Only a Guardsman
By John D. Turner
12 Feb 2004

I’ve heard about enough concerning President Bush’s service in the Air National Guard during Vietnam. You’d think that serving in the Guard was somehow even worse than dodging the draft. At least those folks were honest about wanting to avoid military service.

That makes sense. Mr. Bush tried to avoid military service by – joining the military!

Last time I checked, we had quite a few folks from the Guard serving in Iraq…

Of course, the Vietnam era was a different time. But what logical reason could one find to “dodge” Vietnam service by entering the Guard, when one could just as easily do the same by simply entering college. It isn’t as if Mr. Bush didn’t have enough money to attend, and college deferments were not hard to come by. Its one of the reasons many went to college in the first place. That’s how, if memory serves, Mr. Clinton avoided military service.

Its not as if being in the Guard insulated you from serving in Vietnam either. Many Guardsmen and reservists served there. Some of them are recorded on The Wall in Washington D.C.

I particularly dislike the smarmy attitude taken by the Democrats and the media concerning Guard service. They point to John Kerry and refer to him a war hero. Highly decorated in Vietnam, three purple hearts, silver star, etc, etc. And he did serve honorably and display courage under fire, there is no disputing that. Of course, his activities afterward in the anti-war movement are glossed over, as well as his close association with individuals many who served in Vietnam would call traitorous, such as Jane Fonda.

Then there’s George Bush. Good old rich-kid, not very bright Dubya, with the silver spoon in his mouth. Well, he was only a Guardsman, and we’re not even positive he showed up for that, despite the fact that he received an Honorable discharge.

Only a Guardsman. I guess it’s because I am a reservist that I take exception to that kind of sentiment. I’m kind of tired of being treated as a second-class citizen by the politicians and the media. As if somehow my service, which takes place after I have put in my regular work week and everyone else is kicking back with their families at home, is somehow substandard and not worthy of notice. (News flash to those who may care: We reservists don’t just sit around all weekend and absorb coffee and donuts.)

George Bush was trained to fly and fight in the F-102 Delta Dagger, an interceptor aircraft. It wasn’t front line equipment; back then the Guard and Reserve didn’t get front line stuff. They got the cast-offs from the Active Force when the Active Force upgraded their equipment. Still, the F-102 was a multi-million dollar jet aircraft, and the Air Force didn’t train and entrust just any Tom, Dick, or Harry with one. You have to have some smarts and ability to get through pilot training.

I can’t vouch for the Navy though. They did train and entrust Senator McCain with one of their jet aircraft, after all.

At the time he served, Mr. Bush’s unit was part of Air Defense Command. Their job was to protect the skies of America against air attack by a hostile power. Their primary responsibility at the time was to scramble to shoot down Soviet bombers attempting to conduct a nuclear attack on the United States. Pretty serious stuff, and by all accounts, young Lt Bush was a hot stick; Sierra Hotel in military parlance, not a Whiskey Delta. (No, Whiskey Delta isn’t some sort of college drinking fraternity).

There are differences between the Guard and Reserve, of which I am a part. Further, there are differences between the unit Reserve program, which would be more akin to the Guard unit Mr. Bush served in, and the Individual Mobilization Augmentee (IMA) program to which I belong. Nevertheless, there are similarities as well.

Reservists serve either 24 or 48 IDT periods (depending on the program category), commonly known as “drill periods” per year, and a 12-14 day “annual tour” of active duty. Each drill period is 4 hours long, and if worked as is typical, two per day, equates to 12 or 24 “drill days”. This is the minimum service time and is required in order to complete annual reserve requirements, and must be completed during each fiscal year. This is also known as the “fiscal year requirement”. Note that currently, the fiscal year runs from 1 October of the current year to 30 September of the next. During the time that Mr. Bush served, the fiscal year dates were different, but the concept was the same; a 12-month period.

Now, things begin to get complicated. When discussing how things work in the Reserve, things are always complicated! There is an additional requirement in order to get what is called a “good year” for retirement purposes. Each reservist has a date which is known as their R/R year. R/R stands for “retirement and retention”. Except by some lucky fluke, it is usually not congruent with the fiscal year or the calendar year. Typically, it is the date one entered military service in the reserve.

In order to get a “good year”, you have to do 50 points worth of service during your R/R year. You get 15 points just for being alive. The other 35 points come from a combination of your annual tour, your paid IDTs (drill periods), any extra active duty time you pull, and various methods of obtaining non-paid IDT points, essentially “free” work you do for points only. Each 4-hr drill period you complete counts 1 point. Each day of active duty time counts 1 point. Both requirements, the fiscal year requirement and the R/R year requirement, must be fulfilled.

