Vincent Safuto’s Weblog

Notes and observations

There’s no ambiguity on being a military veteran

For most people, the ins and outs of local politics are about as exciting as watching cement harden. The notion of sitting through a city council or county commission meeting is, to many people, about as enjoyable as root canal.

I have to admit that even I have joked about some government meetings being cures for insomnia, but the reality is that while we may get seriously hopped up over a congressional or presidential election, the folks going into those offices seldom have as much power over our lives as those who are elected to the city council or the county commission. You ignore the local elections and who is running in them at your peril.

The actions of local boards might be reported in local newspapers no one reads, and that’s why people sometimes are shocked to discover that the piece of land next to their subdivision suddenly has bulldozers taking down the trees and a sign advertising new homes. Oh, you didn’t know about the zoning of that piece of land, or that the county commission approved 132 houses last year.

Paying attention to the local governments and their members is not a job that requires a citizen to do much more than read the local newspaper and learn about the candidates.

This blog post is not an endorsement of a candidate, by the way. It’s just a commentary on an aspect of local elections, and the one to this office in particular, and how it’s developed.

With the military activity that has been a constant in our lives since Sept. 11, 2001, many people have entered and left the military, and then gone on to work or other activities. Some have run for public office, and have found success. I believe that running for public office solely on the basis of one’s military service to be a bad idea. Yes, include it in your resume, use pictures of yourself in uniform and make sure the local news media has your DD-214, but don’t treat your service as if it’s your sole qualification for public office.

Most people tout their service as part of a package of what their life has been about, and I respect that. I would not vote for someone based on whether they served in the military, but I would give consideration to that person.

So it’s sad when someone who worked for the military as a civilian is tap-dancing around the notion of what it means to be a “veteran” of the U.S. military. This has been in the case in the race between incumbent Carol Whitmore (a Republican) and challenger Terri Wonder (a Democrat) for the District 6 at-large seat on the Manatee County Commission.

I am very biased here, because I happen to know Whitmore. I covered the commission for a local news website and one of the two main local newspapers (the latter as a free-lancer), and most of my reporting was of the “what the commission did Tuesday” variety. I personally agreed with some of her positions, and respected her efforts for stray animals in the county.

I do not know Wonder, and unfortunately what I know of her from media reports is that she has claimed to have served two “tours” in Iraq with the Army.

Here’s the problem: When you drill down to the facts, she did not serve in Iraq as a commissioned officer or enlisted person, but as a “U.S. Army civilian,” according to a tweet by Dale White of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Wonder’s website includes a photo of her in camouflage utilities and notes that she was “recruited … into a civilian program for social scientists in Iraq, where she became the voice of everyday people who were denied dignity, access, and opportunity by their corrupt, local leaders. Her applied research and cultural advising to our nation’s top commanders is credited for solving problems and saving lives. She was given a Superior Civilian Service Award in 2010 by the Office of the Commanding General of the United States Forces in Iraq.”

Her website further notes that she “surviv(ed) two deployments in Iraq” and there is another photo of her in military combat garb.

Now, had Wonder served “in” the U.S. military – had gone through basic enlisted or military training for the Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines or Coast Guard; held a rank, be it private or higher, or second lieutenant or  higher; been subject to military orders and military discipline; and had gone to the combat zones of Afghanistan or Iraq, or the areas on the periphery of those combat zones (Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, etc.); or served anywhere else stateside or around the world – I would have no issue with her identifying with the military and as a veteran, so long as she was honest about what she did in the military.

There’s an old saw that no one lies about being a cook in the Navy. I added that no one lies about being an electronics technician (as I was trained for in the Marines, in Navy schools) or aviation electrician on AV-8A Harriers (as I was from 1980-1982). But you’ll constantly see people running around claiming they were Navy SEALs or Marine Recon or another type of elite service member (Army Ranger, Green Beret), especially when running for public office.

