Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Putting Lt. Bush's service record into perspective 

Here's an interesting letter to the editor of the Washington Times, putting Bush's service in the Air Guard in useful context. The letter is extremely well-written, and one can't help but wonder whether professional Republicans didn't have a hand in its drafting. Nevertheless, the author, a retired Air Guard commander, frames the questions around Bush's service record quite differently from the mainstream media.

One of the author's observations is that it was common practice for the Air Guard to accomodate the career requirements or aspirations of its pilots:

Critics such as Mr. Kerry (who served in Vietnam, you know), Terry McAuliffe and Michael Moore (neither of whom served anywhere) say Lt. Bush abandoned his assignment as a jet fighter pilot without explanation or authorization and was AWOL from the Alabama Air Guard.

Well, as for abandoning his assignment, this is untrue. Lt. Bush was excused for a period to take employment in Florida for a congressman and later in Alabama for a Senate campaign.

Excusals for employment were common then and are now in the Air Guard, as pilots frequently are in career transitions, and most commanders (as I later was) are flexible in letting their charges take care of career affairs until they return or transfer to another unit near their new employment. Sometimes they will transfer temporarily to another unit to keep them on the active list until they can return home. The receiving unit often has little use for a transitory member, especially in a high-skills category like a pilot, because those slots usually are filled and, if not filled, would require extensive conversion training of up to six months, an unlikely option for a temporary hire.

As a commander, I would put such "visitors" in some minor administrative post until they went back home. There even were a few instances when I was unaware that they were on my roster because the paperwork often lagged. Today, I can't even recall their names. If a Lt. Bush came into my unit to "pull drills" for a couple of months, I wouldn't be too involved with him because I would have a lot more important things on my table keeping the unit combat ready.

At the least, the reporters who are covering this controversy should explore some of the assertions in the letter. Of course, none of them read the Washington Times, so that is unlikely, but one should never abandon one's dreams!


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