As an IMA, I am not required to do my IDTs on any particular date. There is no way I could ever be considered AWOL, unless I failed to report when on military orders. That would be my two-week annual tour, any active duty or “man-day” tour, or failure to report under mobilization orders. I could go months at a time without performing a drill period (IDT) if I so chose, as long as I get all 48 of them in during my fiscal year, and complete 50 points during my R/R year. I could wait and do them all together in a block if I wanted. (Note: this has changed recently. I can still do them pretty much whenever I want, but am now required to do at least 6 days per quarter. However, this restriction can be waived under some circumstances, and still permit me to work them all in a block if, for example, personal or work circumstances required me to do so.)

There was a claim that Mr. Bush went an entire year without doing any time at all, and then did a large number of days in a block to “make up” for not reporting earlier. (As if there was anything particularly wrong or illegal with that approach.) As an exercise, I decided to see if it would be possible for me to “skip” a year and still get credit for a good year and meet annual requirements.

Let’s say, for sake of argument, I wished to “skip” working reserve time in calendar year 2002. In actuality, I worked all of 2002, as I was mobilized to active duty for Operation Noble Eagle. But let’s just look at it for purposes of illustration.

Calendar year 2002 encompasses Fiscal year 2002, which began 1 October 2001 and ended 30 September 2002, and Fiscal year 2003, which began 1 October 2002 and continued through 31 December 2002, ending on 30 September 2003. My annual Fiscal year requirement is 12 days of active duty (two weeks), and 24 drill days (48 IDTs).

If I began working on 1 Oct 2001, the first day of the fiscal year, I could complete all my requirements, working straight through, by 7 Nov 2001. If I took weekends off, I could still do it by 15 November. This would complete my annual requirement for FY 2002.

FY2003 begins 1 Oct 2002 and runs through 30 Sep 2003. If I waited until after 1 Jan 2003, I could easily accomplish my requirements before 30 September. Thus I would have met my requirements for both FY 2002 and FY 2003 without working a single day during calendar year 2002.

But what about the R/R year requirements? First, I don’t know if the Guard has R/R year requirements. But for sake of argument, let’s say they do. Obviously, I don’t know what Mr. Bush’s R/R year was, so we will take a hypothetical case.

The simple case is to postulate a person with an R/R date congruent with the fiscal year date. In this case, you can see that working the schedule I laid out in the example above would give them the necessary 50 points for 2002, which for them would run from 1 Oct 2001 through 30 Sep 2002. In fact, they would earn a total of 75 points (15 for being alive, 48 for IDTs, and 12 for their annual tour), more than enough to qualify for a “good year”. They could still take off for all of CY 2002, since they would have an entire year beginning 1 Oct 2002 and running through 30 Sep 2003 to amass the 50 points necessary for a “good year” in their next R/R year period.

So yes, Mr. Bush could have “taken off” for a year and still completed his requirements in a satisfactory manner, without being “AWOL”.

Questions have also been raised about Mr. Bush being discharged early to attend college, as if it were some sort of thing a “privileged” person would get to do, while the rest of the “common folk” would have to gut it out through the remainder of their commitment before they could quit.

This comment proves one of two things. Either the persons making the comments are unaware of how the military works, or they are banking on the ignorance of most Americans on how their military works. Early outs are actually very common. My wife was discharged on an early out program in 1986. Massive early out programs were in place during the drawdown after the Cold War. There is an early out program going on right now in the Air Force as we speak. Known as “force shaping”, its purpose is to get the Air Force back under its end-strength cap. There have always been ways to get out early, with a discharge for Honorable service, and you don’t have to be “a child of privilege” to qualify.

Just as being from an affluent family should not entitle you to perks others do not get, so should it not disqualify you from taking advantage of opportunities available to everyone.

Then there is the “problem” that the General in charge of the Guard unit doesn’t remember Lt Bush. Indeed. I doubt seriously that the General up chain in my unit knows me from Adam, and I am a Lt Col. He never sees me. The only reason he might know me is that I work in the same building as a civilian; and then he would probably only recognize me as a civilian. I have never seen him at NASIC, where I do my annual tour. He may remember that he signed my OPR (Officer Proficiency Report) the last time around, but then again, he may not, as he probably signs a number of OPRs. For a General officer to sign a Lieutenant’s OPR would be highly unusual (unless he was perhaps, the General’s aide), and fall into the category of “having done something quite spectacular”. If you were to ask my General thirty-five years from now if he remembered signing my OPR, he would probably say “Lt Col Turner who?”

I am not surprised that the General doesn’t remember him. Unless he did something, good or bad, to make himself stand out, or worked in direct contact with the General, there is no reason why the General should remember him, not withstanding that he became President. Most Generals don’t know everyone in their unit. They couldn’t if they wanted to. It isn’t their job. This is particularly true of a reserve or Guard unit where they may not even be physically present at the same place at the same time.

Knowing that someone who used to work in your organization became famous doesn’t help you remember them if you didn’t know them in the first place.

The latest story is that, in spite of the fact that Mr. Bush’s payroll and point service credit records were found on microfilm, that isn’t good enough. (They even complained about the quality of the reproduction. Have you ever seen a printout from a thirty-five year old Government produced microfilm?)