The reality is that some people have pretty dull military careers. Unless there’s a war on, as there has been since 2001, military service consists of going somewhere, doing lots of training and waiting for something to happen where the country needs you. If you get through your enlistment or commission, as I did, with little happening, well, you leave the service with the knowledge that you did your bit, and move on.

Whitmore has never claimed to have served in the military, and like all politicians expresses respect and regard for the military. Wonder could have just gone that far, but apparently decided to “play the military card” even though her service was not the type that makes one a veteran. Whether she had intention to deceive is not for me to judge, but having read about people who inflate their military involvement and service, I have to say that it’s not right and it’s disrespectful to those who have submitted themselves to military discipline as enlistees and commissioned officers.

You either are a military veteran or you aren’t. You either held a rank or you didn’t. Maybe you were exposed to danger as a civilian, but that doesn’t make you a veteran, and doesn’t give you the right to claim the title of veteran.

“I worked for the Army as a civilian in Iraq,” would have worked fine as a statement of what Wonder did. As for her “commendations,” well, lots of people get pieces of paper. I can show you plenty of mine just for showing up in my service in the military.

We’ve seen recently a plethora of military fakers and exaggerators. A U.S. senator has been exposed as having plagiarized a dissertation at the Army War College. Sen. John Walsh, D-Mont., according to a story in The Washington Post:

“Told the Associated Prss that he was suffering from PTSD when he wrote his thesis and still takes antidepressants.

‘I don’t want to blame my mistake on PTSD, but I do want to say it may have been a factor,’ Walsh told the AP. ‘My head was not in a place very conducive to a classroom and an academic environment.’

Walsh’s campaign insisted that he did not deliberately try to mislead anyone.  The campaign added that during the period Walsh wrote the paper, he experienced nightmares, anxiety and sleep problems following his return form Iraq in November, 2005.

Walsh started War College in July of 2006 and completed his paper in March, 2007. He completed his studies in June, 2007.

‘This was unintentional and it was a mistake,’ Walsh campaign spokeswoman Lauren Passalacqua said in a statement. ‘There were areas that should have been cited differently but it was completely unintentional.’ “

In an article for the Military Times paper, he later added that a member of his unit had committed suicide.

There also have been questions about Walsh’s actual service. He did deploy to Iraq as the leader of the 1st Battalion, 163rd Infantry Regiment of the Montana National Guard.

In Walsh’s Wikipedia entry, this paragraph is of note:

“When The New York Times alleged that Walsh plagiarized a paper he had submitted at the War College in July 2014, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee initially announced that it was “100% behind” Walsh.[65] In contrast, least three Montana newspapers, the Missoulian, the Billings Gazette, and the Bozeman-area Montana Pioneer, published editorials calling for Walsh to end his candidacy because of the plagiarism allegation. In addition to the damage of the allegations themselves, Walsh’s campaign was criticized for missteps in its response. The campaign office acknowledged they had made an “unintentional mistake” when they stated Walsh had “survived hundreds of IED explosions”. They clarified that this figure applied to his unit; Walsh personally survived one attack. On August 7, 2014, Walsh announced that he was leaving the 2014 race to concentrate on finishing up his term in the Senate, which will end in January 2015. The Montana state Democratic Central Committee had to select a replacement candidate to appear on the November ballot, and on August 16, chose State Representative Amanda Curtis as Walsh’s replacement.”

It’s a shame that lies and exaggerations have ended a political career, but that is the punishment that must be leveled when candidates lie about or exaggerate military service.

And that holds in the case of the Manatee County Commission, District 6, race.


October 14, 2014 - Posted by | Life lessons, Politics | , , , , , , ,

1 Comment »

  1. […] October 2014, I wrote about how a local candidate for Manatee County Commission was trying to score points with the […]

    Pingback by Playing the military card can turn you into a joker « Vincent Safuto’s Weblog | August 4, 2015 | Reply

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