Bush's Military Record Reveals Grounding and Absence for Two Full Years
"I think that people need to be held responsible for the actions they take in life. I think that's part of the need for a cultural change. We need to say that each of us needs to be responsible for what we do." – George W. Bush in the first Presidential debate, October 3, 2000.
''I did the duty necessary ... That's why I was honorably discharged" – George W. Bush, May 23, 2000
by Robert A. Rogers (USAF - Ret)
01/24/04: (Progressive Trail) From the beginning of his Presidential campaign, George W. Bush has forcefully and repeatedly insisted that he faithfully fulfilled all his military obligations by serving his time as a member of the Texas Air National Guard.
But the first independent investigation of Bush's military record by a former Air National Guard pilot has revealed the following:
1. Pilot George W. Bush did not simply "give up flying" with two years left to fly, as has been reported. Instead, Bush was suspended and grounded, very possibly as a direct or indirect result of substance abuse.
2. The crucial evidence – a Flight Inquiry Board – that would reveal the true reasons for Bush's suspension, as well as the punishment that was recommended, is missing from the records released so far. If no such Board was convened, this raises further questions of extraordinary favoritism.
3. Contrary to Bush's emphatic statements and several published reports, Bush never actually reported in person for the last two years of his service – in direct violation of two separate written orders. Moreover, the lack of punishment for this misconduct represents the crowning achievement of a military career distinguished only by favoritism.
This in-depth investigation and analysis of Bush's apparent misconduct over the last two years of his six year obligation suggests that Bush did not fulfill all of his military obligations to the Texas Air National Guard and to his country, contrary to his repeated assertions.
Moreover, Bush's misconduct could have resulted in significant disciplinary action by his Commanding Officer, ranging in severity from temporary or permanent grounding, a career-damaging letter of reprimand, to forced reenlistment in the US Army (including active duty in Vietnam), to a less-than honorable discharge.
These issues are not trivial, nor are they ancient history. This cloud of questions goes to the heart of George W. Bush's promises to restore honor and integrity to the White House, to strengthen the military, and to speak the plain truth on the campaign trail.
If Bush had received a less-than honorable discharge, it is safe to say that he would not be the Republican candidate for President today. But the absence of any sign of severe disciplinary action in the records we obtained raises serious questions that can only be answered if Bush himself requests the release of his full military service record.
Avoiding Vietnam through Preferential Treatment
George W. Bush graduated from Yale in May of 1968, at the height of the Vietnam War when half a million young American men were fighting for their country and dying at the rate of 350 per week. Bush, who mostly distinguished himself at Yale through his social activities, vocally supported the war. But he was not prepared to put his own life on the line. He had no desire "to be an infantry guy as a private in Vietnam," he said.
Instead, Bush wanted to become a fighter pilot like his father, who flew heroic combat missions in the Pacific during World War II. "I wanted to fly, and that was the adventure I was seeking," he told the New York Times in July. Bush denies that he was trying to avoid combat. "One could argue that [I] was trying to avoid being the infantryman but my attitude was I'm taking the first opportunity to become a pilot and jumped on that and did my time," he said.
But Bush did not join the full time active duty military. Instead, he chose to enlist for "weekend warrior" duty in the Air National Guard, where he could fulfill his military obligation far away from the risk of combat and pursue his civilian career, including working in several Republican Senate campaigns. "Had my unit been called I would have gone ... to Vietnam," he said. But like everyone else at the time, he knew the chances of that happening were slim. And when his application form asked about an overseas assignment, he checked "do not volunteer."
Competition for the few openings in the National Guard was intense, and there was a waiting list of 100,000 nationally at the time. Bush took the Air Force officer and pilot qualification tests on January 17, 1968. He scored 25%, the lowest possible passing grade on the pilot aptitude portion. On his application form, he listed his "background qualifications" as "none." But despite the waiting list, his low score and his lack of qualifications, Bush was given a highly-coveted spot and was sworn in on May 27 for a six-year commitment, taking a solemn oath to protect and defend the U.S. Constitution and the United States of America.
Bush and his father have adamantly denied that he received preferential treatment, despite the fact that his father was then a U.S. Representative from Texas and his grandfather Prescott had been a prominent U.S. Senator from Connecticut. But the Speaker of the House in Texas at the time, Ben Barnes, admitted under oath last year that he had received a request from a longtime Bush family friend, Sidney Adger of Houston, to help Bush get into the Air National Guard. Barnes further testified that he contacted the head of the Texas Air National Guard, Brig. Gen. James Rose, to pass along Adger's request.
