Saturday, February 14, 2004

About that flying exam

Dan, there's a big hole in your story.

White House communications director Dan Bartlett -- the man who Bill Burkett said was in charge of "scrubbing" George W. Bush's military records -- today gave the official version of why Bush didn't take that required physical:
White House communications director Dan Bartlett said Bush's flying exam expired on his birthday, July 6, 1972. He did not take his next exam because "he was in non-flying capacity in another state" and knew he would be there for months.

"There was no need or reason for him to take a flying exam," Bartlett said, adding that allegations that he ducked the physical were "just outrageously false."

Actually, it is Bartlett's characterization of the situation that is outrageously false.

As Walter Robinson at the Boston Globe observed today:
Earlier this week, two retired National Guard generals told the Globe that it was almost unheard of for a military aviator to miss an annual flight physical. And the Globe reported that Guard regulations would have required an investigation of Bush's failure to take the physical.

But the new records contain no hint of any such inquiry.

Bartlett told reporters that Bush did not have to take the exam in mid-1972 because he had moved temporarily to Alabama and was going to perform his duty in nonflying status.

Indeed, here are the pertinent details from that earlier story:
Two retired National Guard generals, in interviews yesterday, said they were surprised that Bush -- or any military pilot -- would forgo a required annual flight physical and take no apparent steps to rectify the problem and return to flying. "There is no excuse for that. Aviators just don't miss their flight physicals," said Major General Paul A. Weaver Jr., who retired in 2002 as the Pentagon's director of the Air National Guard, in an interview.

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.

And, once again, why this matters to the question of the records release:
The order required Bush to acknowledge the suspension in writing and also said: "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." After that, the commander had two options -- to convene the Evaluation Board to review Bush's suspension or forward a detailed report on his case up the chain of command.

Either way, officials said yesterday, there should have been a record of the investigation.

The materials released yesterday -- the supposedly "complete records" -- contain no such materials. There should either be a CO's investigation report, or the record of a Flying Evaluation Board proceeding.

Where are they, Dan Bartlett?

And please, try not to lie quite so transparently next time. After awhile, real reporters tire of having their intelligence insulted. And there are still at least one or two of those still left in the press corps -- though you'd no doubt wish otherwise.

You see, in Bartlett's version of events, George W. Bush -- future president and all -- simply was able to unilaterally choose to ignore his obligations as a highly trained jet pilot and go work in the Blount campaign in Alabama, having his duties become those of a postal clerk instead because that was what Bush wanted to do.

And indeed, it is apparent that this is generally what Bush decided to do. He moved to Alabama sometime that summer and went to work for Blount without even consulting his superiors, while simultaneously seeking to have his Texas Air National Guard pilot's duties transferred to the Alabama postal unit.

Problem is, of course, that his superiors at headquarters were not so enamored of the idea. After all, the taxpayers had just invested the equivalent in today's money of about a million dollars' worth of training in young Mr. Bush. They promptly disallowed the transfer, noting that according to National Guard regs, "an obligated Reservist can be assigned to a specific Ready Reserve position only. Therefore, he is ineligible for assignment to an Air Reserve Squadron."

On Aug. 1, 1972, Bush was suspended from flight duty for skipping the physical.

Finally, on Sept. 5, -- a full month after the suspension -- Bush reapplied for a transfer with Col. Jerry Killian. His transfer request was not approved until Sept. 15, 1972.

In other words, Bush blew off his physical in July, and was suspended from duty in August, well before it was even clear that he would be allowed to transfer to Alabama. In fact, contrary to Bartlett's version of things, it is quite clear that when he declined to take the physical, it was anything but clear that he would be allowed to transfer.

Moreover, the point of a physical is that it clears you for service for the ensuing year. If Bush intended to resume flying when he got back to Texas, as his would-be biographers seem to be claiming, he'd have had to take the July physical anyway. So why didn't he?

Nothing released by the White House so far answers these core questions.

UPDATE: Josh Marshall points out that this same timelime demolishes, with a certain finality, the claims of John C. "Bill" Calhoun. Oops, indeed.

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