and give it to someone who will be an active participant.'"
Asked if he faulted President Bush for not following the regulations governed by his military-service obligation, Weaver said his only disappointment was that Bush had signed up to fly jets in the first place, adding that his training cost a great deal of taxpayer money. "If you're going to fly a high-performance airplane," he added, "then you need to be there flying it."
But others who have reviewed the documents say President Bush should have been treated more strictly. Eugene R. Fidell, a military law expert in Washington, notes that nothing in Bush's military file shows he received prior approval to miss any of the required drills. Under Air Force regulations, Bush was non-compliant with his military service obligation the moment he missed more than one month of weekend drills and by the third month he was in serious breach of his duty. "By then," Fidell says, "you should be thrown out of the program or, if there is a draft, called up for active duty."
James T. Currie, a retired colonel who is a professor at the Industrial College of The Armed Forces and the author of an official history of the Army Reserve, said that while the Guard had a reputation as being a "good old boy's club" during Vietnam, that didn't mean regulations shouldn't apply. "You make a commitment, and in return for what is a fairly minor inconvenience, you avoid getting drafted and sent to Vietnam, so I think the least you could do was fulfill the letter of that commitment," he said. "Clearly if you were the average poor boy who got drafted and sent into the active force, they weren't going to let you out before you had completed your obligation." With Edward T. Pound