When asked about this sworn testimony, Bush was evasive: "I have no idea and I don't believe so," he said. But according to the Boston Globe, Bush "vaulted to the top of a waiting list of 500."
This preferential treatment in gaining entry to the Air National Guard set the pattern for Bush's treatment throughout his six-year obligation, including his rapid promotion to pilot and 1st Lieutenant, his sudden disappearance from the skies with two years left to fly, and his failure to report for a single day of duty in his final two years contrary to two specific orders.
After he completed only six weeks of basic airman training, Bush received a commission as a second lieutenant in the Texas Air National Guard. This was by means of a 'special appointment' by the commanding officer of his squadron, with the approval of a panel of three senior officers. This 2nd Lt. commission was extraordinary, since it normally required eight full semesters of college ROTC courses or eighteen months of military service or completion of Air Force officer training school. It was so unusual that Tom Hail, the Texas National Guard historian, told the Los Angeles Times that he "never heard of that" except for flight surgeons.
Despite a score of only 25% on his pilot entrance aptitude test, Bush was then assigned to flight school, a posting that was normally reserved to pilots graduating from ROTC training or Air Force officer training. That was immediately followed by further favoritism in being 'fast tracked' over those on the existing pilot applicant waiting list into the 111th Fighter Interceptor Squadron, a standby runway alert component of the 143rd Group, one of several tactical Guard units responsible for defending the Southern coast of the Continental U.S. against attack.
Along with the rest of his squadron, Bush was trained to fly the missile-equipped supersonic F-102 Delta Dart jet interceptor fighter. By July of 1970, Bush had earned his wings and racked up approximately 300 hours of training flight time in the F-102. This qualified him to fly the F-102 without an instructor, but was far short of the 500 hours of experience required for volunteer active duty combat operations in Vietnam.
At this point in the Vietnam War, the US Air Force desperately needed additional F-102 pilots to fly the dangerous reconnaissance missions so important to the fate of American troops on the ground. With only a small amount of solo flying experience, Bush applied for a voluntary three month Vietnam tour, perhaps counting on preferential treatment once again to overcome his lack of readiness, or perhaps safe in the knowledge that his request would certainly be rejected.
When Bush was summarily turned down for this volunteer active duty option, he was left to fly as a "weekend warrior" in the Texas Air National Guard out of Ellington AFB near Houston Texas. On November 3, 1970, while Bush's father was being re-elected to Congress from Houston, Bush was promoted to 1st Lieutenant by Brig. General Rose, the same man who got Bush into the Texas National Guard at the request of the Bush family friend.
The Clouds Set In
The newly-released records reveal that 1st Lt. Bush was credited with 46 days of flight duty from June 1970 to May 1971, expected Guard weekend duty and 'extra' runway standby alert time for that year. However, that would be the last time that Bush fully met his qualified jet fighter pilot obligation to serve four complete years as a fully trained and qualified fighter pilot.
Beginning sometime after May of 1971, Bush stopped living up to his sworn obligation to the Texas Air National Guard and thereby his country. By May of 1972, he was credited with only 22 flight duty days, 14 days short of the minimum 36 days he owed the Guard for that year. And then things went from bad to worse.
Astonishingly, Bush suddenly disappeared from the skies altogether near the start of his fourth year. Bush flew for the last time in the cockpit of an F-102 in April of 1972. From that point on, Bush never flew again, in spite of the fact that he still had two full years remaining of his six-year pilot service commitment. And on May 15, 1972, Bush simply "cleared this base" according to a written report by one of his two Squadron supervising officers, Lt. Col. William D. Harris Jr.
On May 24, Bush requested in writing a six-month transfer to an inactive postal Reserve unit in Alabama, for the stated purpose of working on the campaign of a Republican Senate candidate. If Bush had been temporarily transferred there, he would not have continued flying until he returned to Texas, because the Alabama unit had no airplanes.
In fact, Bush's transfer request was denied by National Guard Bureau headquarters on May 31 1972, and Bush should have returned to his base in Houston and continued with his flying duties. Instead, he remained in Alabama until late in the fall. And something critical happened on August 1, 1972 – George W. Bush was summarily suspended from flying duties.
1. Was pilot George W. Bush suspended and grounded with two years left to fly as a direct or indirect result of substance abuse?
