Sunday, July 12, 2009

Congressman Walz's exaggerated military record

Everyone who follows politics must remember the political uproar over Rush Limbaugh's 'phony soldier' comment in 2007, referring to the media's fondness for quoting 'soldiers' against the war in Iraq whose service and military records turned out to be false. Many people in the military know the truth of Limbaugh's comments, especially the guys at This Ain't Hell and POW Net that have spent the last few years documenting and exposing people who make false claims about their military service, from awards they never received to combat tours they never served.

So imagine my surprise when I found out that Minnesota has its own soldier exaggerating his service.

Imagine my shock when I realized that this soldier is my United States Congressman.

Full disclosure here-I was recently elected co-chair of the Steele County Republican Party, but I am not writing in an official capacity. I am also a 17 year member of the MN National Guard, including a 12 month tour for Kosovo and a 22 month deployment for Iraq, but I am not writing on behalf of the MN National Guard or the US Army. I am writing as a combat veteran and a constituent of the Minnesota's 1st Congressional District. My views and opinions are my own.

Tim Walz was elected to Congress in 2006, with a great story of being inspired to run after being turned away at a President Bush campaign event in Mankato. I left for Iraq in early 2006 and was then a resident of Carver County in the 2nd Congressional District, so I didn't pay much attention to his election. But when I returned from Iraq and became a resident of Owatonna, I found myself curious about my new Congressman. Looking at his website, I saw that he was a National Guard veteran like me, who 'served with his battalion in support of Operation Enduring Freedom'. Operation Enduring Freedom is the name of the US military operation in Afghanistan, so I was thrilled to learn I was being represented by a combat vet. Tim Walz is a retired Command Sergeant Major from the Minnesota National Guard, so I thought I had left one congressional district represented by a veteran (John Kline, USMC retired) and moved to a new one represented by a veteran.

It took me about two months to realize that Congressman Walz, contrary to the statement on his official congressional website, did not serve in Afghanistan. He served in Italy, in charge of base security. In order to understand this discrepancy, it is useful to know a little bit about military terms. "In Support Of" means just that, a mission to support a major military operation. It is a vague term even among military members and the military itself. For instance, when I deployed to Kosovo in 2004, my military orders stated "Purpose: Operation Joint Guardian"-

while my official discharge papers listed me as being "ordered to active duty in support of Operation Joint Guardian".

Similarly in the civilian world, CNN listed service members who were killed in Afghanistan as having been killed 'in support of the US led Operation Enduring Freedom". Just in the last week with the uptick in Afghanistan operations, 5 different military personnel that were killed in action were said by local news agencies to have died 'while in support of Operation Enduring Freedom". "In support of Operation Enduring Freedom" and 'Operation Enduring Freedom" are interchangeable phrases, not only for the military but for the general civilian populace as well.

So the use on Walz's official congressional website of the phrase 'in support of Operation Enduring Freedom' always seemed to me to be intentionally vague and misleading. Most people with military experience would know that the phrase doesn't necessarily mean having served in combat (although I didn't at first). But most civilians see 'Enduring Freedom' and equate that (correctly) with the war in Afghanistan. Think of it this way-If someone told you they served in Operation Overlord during WWII, most people (history buffs anyways) would know that Overlord was the name for the Allied invasion of Europe, and images of D-Day would naturally come to mind. But there were over 3 million men that were 'part of Operation Overlord', while only about 160,000 actually hit the beaches on D-Day. Without any details, the natural tendency would be to assume that someone who served in Operation Overlord was on the beaches of Normandy.

I served at roughly the same timeframe in Kosovo as Congressman Walz did in Italy. But I have never been vague about where I served. Nor has anyone I served in Kosovo with. We spent a tour in Kosovo as peacekeepers, which is hardly glamorous compared to serving in a combat zone. Certainly in 2004 when I came home, I had to explain to people (who were focused on Iraq and Afghanistan) where Kosovo was and what we were doing there, but I never tried to lie or mislead anyone about where I served. I spent my tour in Kosovo doing my part and have always been proud to say so.

But Tim Walz, running for Congress in 2006, choose to use a very vague and misleading phrase on his personal biography, "In Support Of Operation Enduring Freedom". The confusion it caused during his campaign is clear from the media reports-

Walz was a high school teacher and football coach. He is also a command sergeant major in the Army National Guard. He served in Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom. Like many Democrats, Walz latched onto the call for change in government. He paired that with a grassroots campaign by a political outsider. Minnesota Public Radio, November 8 2006

"As a retired Command Sergeant Major, serving our country in Operation Enduring Freedom, Tim Walz has the post-9/11 perspective to be a thoughtful and effective leader in Congress." Retired General Wesley Clark, quoted in the Rochester Democrat, Sep 22, 2006

