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Bush Went AWOL from the National Guard


Michelle Mairesse

     During the second week of February 2004, Press Secretary Scott McClellan defended President Bush's spotty National Guard service record by stolidly repeating the mantra of the week: Not only had reporters' questions been asked and answered before the election, but an honorable discharge proved that Bush had met his obligations. On Thursday, veteran journalist Helen Thomas opened up a new line of questioning that must have given McClellan an eerie sense of being trapped in a time-warp.

     The first time McClellan heard the question was during Bush's run for the presidency when McClellan was his campaign manager. It came from biographer J. H. Hatfield. Here is Hatfield's account:

     "Presidential campaign spokesman Scott McClellan had previously told Salon, 'We do not dignify false rumors and innuendoes with a response,' after the on-line magazine asked him if Bush ever performed community service at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Center in Houston in exchange for having his 'illicit drug use' record expunged.

     "In the past, McClellan always seemed to be the consummate campaign spokesperson, always in control, never rattled by the sometimes raucous press corps and their continuous barrage of questions. But that impression was shattered when I queried McClellan about Bush's involvement at Project P.U.L.L. in 1972 as a condition of having his cocaine possession charge purged. There was a moment of electric silence, and then McClellan muttered an almost inaudible, 'Oh, shit,' and after hesitating for a moment, finally said, 'No comment.'" (Fortunate Son: George W. Bush and the Making of an American President, J. H. Hatfield, Soft Skull Press, 2001)

     Now here was Helen Thomas, in 2004, resurrecting a rumor that could have derailed Bush's 2000 presidential campaign had the press been paying attention.

"Q: Did the President ever have to take time off from Guard duty to do community service?

Scott McClellan: To do community service? I haven't looked into everything he did 30 years ago, Helen. Obviously, there is different community service he has performed in the past, including going back to that time period --

Q: Can you find out if he actually had --

Scott McClellan: Helen, I don't think we remember every single activity he was involved in 30 years ago.

Q: No, this isn't an activity. Was he forced to do community service at any time while he was on --

Scott McClellan: What's your interest in that question? I'm sorry, I just --

Q: Lots of rumors. I'm just trying to clear up something.

Scott McClellan: Rumors about what?

Q: Pardon?

Scott McClellan: Rumors about what?

Q: About the President having to do community service while he was in the National Guard, take time out for that.

Scott McClellan: I'm not aware of those rumors. But if you want to --

Q: Could you look it up? Would you mind asking him?

Scott McClellan: That's why I'm asking what's your interest in that? I just don't understand your interest in that.

Q: It's what everybody is interested in, whether we're getting the true story on his Guard duty.

Scott McClellan: Well, you have the documents that show the facts.

Q: I'm asking you to try to find out from the President of the United States.

Scott McClellan: Like I said, it's well known the different jobs he had and what he was doing previously, that we know. That goes back to --

Q: I didn't say 'previously.' I said, while he was on Guard duty.

Scott McClellan: But you're asking me about 30 years ago. I don't think there's a recollection of everything he was doing 30 years ago.

Q: Well, he would know if he had to take time out. . . ."

. . . and so on, for fifteen minutes.

     If Scott McClellan doesn't know whether or not Bush performed community service while he was in the National Guard, he can look up this reference on the official State Department site:

"During this period, George W. worked for a former partner of his father's, who had left the oil-drilling business to start an agricultural company in Houston that had interests in a wide variety of things, from cattle and chickens to tropical plants. George's job was to travel around the United States and to countries in Central America looking for plant nurseries his company might want to acquire.

"In the spring of 1972, he left this job and went to Alabama to work on the unsuccessful U.S. Senate campaign of Republican Winton Blount. Returning to Houston, he became a counselor for African-American youngsters in a program called PULL (Professional United Leadership League). The program brought together volunteers from the athletic, entertainment, and business worlds to work with young people in a variety of ways. George taught basketball and wrestling and organized field trips to juvenile prisons, so his young charges could see that side of life and resolve not to end up there themselves.

"'He was a super, super guy' says Ernie Ladd, a professional football player who also worked with the program. 'Everybody loved him so much. He had a way with people....They didn't want him to leave.'

"His work with Project PULL, Bush says in A Charge to Keep, gave him 'a glimpse of a world I had never seen. It was tragic, heartbreaking, and uplifting, all at the same time. I saw a lot of poverty. I also saw bad choices: drugs, alcohol abuse, men who had fathered children and walked away, leaving single mothers struggling to raise children on their own. I saw children who could not read and were way behind in school. I also saw good and decent people working to try to help lift these kids out of their terrible circumstances.'"