"George Walker Bush is one member of the younger generation who doesn't get his kicks from pot or hashish or speed ... As far as kicks are concerned, Lt. Bush gets his from the roaring afterburner of the F-102." Texas Air National Guard press release, March 1970.
There is no dispute that George W. Bush stopped flying with two years left in his commitment to the Texas Air National Guard and to his country at the height of the Vietnam War. The big question that has never been satisfactorily answered is: Why?
According to the Boston Globe – the only major publication that has examined the last two years of Bush's military service in depth – Bush simply "gave up flying" to spend six months on a Republican Senate campaign in Alabama.
But this explanation is highly suspect, because fully trained and currently qualified pilots with two remaining years of flying obligation are rarely permitted to simply "give up" without some form of disciplinary action beyond just suspension.
A pilot's completion of his six-year obligation is especially important because of the heavy investment the Government makes to provide jet fighter pilots with two full years of active duty training. In today's money, the US Government paid close to a million dollars to train 1st Lt. Bush in a highly complex supersonic aircraft.
One of Bush's newly-released service documents provides a significant clue to his sudden disappearance from the skies. In a confirmation memo to the Secretaries of the Army and Air Force dated September 29, 1972, Major General Francis Greenleaf, then Chief of the National Guard Bureau in Washington DC, confirmed the suspension of 1st Lt. George W. Bush from flying status. This written confirmation cites an earlier August 1, 1972 verbal order of the TX 147th Group's Commanding Officer that suspended and grounded Bush from flying duty for "his failure to accomplish annual medical examination."
There are two ways to interpret this crucial memo: either 1st Lt. Bush took his mandatory annual flight physical for pilots and failed it for some as-yet undisclosed reason, or he refused to present himself in the first place to an Air Force Flight Surgeon, who were readily available in almost every state.
Campaign officials originally brushed off this crucial event by suggesting that Bush was simply unable to travel to Houston to visit his family physician. But the Boston Globe reported that Air Force Flight Surgeons were assigned to Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery Alabama, where he was then living.
More recently, campaign officials claimed that Bush did not technically need to take his flight physical. "As he was not flying, there was no reason for him to take the flight physical exam," campaign spokesman Don Bartlett told the London Times in June. But this assertion is false, because Bush was technically still qualified to fly until after his "failure to accomplish annual medical examination," which led to his suspension and grounding. Moreover, Bush should have been flying from his home base in Texas at the time of his scheduled annual physical in August, because his request for a transfer to Alabama had been rejected on May 31.
Bush's spokesman admitted that Bush "knew the suspension would take place" if he failed to complete his mandatory annual flight physical. But he writes it off to mere red tape, saying "it was just a question of following the bureaucratic procedure of the time."
But this suspension meant, at least momentarily, the end of his dream to be a pilot. This was something he worked hard to achieve, something he was proud of and bragged about, something important to his family, and something that senior Texas Air National Guard officials had gone to great lengths to make possible. Therefore, Bush's "failure to accomplish annual medical examination," could not have been either casual or accidental.
Moreover, Bush had to have known that this suspension could subject him to a punishment beyond just temporary suspension. In fact, Bush could have been permanently suspended or even reprimanded for his actions.
Why would a physical exam present a problem for 1st Lt. Bush? A little-know fact reported in the London Times and the New York Post on June 18, 2000 gives a powerful clue. In April 1972 – the same month that Bush "gave up" flying – all the overseas and stateside military services began subjecting a small random sample in their ranks to substance abuse testing for alcohol and drugs. The Pentagon had announced its intention to do so initially back on December 31, 1969. If Bush reported for his scheduled physical in August 1972, he could have been subject to selection for a random substance abuse test.
Bush's spokesman told the London Times that Bush "was not aware of any changes that required a drug test." But this does not hold up under scrutiny. In 1969 – the year following Bush's enlistment – the Pentagon notified every unit in the military that it would implement random drug testing at some point in the near future. When that moment arrived – April 1972 – every enlisted person and officer throughout the military, both overseas and stateside, would have been aware of this dramatic change. After all, the whole purpose of the random drug testing was to make it absolutely clear to everyone in the Armed Forces that the Pentagon would not tolerate substance abuse of any kind by anyone.
There is circumstantial evidence pointing to substance abuse by Bush during this period. On the campaign trail, Bush has stated that he has not used drugs or alcohol in excess since 1974. But this chronology makes it possible that he was in fact abusing one or more of these substances in the summer of 1972.