"Tim Walz (D) represents the 1st Congressional District of Minnesota, MN-01. A military veteran of Operation Enduring Freedom, he is one of the Fighting Dems. The March 30, 2006 issue of the Wall Street Journal (p. A4) called Walz THE Republican nightmare in the 1st. The authors of the piece go on to state that, "Here in the First District, Tim Walz, the high-school teacher and coach and ringer for Speaker Hastert, has the Democratic field to himself. A retired master sergeant in the Army National Guard, he served overseas during the early war in Afghanistan.
The Daily KOS, quoting the Wall Street Journal in March 2006 (note the link for OEF which leads to a KOS article about the invasion of Afghanistan)

He noted his 24 years of service in the Army National Guard, including an overseas deployment with Operation Enduring Freedom, and promised to be a strong supporter of veterans. Mankato Free Press, Feb 20, 2006

After being mistaken as a combat veteran in local, state and national media outlets during his campaign in 2006, Congressman Walz nonetheless left the vague and misleading phrase on his website. He even had to fend off criticism by actual combat veterans, like this letter to the editor in the Winona Daily News-

Tim Walz is misleading us about his military service. As Minnesota military reservists who have served in Iraq, we are disappointed. We don't criticize his service. To our knowledge, he served honorably. But through artful omission, Walz is leaving the impression that he served in the combat zones of the current conflict.

The truth is that he served in Italy. There is a significant difference between Walz' garrison service in Italy and the extreme danger young men and women are facing in the combat zones of Iraq and Afghanistan. But even more disturbing is the fact that Walz quickly retired after learning that his unit —southern Minnesota's 1-125 FA Battalion — would be sent to Iraq. For Tim Walz to misleadingly give the impression that he served in a combat zone is bad enough. For Tim Walz to abandon his fellow soldiers and quit when they needed experienced leadership most is disheartening. It dishonors those brave American men and women who did answer their nation's call and who continue to serve, fight and unfortunately die in harm's way for us.

By Tom Hagen | Waseca, Minn

Walz responded-

I am writing in response to Tom Hagen's lies about my service record. My biography on my official campaign website simply states that "prior to retiring, Walz served overseas with his battalion in support of Operation Enduring Freedom."

From this, Mr. Hagen makes the ridiculous claim that I am misleading voters that I served in combat in Iraq. After completing 20 years of service in 2001, I re-enlisted to serve our country for an additional four years following Sept. 11 and retired the year before my battalion was deployed to Iraq in order to run for Congress. I'm proud of the 24 years I served our country in the Army National Guard. There's a code of honor among those
who've served, and normally this type of partisan political attack comes only from one who's never worn a uniform.

Mr. Hagen, if you were confused about my service, you could have checked my Web site, or simply had the decency to call and ask me. When you dishonor a veteran, you dishonor all soldiers and veterans. You owe an apology to all those who serve honorably.

By Tim Walz | Candidate, U.S. Congress, Minnesota First District | Mankato, Minn.

Note the disconnect between the letter and the response-Hagen never mentioned Walz serving in Iraq nor did he imply it. Then candidate Walz simply set up a straw man argument and quickly knocked it down. Nor does Walz note the fact that he is demanding an apology from an actual combat veteran when Walz himself is not one. The offense that Walz takes exception to is a combat veteran questioning the misleading claims of a non-combat veteran. And clearly Walz knows that Hagen is a veteran, because he writes that normally such attacks come from non-veterans. Imagine a rookie NFL player demanding an apology from a veteran player for questioning the rookies' performance in a college bowl game, and you can feel the irony in Walz's response. Further pushing the irony envelope, the letter writer, Major Tom Hagen, is currently serving with the Minnesota National Guard in Iraq again. That makes it Hagen-2 combat tours, Walz-0 combat tours.

But all of this so far is really a case of being vague and misleading for political gain. I have written this post a half dozen times, but never posted it because it was just my opinion as a veteran that Congressman Walz was being vague and misleading. I called the Congressman's office in Jan 2008 about his official biography but never got a response. I asked in person at Congressman Walz's office in Washington DC in April 2008, but the congressman wasn't in that day and his staffers claimed no knowledge of the website. It was an issue, but not a big enough one to risk pissing off my US Congressman. Keep in mind that as a veteran with a disability, if I have problems with the VA, I am told to see my congressman. If I ever felt I was being treated unjustly by the military, I would need to talk to my congressman about it. So getting on my congressman's bad side has consequences for me, and I wasn't willing to risk it.

Until I saw the picture.

On April 15th this year, I organized a Tea Party in Owatonna. As part of the event, I passed around a petition asking Congressman Walz to work to repeal the 2009 stimulus bill, and I promised the people who signed it that I would give it Walz personally. After a month of requests, pleas and even a threat to contact the local paper, I finally got to see Congressman Walz. For two minutes. At a gas station on his way through town. Needless to say, I was underwhelmed by the Congressman, but that's a different story. So I started researching him online. Google, Yahoo, all the usual stuff. Then last week I came upon a picture that made my blood boil.

