Thursday, February 19, 2004

AWOL: Corrections, clarifications, amplifications

It's come to my attention, thanks to a critic in my comments, that in my post on the circumstances under which George W. Bush skipped out on his flight physical, I have the date wrong regarding the decision by national headquarters to deny Bush permission to transfer to Alabama.

According to the most recent releases available, the actual date the denial was issued was July 15. See this PDF file (scroll down) for the document, which was generated by the Air Reserve Personnel Center in Denver, which is the national headquarters for assignments.

[In the only previously available version of this document, the date was obscured, leading its owner to incorrectly identify the date. Other reports carried the same incorrect date.]

This doesn't significantly alter the scenario I described in that post: That Bush applied for the transfer to a non-flying unit and cleared out of Texas for Alabama regardless of whether his superiors in the Guard would allow that (and by superiors, I mean those at HQ). Indeed, even the now-retired Colonel who recommended he give it a shot knew it was unlikely to succeed, according to an interview he gave for this Washington Post story from 2000:
The personnel officer in charge of Bush's 147th Fighter Group, now-retired Col. Rufus G. Martin, says he tried to give Bush a light load, telling him to apply to the 9921st Air Reserve Squadron in Montgomery, Ala.

Martin said in an interview that he knew Bush wasn't eligible for the 9921st, an unpaid, general training squadron that met once a week to hear lectures on first aid and the like. "However," he said, "I thought it was worth a try. . . . It was the least participation of any type of unit." But Air Force Reserve officials rejected the assignment, saying Bush had two more years of military obligations and was ineligible for a reserve squadron that had nothing to do with flying airplanes.

Well, certainly Col. Martin knew there was a strong likelihood that HQ would order Bush to stay put in Texas. As previously mentioned, Air Reserve officials guard their pilots zealously; this portrait of a lax Air Guard environment in which Bush could simply dump his flying status at will has the distinct ring of apologist fantasy. Certainly it runs counter to the testimony of the retired generals who have weighed in on the case, as well as numerous veteran pilots.

Could Bush have not known that his application was likely to be rejected? It's possible -- but only if Col. Martin (he was then a major) had failed to inform him of this at the time he recommended approval of the transfer. (A document of his recommendation is dated June 5, 1972.) Did Martin in fact fail to inform Bush of this? Bush seems to say so, according to the Post story:
Bush spokesman Dan Bartlett said Bush didn't know that when he applied.

I guess it depends on who you believe.

Nowhere, of course, is there a scintilla of evidence that any of these officers green-lighted Bush to skip his flight physical -- the deadline for which was in mid-July, just about the time he was getting word that the Alabama transfer was a no-go. But that's because, as I've emphasized before, skipping out on your annual flight physical is simply viewed as unacceptable behavior for any military pilot, at least not one who's serious about meeting the requirements of his oath. Recall, if you will, those two retired generals who were cited in that Boston Globe piece of last week:
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.

I grew up in an aviation family myself, and while we weren't strictly military, I had enough exposure to the military pilot culture to say that jibes with everything I know firsthand as well.

However, I will say my earlier characterization of Bush as not having consulted his superiors before running off to Alabama was inaccurate. Obviously, he was in touch with at least his immediate superior, Martin. What I meant to emphasize is that he moved to Alabama, evidently intent on blowing off the physical -- and it is extremely unlikely any of his superior officers advised him to do that.

Though perhaps some enterprising reporter could simply ask Dan Bartlett, next time he pops his head up, just which officers told Bush he could skip the physical. Or that being suspended was no big deal.

Because it's clear that, after being denied, in mid-July, transfer to the Alabama postal unit (the 9921st Air Reserve Squadron, the so-called "postal unit") young Mr. Bush should have high-tailed it back to Texas, gotten his physical and continued to serve as he was sworn to do, at least until such time as he was able to obtain official approval for a transfer.

As it happened, he didn't even apply for that until a full month after being suspended from flight service. Does this sound like someone who took his flying duties seriously?

And finally, all this raises the question that someone really needs to ask Dan Bartlett: If Bush was serious about fulfilling his oath and being removed from suspension, why didn't he take his physical once he got back to Texas?

No comments: