I read Col. (retired) William Campenni’s February 11 letter to the Washington Times–”Bush and I Were Lieutenants”–and had a few additional thoughts I wanted to share.
Although I did not serve in the National Guard in the ’70s, much of what Campenni says was still true in the ’80s and ’90s. During my service I was not able to make every drill, due to work, travel, etc.; however, those missed drills could be made up through additional periods of duty. In fact, one of my colleagues was an insurance adjuster for State Farm, and he missed several months in the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew, when he was sent to help out in southern Florida.
Something Col. Campenni neglects to mention in the letter (but did allude to in a TV interview on Hannity and Colmes) is that in the Guard and Reserves you earn retirement points. A certain number of points are required within a given calendar year to add up to a “good year” for retirement. Each drill, two-week annual training session, additional duty period, etc. is worth a certain number of points. You were not necessarily punished if you did not get a certain number in a year, other than that year did not count toward retirement.
As Army helicopter pilots, in addition to our normal drill and annual training schedules, we also had annual flight physicals, flight exams (check rides), and flight-hour minimums to attain. We could not do this within the context of one weekend a month and two weeks during the summer. Many of us had either 24 or 48 additional flight periods we would have to complete to make these minimums. (As a point of reference, a flight period is a four-hour block of time–so a typical drill weekend comprised four flight periods.) I imagine the Air Force was, and is, very similar. While safety was certainly paramount to anyone involved in military aviation, the training and missions were, and are, inherently dangerous. We were training and preparing for combat (and simultaneously hoping and praying that the country would not see it). As Col. Campenni’s letter pointed out, there are much safer ways to serve your country than in military aviation.
The attacks on Bush, although veiled as specific quarrels with him and his record, really come across as assaults on those who have served and are serving in the National Guard and Reserves. Alan Colmes tried this line of reasoning last week (that this is not an attack on Guard and Reserve duty, but an attack on Bush and how he served–or did not serve–his term). I don’t know all the statistics, but I believe the Vietnam War is the only major U.S. conflict in which the Guard and Reserves played a relatively minor role (this was a deliberate, political decision by the Johnson administration). In this sense Vietnam is an anomaly, and can really only be seen that way in retrospect.
So the logic adopted by Alan Colmes and others does not work for at least two reasons: First, how can he, or I, or anyone else know what Lieutenant Bush’s motives were for serving in the Air National Guard? Second, given the historical use of the Guard and Reserves and the nature and commitment of military aviation, how can we infer that Lieutenant Bush was trying to avoid danger or deployment to Vietnam?
From this logical muddle, one thing emerges very clear: that those conveying and repeating the attacks as newsworthy have very little, if any, knowledge of serving in the military, especially in the National Guard or Reserves. And despite this ignorance, there does not seem to have been much effort or research undertaken to alleviate it. The coverage has clearly presumed (or wished for) guilt on Bush’s part. Have any of the accusers provided proof, or even been asked by “responsible” media outlets to provide proof, that Bush was AWOL? Have any of them even researched how service in the National Guard or Reserves works before making the accusations? The evidence would seem to suggest that these are clearly partisan attacks, with very little basis in fact. It is sad that we as individuals, and the media as the last line of defense in the information war, do not maintain high standards of conduct and expectations before propagating these types of accusations.
Finally, the hypocrisy of these attacks–given former President Clinton’s decisions in this same era, and even Senator Kerry’s actions after returning from Vietnam–is astounding. Regardless of Bush’s motives at the time, both Kerry and Clinton should be vigorously defending him from these spurious attacks; assuming, of course, that their convictions at the time were real and principled.
Ultimately, our veterans and men and women in uniform will decide this. My guess is that, when they do, they will overwhelmingly support Bush.
–Richard Novak is a writer living in Iowa and a former National Guardsman.