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Tuesday, February 10, 2004

Media, DNC clueless about military 

Yeah, yeah, I know. Big surprise there. But this whole thing about Bush's National Guard service is really driving the point home for me. As a Reservist, I'm struck by how much of the current controversy stems from a simple misunderstanding of the military and the Reserves/National Guard. This Reuters article illustrates my point nicely.

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Bush was absent for long periods of his final two years of National Guard duty but met service requirements, according to new records cited by the White House in an effort to refute accusations he shirked Vietnam War-era military obligations.
Hmm. Long periods of absence. Doesn't sound good for Bush. But I want to know more about these absences...

The documents show long gaps in Bush's Guard service, from May through late October 1972, and mid-January through early April 1973.

Bush spent part of the fall of 1972 working on a political campaign in Alabama, but he performed "equivalent duty" while out of Texas, McClellan said.
"Equivalent duty" is apparently an older term that is no longer used, but the principle is alive and well in today's Guard and Reserve. Drills do not have to be done on the scheduled weekend. If someone has other things going on, they can request to reschedule their drills to another time. They can be done anytime--on weekends, weekdays, one drill at a time, or ten. I've known people who have missed considerable amounts of time and either front-loaded their drills to fulfill their requirement ahead of time, or made them up later. Missing a few months is not the norm, but it's not unknown either. Obviously, approval from the chain of command is needed to deviate from the scheduled drills, but unless there's a major unit event, approval is generally easy to get. In my reserve job, I recommend approval on several such requests every month.

Okay, so that should cover the critics who think that missing time is missing time, period, and that must mean Bush was AWOL. Now I move on to another misunderstanding, this time of a single word:

The Democratic Party said in a statement, "There is still no evidence that George W. Bush showed up for duty as ordered while in Alabama." It noted an evaluation report from superiors in Texas said Bush had not been "observed" from April 1972 to May 1973.
The Democratic Party needs to run this stuff past their military veterans before they make fools of themselves. "Not observed" is a specific type of evaluation. It means that an individual was either a) Present for fewer than 90 days before the annual report was due, b) Not directly supervised by a superior who could evaluate performance, for instance at a training school, or c) Not present for enough time for the reporting senior to write an accurate evaluation. For every single day of my active duty time, I was accounted for, and yet I received six "Not Observed" reports. Some cover the time I was in my initial post-commissioning training, others cover temporary assignments, and a couple are Not Observed because I reported to a new command less than 90 days before my annual evaluation was due. Those six reports hardly mean I was nowhere to be found.

I assure you, if a military officer, active or Guard/Reserve, were to shirk his or her duties, the report would definitely not be "Not Observed." It would be a "Regular" report filled with bad marks and derogatory comments.

I think it's time for the critics to educate themselves, and learn a little about the military. Otherwise they look like fools to people like me who know the difference between "rescheduled" and "AWOL," and who know that "not observed" does not mean "absent."

UPDATE: The NYT editorial board doesn't get it either.

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.
Sigh... And if he didn't, so what? He made up the time later. It happens all the time and it's perfectly kosher! Someone in my unit is about to miss 4 months of duty and has permission to do so! Why is this so damn hard for people to understand???

Has ANYONE thought to talk to someone in the Guard or Reserve? If they do, they might learn the things I'm talking about here.

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...
Oh yes, General Turnipseed... Look, I have worn a Navy uniform for nearly eleven years, and six as an active duty officer. I am an officer of higher rank than Bush was, and I know that at no point in my career has any Admiral known who I was, let alone where I was. Generals don't spend much time keeping tabs on 1st Lieutenants.

...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.
Because he was in Alabama! See above, where I talk about what "not observed" means. Good Lord, these people need to get a clue.

I'm not fired up because someone's attacking President Bush. He's my Commander in Chief, and that's all I really should say. My job description doesn't include fending off political attacks. But it infuriates me to see people basing arguments on things about which they do not have the tiniest bit of understanding. The problem is, so few people have the knowledge to interpret this story. From the news editor whose exposure to the military is limited to seeing a Humvee by the GW Bridge one time, to the Democratic party activist from Greenwich or Frisco, to the vast majority of everyday Americans who haven't spent a day in the military, most people lack the firsthand knowledge required to make sense of this whole thing.

And it isn't their fault. They simply don't know the inner workings of the military, just as they don't know the inner workings of economics, or for that matter of the Neverland Ranch. So they rely on headlines and sound bites to interpret the news for them, and they think they know the story as a result.

It's all they have, after all.
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