Alabama Scene

Bush's phantom guard unit heads to Iraq

Bob Martin is editor and publisher of The Montgomery Independent E-mail: bob@montgomery independent.com

Bob Martin is editor and publisher of The Montgomery Independent E-mail: bob@montgomery independent.com


About 230 members of the Alabama Air National Guard’s 187th Fighter Wing from Montgomery will deploy to Iraq this month on a mission to provide close air support to U.S. forces and their allies in combat operations. They will be based at Balad Air Base north of Baghdad until the end of September.

The 187th is the Air Guard unit to which President George W. Bush was assigned to do temporary duty in 1972 while he worked in the U. S. Senate Campaign of the late Winton Blount, who made an unsuccessful attempt to unseat incumbent Democratic Sen. John Sparkman.

It was the year Mr. Bush dropped off the guard’s radar screen. He abandoned his position as a guard pilot during the height of the Vietnam War, first failing to appear for a required physical, then failing to show up at drills for at least a year, according to undisputed accounts and records I have reviewed.

Mr. Bush first tried to join the 9921st Air Reserve Squadron in Montgomery, which was classified as a “standby reserve unit.” Unlike his unit in Texas, the Alabama unit had no planes and its members were neither paid nor required to attend monthly drills. After he wasn’t allowed to make drills with that unit, he was assigned to specific drill dates with the 187th, but never showed up.

Mr. Bush insisted that after moving to Alabama in 1972, he served out his obligation at Dannelly Field in Montgomery (although he says he doesn’t remember what he did there). The only officer who recalls Mr. Bush was produced by the White House in 2004. He remembered Mr. Bush vividly, but at times when even Mr. Bush has acknowledged not being there.

In contrast there are many members of the 187th who have stated they never saw Mr. Bush, including the commanding officers. A particularly credible witness was Leonard Walls, a retired Air Force colonel who was then a full-time pilot instructor at the base. “I was there pretty much every day,” he said in 2004, adding: “I never saw him, and I was there continually from July 1972 to July 1974.” Mr. Walls, who describes himself as nonpolitical, added, “If he had been there more than once, I would have seen him,” Walls told The New York Times..

However, the most convincing evidence of Bush’s unapproved year-long absence came from the two lieutenant colonels in charge of his home unit in Houston, who wrote in 1973 that they could not rate him for the prior 12 months.

And writes Gerald Lechlitner, a retired Army colonel, “The record clearly and convincingly proves Bush did not fulfill the obligations he incurred when he enlisted in the Air National Guard.” Lechliter, who has made an exhaustive examination of Mr. Bush’s records, reports that documents the White House released in 2004 also reveal that Mr. Bush received unauthorized or fraudulent payments that breached National Guard rules.

There were many of us in my age bracket during the Vietnam period who were serving in the guard or other reserve units and were happy to be there instead of in the rice patties of Vietnam. In 1966 I was seeking election to the state Legislature in Lauderdale County and got permission to make some of my drills in Huntsville. You’d better believe I showed up because if I had done anything close to what Mr. Bush did, I would have ended up in the brig at Ft. Leavenworth.

We all wish the best and pray for the well-being of our troops who are deployed to protect this nation or carry out its interests and that includes the members of the 187th who began leaving this month to help bring an end to Mr. Bush’s war in Iraq.

Perhaps the former president should forego a few of his “talking for cash” events, come back to Montgomery and finish up his guard obligation by rejoining the 187th for its Iraq duty. Perhaps he could talk Bill Clinton into joining him.

Of course Mr. Bush is not at fault for the ill-conceived Vietnam conflict, which he and Bill deftly avoided, but he is the architect of the invasion of Iraq. If someone – perhaps the late Robert McNamara or Gen. Colin Powell – had had the courage to speak truth to power, both unnecessary conflicts might have been avoided, saving the lives of over 60,000 U. S. soldiers and million of civilians. All of us should think and pray about that.