Well, of course it wasn’t good enough. Nothing will be good enough for the Democrats; their campaign strategy is to drive this non-issue into the mud, along with Mr. Bush. The object is to instill “reasonable doubt” in the mind of the voting public, most of who don’t know any more about the issue than they hear in a 15 second sound bite on the nightly news. And for people who believe the end justifies the means, bending the truth a bit to mislead the public isn’t a problem; neither is outright lying. As Mr. Clinton once famously remarked, “we have to stop this juggernaut.” Anything goes.

For the information of those who don’t know out there, the Guard and Reserve does not pay you for duty you didn’t perform. It isn’t a salaried position. You don’t get a regular monthly or bi-weekly paycheck. You only get paid after you turn in your orders or drill paperwork to your pay office, and you only turn that in after you do the duty. Orders and drill paperwork are signed not only by you, but by a person who witnessed you performing the duty. Falsifying of such orders or drill paperwork is fraud, punishable under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ).

So far, anyway, I haven’t heard them accuse Mr. Bush or who ever signed his paperwork with fraud. I can just imagine some guardsman thinking, “Oh yea. I think I will go ahead and falsify Lt Bush’s records, and risk prosecution under the UCMJ, and show him as being present for duty when actually he wasn’t. After all, I know that thirty-five years from now he is going to be President, and maybe he will remember me – or I can sell my story to the National Inquirer for six figures.” Right. You’d do that for a bud, wouldn’t you?

Your point service credit report is a list of every point you earned. That would be each drill period and each duty day you served. A listing of this is mailed to reservists once a year, usually within four months of when they complete an R/R year. It lists the days you served, the type of duty, and the number of points.

I find it hard to imagine that either of these documents would not be accepted as proof of service in a court of law, particularly when coupled with the DD214 you receive when you separate from military service, with the word “HONORABLE” in block 24, Character of Service.

But that isn’t sufficient for the Democrats or the news media. Of course not. It’s an election year and they want to keep the non-news “controversy” in the public eye to generate that “reasonable doubt” in the minds of those who don’t know or care they are being scammed.

I don’t fault the general public. Most people know pretty much nothing about their military. Many could not properly identify what branch of service a member belonged to if they saw them in uniform, much less identify what rank they were or what that signified. This isn’t surprising. With a population of 290 million persons, many probably don’t even know someone personally who is in the Armed Forces. I don’t expect civilians to know how the military works.

I do fault the politicians and political hacks. Either they don’t know what they are talking about, or they do know and are deliberately trying to mislead and deceive the public. If they don’t know what they are talking about, they should find out before they pontificate before the cameras, since the public expects them to know what they are talking about; that’s part of their job. If they do know and are deliberately trying to deceive, that is even more despicable.

I also fault the media. Instead of blindly accepting what is passed to them by Democrat PR flacks, congresscritters, and talking heads, they should be researching the topic and calling them out on it. It isn’t all that difficult; the information isn’t a state secret. But most of the media wants Bush out as well. And doing research on the veracity of what is being said would take work that they probably don’t want to dirty their hands with. The explanation wouldn’t fit into a 15 second sound bite anyway.

And I fault John Kerry, who talks out of both sides of his mouth, for his own political convenience. While he may not understand how the Guard and Reserve work (many Active Force members do not), he is certainly culpable in the despicable practice of denigrating Guard service as somehow being less worthy.

Who cares about Kerry’s military service anyhow? The only “military leadership” he is likely to show if elected is to resume the gutting of the military and intelligence community carried out under the previous administration.

More important than his campaign rhetoric, what he says he will do or give you if he is elected, is his voting record which says what he has done in the past. And what he has done in the past is vote against just about every military program that came before Congress. The B1, B2, F14, F15, Apache helicopter, Patriot missile, Harrier jet, the Aegis air-defense cruiser, the M1 battle tank, Bradley fighting vehicle, and Tomahawk cruise missile. All have faced cancellation or budget cuts on John Kerry’s vote. Had he been successful, our military would more nearly resemble that of a third world nation. I know I have said this before, but it bears repeating, because John Kerry’s world view hasn’t changed simply because he is running for President. Like most politicians, he will say and do whatever he thinks it takes to get elected, because he needs your vote to get into office. After he has succeeded in that effort, you can pound sand for all he cares, until he needs your vote again in four years.

There may be things you don’t like about the job Bush has done in the past three years. There are things I don’t like. But one thing I am not going to do is denigrate his service in the Guard. His records are in order. His discharge says HONORABLE. Let's move on to more important issues, such as the War on Terror, privatizing Social Security, overhauling the Tax system, cutting spending, and eliminating unnecessary Government programs and departments.

Let’s discuss things that are really important to the future of this country, and how each candidate plans to address these issues. Then all we have to do is decide which one, if any, we believe – and vote accordingly.

Link to letter from Guard pilot who served with Mr. Bush