Moreover, interviews with friends during this period reveal that Bush partied and drank regularly, and Bush admits he was a hard drinker at the time. And over the Christmas holidays, Bush got into a widely-reported emotional showdown with his father after taking his 16-year-old brother Marvin drinking, hitting garbage cans while driving home.
Thus, the September 29 memo is a "smoking jet" which points to a potentially devastating interpretation: that Bush stopped flying two years short of his obligation because of substance abuse – either directly, because he failed his physical exam, or indirectly, because he refused to take it out of fear that he would fail it.
Is it unreasonable to raise the possibility that 1st Lt. Bush was suspended from flying as a direct or indirect consequence of substance abuse? It might be if there was no way for Bush to prove his innocence. But George W. Bush can readily defend himself, if he so chooses, simply by voluntarily releasing his complete military record.
A voluntary disclosure of this kind is not without precedent. During the South Carolina Republican primary this campaign year, rumors were spread by fellow Senators about Senator John McCain's mental health as a result of his imprisonment as a POW. McCain immediately quashed those rumors by voluntarily releasing his entire military record, which confirmed no indications of adverse physical or mental conditions.
Thus, Bush could easily put to rest the questions surrounding "his failure to accomplish annual medical examination" – and his subsequent suspension – if he would simply release his complete military service record, which cannot be released by the Air Force without Bush's explicit consent.
2. Was a Flight Inquiry Board of senior Air Force officers convened to determine the appropriate punishment for Bush's misconduct?
Regardless of the explanation for Bush's suspension, there is another crucial question: Was this suspension sufficient disciplinary action for such a flagrant dereliction of duty at a time when the Air Force was reeling from a serious pilot shortage at the peak of the Vietnam War?
In the Air National Guard, expensively trained pilots are not casually suspended. There is normally a Flight Inquiry Board, which exercises the military chain of command's obligation to insure due process. If one had been convened, its three senior officer members would have documented why such a severe action was justified in relation to the country's military objectives at the time, as opposed to the simple desire of a trained pilot to just "give up flying".
In the event of serious misconduct, such as substance abuse, a Flight Inquiry Board would have determined the appropriate punishment. The punishments could have included temporary or permanent 'grounding,' a career-damaging letter of reprimand, forced reenlistment in the US Army with active duty in Vietnam, or a less-than honorable discharge.
In fact, there is no evidence now in the public domain that a Flight Inquiry Board was convened to deal with Bush's official reclassification to a non-flying, grounded status. However, the records of such a Board would not be subject to an ordinary FOIA request because of privacy protections under FOIA.
This absence of a Flight Inquiry Board is of particular interest to veteran pilots who are intimately familiar with normal disciplinary procedures. In the absence of Bush's releasing his complete service record, the implication is that Bush's misconduct in regards to "his failure to accomplish annual medical examination" was handled like everything else in his military service: aided and abetted by powerful family connections with total disregard for the needs of the military as well as Bush's solemn oath.
Once again, the only way to get to the truth would be for George W. Bush to personally request the release of his full military records.
3. Did Bush altogether dodge his subsequent scheduled Guard duty obligations for two years after his grounding, and should he have received additional punishment for this misconduct?
"I spent my time and I went to the Guard. It's just not true. I did the duty necessary...any allegations other than that are simply not true." (George W. Bush, May 23, 2000, CNN)
The questions about Bush's unfulfilled service record do not end with his suspension and effective grounding on August 1, 1972. The central question for the remaining two years is whether he fully and legitimately completed his original six-year attendance obligation to the Texas Air Guard and his country, as sworn under oath upon his enlistment, or if he simply dodged his remaining non-flying duties.
Bush has said repeatedly that he completed his service obligations. But a careful review of his record tells a very different story.
On September 5, 1972, more than three months after his transfer request to an inactive Alabama unit was refused, Bush was finally ordered to start serving three months in an active but non-flying administrative Guard unit, the 187th Tactical Reconnaissance Group in Montgomery, Alabama, for four certain duty days in October and November.
Despite this direct written order, there is no official notation in his service record that Bush ever showed up for any of this duty. General William Turnipseed and Lt. Col. Kenneth Lott, who commanded the base at the time, told the Boston Globe that Bush never appeared. "To my knowledge, he never showed up," Turnipseed said in May.
Bush insists he did, according to the Dallas Morning News. "I was there on temporary assignment and fulfilled my weekends at one period of time. I made up some missed weekends. I can't remember what I did, but I wasn't flying because they didn't have the same airplanes. I fulfilled my obligations," he said while campaigning in Alabama on June 23.