My congressman, who publically attacked an Iraq War veteran for questioning his service, held a sign in 2004 claiming to be an Afghanistan War veteran. Even having an already low opinion of Tim Walz, I still couldn't believe my eyes. Tim Walz held a sign at a protest outside a President Bush campaign rally (the very same rally he claims to have had his conversion at) claiming to be an "Enduring Freedom veterans for Kerry".

There are two medals that have been awarded to soldiers who served in Operation Enduring Freedom-the Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal (authorized by Executive Order on March 13, 2003) and the Afghanistan Campaign Medal (authorized by Congress on May 28, 2004). Congressman Walz does not qualify to wear either one. Yet in this photo taken by Michael Brodkorb on his way to the Mankato Bush rally and posted last year on Minnesota Democrats Exposed, then National Guardsman Command Sergeant Major Tim Walz claimed to be a veteran of a war he didn't fight in. Remember, Tim Walz's statement is that he re-enlisted after Sep 11, 2001 for 4 more years and did not retire until he decided to run for Congress (some time after this picture was taken). So he was almost certainly still a member of the MN National Guard when he held this fraudulent sign.

So the question becomes, how wrong is this? How bad is it to claim to be an Operation Enduring Freedom veteran when you are not? Reference the Stolen Valor Act of 2005-

False Claims About Receipt of Military Medals- Whoever falsely represents himself or herself, verbally or in writing, to have been awarded any decoration or medal authorized by Congress for the armed forces of the United States, or any of the service medals or badges awarded to the members of such forces, or the ribbon, button, or rosette of any such badge, decoration or medal, or any colorable imitation thereof shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than six months, or both.' (Emphasis mine)

As my kids would say, "Ruh Roh Raggy".

Fortunately for Congressman Walz, the Stolen Valor Act wasn't passed until January of 2006. But there is no way for Congressman Walz to spin this photo or explain his way out of it. He claimed in writing to be an Enduring Freedom vet and he is not. Congressman Walz needs to do two things immediately.

First, the misleading statement on his biography needs to be removed. Whatever positive effect Walz may get from letting people assume he served in Afghanistan is clearly outweighed by the ethical issue of distorting his military record. Congressman Walz should be proud to have served in Italy doing his part for the larger war effort, and he should say so.

Second, he needs to apologize. While his actions didn't violate the laws of 2004, the law was changed specifically to deter people from making false claims about their military service. His actions may have violated section 107 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, Making False Statements, but I doubt that it would be in the military's best interest to investigate a US Congressman. Nonetheless, Walz owes an apology to all of the men and women who have served in the military, especially those who actually are veterans of Enduring Freedom. As a 24 year veteran of the National Guard and a senior Non-Commissioned Officer, Walz should remember the disdain that soldiers have for those who exaggerate their accomplishments. As a politician, Walz should remember his own story of how he got involved in politics; a small outrage escalating into something big enough to require action.

As of Friday, emails and phone calls to Marcus Schmit, a constituent advocate and executive assistant in Walz's office have not been returned.


Anonymous said...

1. Yes, Walz purposely mislead people during the campaign into thinking he was actually over in the Middle East getting shot at instead of at a very cushy, safe job in Italy. Even Democrats that were supporting him thought that. I called his office on it and after nailing them they admitted it to me. He does this ALL the time – he’s a Bill Clinton clone – he doesn’t exactly lie but he makes people believe something that isn’t true. (i.e. I didn’t have sex with that woman).
2. Another great example of him doing this is how he ALWAYS says he’s 100% behind military vets (in fact that’s his whole platform). Then how come he REFUSES to support that amendment against flag burning that the American Legion endorses. Here’s a bill that would cost no money and seems like a no-brainer to support if you are really support the Patriotic, Pro-Vet platform but he won’t do it!
3. A third example of how he doesn’t tell the truth (in a tricky way) is that he says he’s for illegals having to go back to their own country. However, if you ask him directly he will admit he’s for them only going home long enough to go to the head of the line and come straight back here – a maximum 2 week trip that WE would pay for. That was when Bush was in office and the Republicans were getting lots of support for the border fence (which he wasn’t for). I’m sure he probably won’t even make them go back for their 2-week vaction now that the Dems control everything.

Anonymous said...

I especially like the guy walking by with the "restore honesty" sign.

These people really are lowbred individuals, aren't they?

That is the expected result of raising kids in an environment where the definition of "honor", "tradition" and "morality" float in the wind of popular culture.

Evidently Walz doesn't respect the role of support troops since he saw the need to mislead. He owes an apology not only to genuine combat vet's, he owes an apology to the guys and gals he served with in Italy for having slurred their proud service.

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