Two Tales of Embellishing Military Service: One of These Things is Not Like the Other

May 30, 2010

(ChattahBox)—Richard Blumenthal, Connecticut attorney general and Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate was hit hard these past two-weeks with constant negative media coverage, after a NY Times hit piece alleging he purposefully embellished his military record for political gain. He apologized, acknowledging that on a couple of occasions he incorrectly described his service, as serving “in” Vietnam, instead of “during,” but his official biography was accurate. And there was no sense that Blumenthal, was guilty of nothing more than misspeaking. Much ado about nothing. Blumenthal holds a commanding lead in the race and his Connecticut constituents have moved on. But now we have the case of Republican Rep. Mark Kirk, running for President Obama’s former Senate seat in Illinois. And Kirk lends a whole new meaning to embellishing one’s military record. What did he do? Well, for starters he falsely claimed that he was personally honored with a prestigious Naval award. And this wasn’t just careless misspeaking. Kirk included the fake award in his official biography and bragged about it during a televised House meeting. Will the media become outraged, as it did with the Blumenthal story, devoting over a week of constant coverage to his misstatements, while calling for his head? It doesn’t look like it.

Let’s examine Kirk’s exaggerations, which by-the-way were hardly necessary: Kirk holds a distinguished record of service as a U.S. Naval Reserve officer.

Exaggeration number one: Kirk boasted of being “the only member of Congress to serve in Operation Iraqi Freedom.” Well, that isn’t true. Kirk fell into the same “in” and “during” problem, as Blumenthal. Kirk never actually served “in” the conflict. And worse, Kirk made the false claim on his official website. When the falsehood was pointed out to Kirk, did he immediately issue an apology and make a correction? Not, so much:

“Kirk’s office refused to address the falsehood on his web site for more than 50 days after I first contacted him, despite the fact the Navy’s Office of Information agreed that, because Kirk had never served in Iraq during Iraqi Freedom, he had no right to claim to be an Iraqi Freedom veteran. In the end, Kirk’s staff simply changed the site without comment or apology.”

Exaggeration number two: This is my favorite. Kirk once claimed that he commanded the Pentagon’s iconic war room. “In my role in the military, I command the war room in the Pentagon,” said Kirk during a military talk last year. Well that’s mighty impressive, except that it isn’t true. According to Politico, Kirk wildly embellished his duties:

“This struck military observers as, literally speaking, implausible: The Pentagon’s National Military Command Center is typically run in eight-hour shifts headed by an officer of the rank of a one-star general, who would outrank Kirk, an intelligence officer in the Navy, both a retired flag officer and current Pentagon official said.

Again, there was no reason for Kirk to embellish. He actually does serve an impressive role, within the command structure of the National Military Command Center but he doesn’t “command” the whole shebang:

“Kirk’s post puts him “in charge of the intelligence section of the alert center — the information ‘war room'” — and is responsible for contacting the [Director of Intelligence] when necessary,”‘ his campaign said.

Exaggeration number three: Kirk claimed in his official biography that he was the personal recipient of the U.S. Navy’s Intelligence Officer of the Year award for his service, during NATO’s conflict with Serbia. The prestigious award, according to the Washington Post, “is given by top Navy officials to a single individual annually.” But Kirk never received that honor. Instead, a little known award was given to Kirk’s entire military unit, by a professional group, in which Kirk was not even named:

“A professional group, the National Military Intelligence Association, gave Kirk’s unit — based in Aviano, Italy — an award for outstanding service in 2000. The association’s Vice Admiral Rufus L. Taylor Award celebrates “the exceptional achievements of an outstanding Naval Intelligence career professional,” but the citation does not mention Kirk and instead designates the entire Intelligence Division Electronic Attack Wing at Aviano.”

Kirk also falsely boasted of receiving the Officer of the Year award, during a House committee meeting in 2002. “I was the Navy’s Intelligence Officer of the Year,” declared Kirk.

Did Kirk immediately apologize when he was caught issuing a falsehood about his military service? Nope. He noted an error and changed his official biography. “Kirk wrote on his blog that “upon a recent review of my records, I found that an award listed in my official biography was misidentified” and that the award he had intended to list was given to his entire unit.”

It seems embellishing and exaggerating his service record, is a habit that Kirk just can’t quit. And no doubt, more “corrections” to his official biography are sure to come.


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