     Three sources told biographer J. H. Hatfield that Bush was performing community service on the orders of a judge. A Yale classmate said, "George W. was arrested for possession of cocaine in 1972, but due to his father's connections, the entire record was expunged by a state judge whom the older Bush helped get elected. It was one of those 'behind closed doors in the judges' chambers' kind of thing between the old man and one of his Texas cronies who owed him a favor ... There's only a handful of us that know the truth."

     If the record of an arrest was expunged, Bush apparently received the equivalent of Youthful Offender status at the age of 26.

     Another Bush associate told Hatfield, "I can't and won't give you any new names, but I can confirm that W's Dallas attorney remains the repository of any evidence of the expunged record. From what I've been told, the attorney is the one who advised him to get a new drivers license in 1995 when a survey of his public records uncovered a stale, but nevertheless incriminating trail for an overly eager reporter to follow."

     Records prove that Bush did get a new drivers license at that time.

     Newsweek (July 9, 2000) reported that the Bush campaign "launched a secretive research operation designed to scour all records relating to his Vietnam-era service" while preparing for Bush's 1998 re-election campaign. They paid Dallas lawyer Harriet Miers $19,000 to review the records.

     In 1998, retired National Guard officer Bill Burkett said that in the spring of 1997, Bush's chief of staff James Allbaugh asked Major General Daniel James to assemble Bush's Guard records so that Bush aides could review them. Days later, Burkett says he saw about twenty pages from Bush's military files in a trash can.


     "'His records have clearly been cleaned up,'" says author James Moore, whose upcoming book, 'Bush's War for Re-election,' will examine the issue of Bush's military service in great detail. Moore says as far back as 1994, when Bush first ran for governor of Texas, his political aides 'began contacting commanders and roommates and people who would spin and cover up his Guard record. And when my book comes out, people will be on the record testifying to that fact: witnesses who helped clean up Bush's military file.'" Salon, 04/ 02/14.

     Before Bush's run for the governorship of Texas and the presidency of the United States, journalists were put off by the missing records in Bush's military files, but as researchers uncovered more records, a clearer picture of Bush's military service emerged.

     On January 19, 1968, Bush completed the Air Force officer qualifications test in New Haven while he attended Yale University. Although he scored 25%, the lowest possible passing grade, and had a record of arrests (2 misdemeanors, 2 collisions, 2 drunk driving citations), on the same day he applied he was accepted into the "Champagne Unit," where the sons of the politically well-connected trained. He jumped to the head of the line of 160 Texas applicants for two available pilot training slots, neatly avoiding a year and half on the waiting list. Lucky for him, because his draft deferment would have expired in twelve days. Former Lt. Gov. Ben Barnes later admitted recommending George W. Bush for a slot in the Texas Air National Guard at the request of a Bush family friend.

     On May 27, 1968, another family friend, commander of the Texas National Guard Walter B. Staudt, interviewed Bush, recommended him for pilot training, and arranged to have his picture taken with the aspiring pilot.

     In June, Bush, with an undistinguished academic record, received his bachelor of arts degree from Yale.

     On July 12, 1968, a three-member Federal Recognition Examining Board bypassed the requirement for 23 weeks of officers' candidate school and declared Bush qualified for promotion to 2nd lieutenant in the 111th Fighter Interceptor Squadron. Two days later, Bush attended basic military training in San Antonio and completed training August 25, about 100 hours short of the hours requirement.

     From December 29, 1969 to January 20, 1970, Bush trained at Ellington Air Force Base, near Houston.

     On August 24, 1970 a three-member board recommended Bush for promotion to first lieutenant.

     In 1971, Bush participated in drills and alerts at Ellington. In his civilian job, he was said to be flying for Stratford of Texas to scout plant nurseries in Florida and Central America.

     Bush had his last flight physical examination in May. From May 1971 to May 1972 he logged 22 days of active duty.

     Then things began to get strange. In May 1972, Bush requested a transfer from his Texas unit to the 9921st Air Reserve Squadron at Maxwell Air Force Base, a postal unit, after he had already moved to Alabama to work as a political director on the Senate campaign of Winton M. Blount, another family friend. The transfer was initially approved by his superiors in Houston but ultimately denied by higher-ups because the unit had no airplanes and met only one night a month. After spending from half a million to a million dollars on a pilot's education, the National Guard is reluctant to allow pilots to fritter away their skills in a paper unit.

     On September 6, Bush was finally approved for a transfer to a flying unit, although by now five months had elapsed since he established residence in Alabama. His orders required him to report to the unit commander, General William Turnipseed at the 187th Tactical Reconnaissance Group in Montgomery, Alabama, on the dates of "7-8 October 0730-1600, and 4-5 November 0730-1600," but he never appeared. In an interview with the Boston Globe, both General Turnipseed and his former administration officer asserted that Bush didn't show up. Guard records reveal that Bush performed no military duties in Alabama until late October 1972. Until then, he was busy with the Blount campaign.