But the Bush campaign conducted its own search of Bush's military records, and could not find evidence that Bush performed any duty in Alabama, the Dallas Morning News reported. The only published reports were from personal friends who say they remember Bush telling him that he planned to report for duty, but no reports of anyone in the Guard who actually saw him. Moreover, Interceptor Magazine, a monthly official National Guard publication distributed nationwide, ran advertisements asking for anyone to step forward who remembered seeing Bush on duty. This inquiry came up empty-handed.
This raises the next question of whether 1st Lt. Bush was intentionally absent from assigned duty contrary to a specific written order, which is the civilian/Guard Airman equivalent of AWOL. This absence could normally result in disciplinary action beyond a slap on the wrist by his parent Squadron's Commanding Officer.
When the three-month term of his apparently unfulfilled temporary order in Alabama ended in November 1972, Bush returned home to Houston Texas until the fall of 1973. However, he again did not report in person for non-flying duty to his parent Texas 111th Squadron during this whole time.
Bush offers a different excuse for this period: that the 111th Squadron was switching to a newer jet, so he could not fly. But the unit's commander told the Boston Globe that Bush could have continued to fly the F-102, which remained in service in his unit past the end of Bush's six-year commitment. "If [Bush] had come back to Houston, I would have kept him flying the 102 until he got out," he said. "But I don't recall him coming back at all." Given that this Commanding Officer used Bush extensively for publicity and recruiting purposes during his flying days, it is unlikely that he would have simply forgotten Bush from the day he wrote that Bush "cleared the base" in May 1972.
Still, Bush reappeared on the Texas Air Guard's radar screen in May 1973. Bush was ordered to attend nine certain duty days in person during Summer Camp at Ellington AFB between May 22 and June 7. But 1st Lt. Bush did not do so – making him apparently absent contrary to a specific written order for a second time in less than a year.
According to the Boston Globe, Bush "spent 36 days on duty" from May until July of 1973, but this is a clear misunderstanding of the record. Our more recent FOIA request produced an unsigned and undated one page listing of 35 inactive Reserve temporary duty credit days starting May 25 through July 30, 1973. This document is a paper confirmation that Bush did not actually report for duty in person at the Texas Air National Guard on any of these days. In addition, no one in the Texas Air Guard at the time, from the top command down, has stepped forward to say they saw Bush in person on a single day between May 22 and July 30, 1973 – just as no one saw Bush during his three month assignment in Alabama.
Instead, Bush in fact was credited with 35 "gratuitous" inactive Air Force Reserve points – in other words, non-attendance inactive Reserve credit time. The proof that this time was "gratuitous" is the absence of any Bush duty time of any kind on his official Texas Air National Guard record all the way from the May 26 1972 entry of 22 pilot duty days for the prior year. This is because "gratuitous" time does not count as scheduled Texas Air Guard duty. This leaves Bush without a single legitimate Texas Air National Guard service day for his fifth and sixth years of service to his Texas Air National Guard discharge on October 1, 1973 – a critical fact that has been misunderstood in several previous reports of this period of Bush's service.
On October 1, 1973 – fully eight months short of his full six-year service obligation and scheduled discharge on May 26, 1974 – Bush was prematurely discharged with honors from the Texas Air Guard, in spite of his failure to report in person for any for duty over the prior 18 months. This is the very last entry on his official half-page Texas Air Guard service record. Another Reserve archive record released under our FOIA request goes on to indicate eventual final inactive Reserve discharge with honors in November 1974, but civilian Bush was attending Harvard Business School as a full-time student by that time.
There was no record received under our FOIA request that indicate any more Reserve credit beyond July 30, 1973. This is also puzzling, but does not add any further insight into the fractured Texas Air National Guard attendance pattern after April 1972.
Anyone seeking to be President of the United States and its Commander in Chief, and who has campaigned specifically on a promise to restore honor and integrity to the office, strengthen the military, and tell the plain truth, should be prepared to discuss his past record of service to his country. Candidate Bush has a duty to the American people, as well as his fellow military comrades-in-arms, to fully and accurately answer all of these grave questions about his exceedingly convenient and prematurely short military service.
Bush's available service records raise very serious questions that reflect heavily on his qualifications for President. By disclosing the full contents of his official service record, Bush could clear up the cloud of questions that still linger 32 years after his first oath to the United States.
Join our Daily News Headlines
Daily News Headlines