NYT Editorial: Bush's Service in the National Guard





Editorial in the NYT (Feb. 11, 2004):

If President Bush thought that his release of selected payroll and service records would quell the growing controversy over whether he ducked some of his required service in the Air National Guard three decades ago, he is clearly mistaken. The payroll records released yesterday document that he performed no guard duties at all for more than half a year in 1972 and raise questions about how he could be credited with at least 14 days of duty during subsequent periods when his superior officers in two units said they had not seen him.

Investigative reporting by The Boston Globe, our sibling newspaper, revealed in 2000 that Mr. Bush had reported for duty and flown regularly in his first four Texas Guard years but dropped off the Guard's radar screen when he went to Alabama to work on a senatorial campaign. The payroll records show that he was paid for many days of duty in the first four months of 1972, when he was in Texas, but then went more than six months without being paid, virtually the entire time he was working on the Senate campaign in Alabama. That presumably means he never reported for duty during that period.

Mr. Bush was credited with 14 days of service at unspecified locations between Oct. 28, 1972, and the end of April 1973. The commanding officer of the Alabama unit to which Mr. Bush was supposed to report long ago said that he had never seen him appear for duty, and Mr. Bush's superiors at the Texas unit to which he returned wrote in May 1973 that they could not write an annual evaluation of him because he had not been seen there during that year. Those statements are so jarringly at odds with the payroll data that they demand further elaboration. A Guard memo prepared for the White House by a former Guard official says Mr. Bush earned enough points to fulfill his duty but leaves it unclear whether he got special treatment.

The issue is not whether Mr. Bush, like many sons of the elite in his generation, sought refuge in the Guard to avoid combat in Vietnam. The public knew about that during the 2000 campaign. Whether Mr. Bush actually performed his Guard service to the full is a different matter. It bears on presidential character because the president has continually rejected claims that there was anything amiss about his Guard performance during the Alabama period. Mr. Bush himself also made the issue of military service fair game by posturing as a swashbuckling pilot when welcoming a carrier home from Iraq. Now, the president needs to make a fuller explanation of how he spent his last two years in the Guard.


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