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President's Military Records Released

The White House says the National Guard documents show Bush completed his duty. But critics say many details remain sketchy.

February 11, 2004|Richard A. Serrano | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — The White House on Tuesday released payroll records that it said prove President Bush fulfilled his military obligation as a member of the Air National Guard during the Vietnam War.

Bush was hoping to quell a controversy about whether he had shown up for duty in 1972 with a National Guard unit in Alabama or, as Democrats suggested, he had been absent without leave.

But administration officials did not say what duties Bush performed during the stint in Alabama or provide the names of anyone who remembered him being there.

The military records show that Bush performed some type of "inactive duty" during six days in the fall of 1972, at a time when he had obtained permission to transfer from Texas to Alabama to work on the Senate campaign of a friend of his father's. The records are not clear whether those six days of service were performed in Alabama or Texas.

Nevertheless, former Lt. Col. Albert C. Lloyd Jr. -- who was personnel director of the Texas Air National Guard during Bush's service -- said Tuesday that he had reviewed the documents and was satisfied that Bush's honorable discharge was deserved.

Lloyd has examined Bush's military records on behalf of the president twice, first when he was running for the White House in 2000 and again Monday, when the documents surfaced. "I'm just as convinced today as I was four years ago that he served," Lloyd said.

Added White House spokesman Scott McClellan: "These documents clearly show that the president fulfilled his duties."

The Democratic National Committee was not impressed. "The fact remains," said Chairman Terry McAuliffe, "that there is still no evidence that George W. Bush showed up for duty as ordered while in Alabama."

Bush, born into a prominent family with extensive government connections, joined the Texas Air National Guard in 1968 shortly before he graduated from Yale University; otherwise, he could have been drafted for service in Vietnam. Bush was trained to fly F-102 interceptor jets as part of his six-year commitment to the Air National Guard, most of which entailed part-time or weekend duty.

In contrast, the leading Democratic candidate for president, Sen. John F. Kerry of Massachusetts, was a highly decorated Navy officer in Vietnam. Many political observers expect Democrats to play up the differences in the two men's military careers as a key character issue in the campaign.

No one in the Alabama National Guard unit has come forward with recollections of serving with Bush, which has prompted several top Democratic leaders to suggest the president was AWOL during that period.

According to Lloyd, National Guard rules at the time required service members to accumulate about 50 points in duty time each year. Points were compiled under a formula that gave weight to different types of activities, which would range from serious training to reading flying magazines. And there was flexibility in how and when the points were compiled.

For example, the records released Tuesday showed that in 1972, Bush performed no service from April 16 to Oct. 28. But in the first few months of the year, he reported to duty on 30 days.

Lloyd said that when Bush was given approval to move to Alabama for the last three months of 1972, it included "permission" to serve in the 187th Tactical Reconnaissance Group in Montgomery. Bush did not have to perform duties with that unit, but if he did the time would be credited to him.

The records released Tuesday showed he performed at least four hours of inactive service -- tasks that deal more with preparation than active training -- during two days in October and four days in November. Lloyd described it as "doing anything from lesson preparation, training or he could have been in a parade."

Lloyd said the pay records did not reveal whether Bush performed the work with the Alabama squadron or at his home base in Houston. Either way, Lloyd said, Bush accumulated more than enough points to qualify that year; in the fall of 1973, Bush was given an honorable discharge eight months early to attend Harvard Business School.

In 2000, Lloyd said, he received a telephone call from Dan Bartlett -- now the White House communications director -- stating that the Bush campaign had obtained some of Bush's National Guard records but did not understand them. Lloyd said he voluntarily went to the campaign headquarters in Austin, Texas, and examined the records.

At the time, Lloyd said, he noticed that the payroll records were missing and advised the campaign to obtain them as well. They did not. "I think the reason was that everybody sort of forgot about this," Lloyd said. "It kind of died a natural death."

Democrats, however, brought it back to life.

The Internet has been swirling with vitriolic language that suggests Bush, the commander in chief who sent soldiers to war in Afghanistan and Iraq, shirked his own military obligation.

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