     The racist, reactionary Blount senatorial campaign plastered Alabama with billboards that proclaimed, "A vote for Red Blount is a vote against forced busing . . . against coddling criminals . . . against welfare freeloaders." Although Blount lost the election, Bush learned the rudiments of dirty-tricks campaigning without over-exerting himself.

     He didn't strike his peers as a go-getter. "Those who encountered Bush in Alabama remember him as an affable social drinker who acted younger than his 26 years. Referred to as George Bush, Jr. by newspapers in those days, sources say he also tended to show up late every day, around noon or one, at Blount's campaign headquarters in Montgomery. They say Bush would prop his cowboy boots on a desk and brag about how much he drank the night before." (First Son: George W. Bush and the Bush Family Dynasty, Bill Minutaglio, Times Books, 1999)

     The Progressive Southerner, February 2, 2004, describes "George W. Bush's Lost Year in 1972 Alabama":

     "Many of those who came into close contact with Bush say he liked to drink beer and Jim Beam whiskey, and to eat fist-fulls of peanuts, and Executive burgers, at the Cloverdale Grill. They also say he liked to sneak out back for a joint of marijuana or into the head for a line of cocaine. The newspapers that year are full of stories about the scourge of cocaine from Vietnam and China, much of it imported by the French. (Remember the French Connection?)

     "According to Cathy Donelson, a daughter of old Montgomery but one of the toughest investigative reporters to work for newspapers in Alabama over the years, the 1960s came to Old Cloverdale in the early 1970s about the time of Bush's arrival.

     'We did a lot of drugs in those days,' she said. "The 1970s are a blur." (

     In April 1972, the military began to include routine drug tests in servicemen's annual physical examination, including urinalysis, an examination of the nasal cavities, and queries concerning drug use. According to the regulation, the medical was scheduled for the month after the serviceman's birthday, August 1972 in Bush's case.

     On September 29, 1972 the National Guard Bureau sent Bush an order that put the seal of officialdom on Bush's verbal suspension from flying that had occurred in August. Reason for the suspension: Failure to accomplish annual medical examination. Bush was ordered to acknowledge his grounding in writing and the Bureau noted that "the local commander who has authority to convene a Flying Evaluation Board will direct an investigation as to why the individual failed to accomplish the medical examination." There is no record that the investigating board was ever convened. Nor was there any record that Bush served from May 1, 1972 until April 30, 1973, although he should have logged at least 36 days of service.

     There is no evidence that, in the 42 months between May 1971 and November 21, 1974, when he was officially discharged, Bush ever had an Air Force physical examination.

     In December 1972, Bush returned to Houston, but apparently not to his Air Force unit. In January 1973 he did community service with the P.U.L.L. inner-city poverty program. On May 2, 1973, the two lieutenant colonels in charge of Bush's unit in Houston, one of them a friend of Bush, were unable to rate him for the prior 12 months, saying he had not been at the unit during that period. Later that month, Bush received two special orders to appear for active duty. Because he was officially grounded, during May, June, and July, he served 36 days of non-flying drills at Ellington before leaving the Guard early.

     In September 1973, Bush asked to be discharged from the Texas Air National Guard and to be transferred to the Air Reserve Personnel Center. Transfer to the inactive reserves ends any requirements to attend monthly drills. Despite his shabby record, the Guard granted his request.

     He was released eight months early to attend Harvard Business School, although he could have been compelled to fulfill his service obligation at a base near Harvard University. In all, Bush completed a total of 51 months out of 72 months he owed the Guard.

     Commenting on Bush's record, two National Guard generals declared that Bush's refusal to submit to a medical examination was, in itself, incomprehensible.

     "Brigadier General David L. McGinnis, a former top aide to the assistant secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs, said in an interview that Bush's failure to remain on flying status amounts to a violation of the signed pledge by Bush that he would fly for at least five years after he completed flight school in November 1969.

     "'Failure to take your flight physical is like a failure to show up for duty. It is an obligation you can't blow off,' McGinnis said.

     "McGinnis said he, too, thought it possible that Bush's superiors considered him a liability, so they decided 'to get him off the books, make his father happy, and hope no one would notice.'

     "But McGinnis said there should have been an investigation and a report. If there were no investigation, it would show how far they were willing to stretch the rules to accommodate Bush."

      It looks a though both Congress and the American people now realize they have been too willing to stretch the rules to accommodate Bush. Let's give him a dishonorable discharge and send him back to Texas.