By Byron York, The Hill national newspaper 9/9/04. Forwarded by BGen R. Clements USAF (Ret)
What do you really know about George W. Bush's time in the Air National Guard? That he didn't show up for duty in Alabama? That he missed a physical? That his daddy got him in?
News coverage of the president's years in the Guard has tended to focus on one brief portion of that time - to the exclusion of virtually everything else. So just for the record, here, in full, is what Bush did:
The future president joined the Guard in May 1968. Almost immediately, he began an extended period of training. Six weeks of basic training. Fifty-three weeks of flight training. Twenty-one weeks of fighter-interceptor training.
That was 80 weeks to begin with and there were other training periods thrown in as well. It was full-time work. By the time it was over, Bush had served nearly two years. Not two years of weekends. Two years.
After training, Bush kept flying, racking up hundreds of hours in F-102 jets. As he did, he accumulated points toward his National Guard service requirements. At the time, guardsmen were required to accumulate a minimum of 50 points to meet their yearly obligation.
According to records released earlier this year, Bush earned 253 points in his first year, May 1968 to May 1969 (since he joined in May 1968, his service thereafter was measured on a May-to-May basis).
Bush earned 340 points in 1969-1970. He earned 137 points in 1970-1971. And he earned 112 points in 1971-1972. The numbers indicate that in his first four years, Bush not only showed up, he showed up a lot. Did you know that?
That brings the story to May 1972 - the time that has been the focus of so many news reports - when Bush “deserted” (according to anti-Bush filmmaker Michael Moore) or went “AWOL” (according to Terry McAuliffe, chairman of the Democratic National Committee).
Bush asked for permission to go to Alabama to work on a Senate campaign. His superior officers said OK. “Requests like that weren't unusual,” says retired Col. William Campenni, who flew with Bush in 1970 and 1971.
“In 1972, there was an enormous glut of pilots,” Campenni says. “The Vietnam War was winding down, and the Air Force was putting pilots in desk jobs. In '72 or '73, if you were a pilot, active or Guard, and you had an obligation and wanted to get out, no problem. In fact, you were helping them solve their problem.”
So Bush stopped flying. From May 1972 to May 1973, he earned just 56 points - not much, but enough to meet his requirement.
Then, in 1973, as Bush made plans to leave the Guard and go to Harvard Business School, he again started showing up frequently.
In June and July of 1973, he accumulated 56 points, enough to meet the minimum requirement for the 1973-1974 year. Then, at his request, he was given permission to go. Bush received an honorable discharge after serving five years, four months and five days of his original six-year commitment. By that time, however, he had accumulated enough points in each year to cover six years of service.
During his service, Bush received high marks as a pilot. A 1970 evaluation said Bush “clearly stands out as a top notch fighter interceptor pilot” and was “a natural leader whom his contemporaries look to for leadership.”
A 1971 evaluation called Bush “an exceptionally fine young officer and pilot” who “continually flies intercept missions with the unit to increase his proficiency even further.” And a 1972 evaluation called Bush “an exceptional fighter interceptor pilot and officer.”
Now, it is only natural that news reports questioning Bush's service - in The Boston Globe and The New York Times, on CBS and in other outlets - would come out now. Democrats are spitting mad over attacks on John Kerry's record by the group Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.
And, as it is with Kerry, it's reasonable to look at a candidate's entire record, including his military service - or lack of it. Voters are perfectly able to decide whether it's important or not in November.
The Kerry camp blames Bush for the Swift boat veterans' attack, but anyone who has spent much time talking to the Swifties gets the sense that they are doing it entirely for their own reasons.
And it should be noted in passing that Kerry has personally questioned Bush's service, while Bush has not personally questioned Kerry's.
In April - before the Swift boat veterans had said a word - Kerry said Bush “has yet to explain to America whether or not, and tell the truth, about whether he showed up for duty.” Earlier, Kerry said, “Just because you get an honorable discharge does not, in fact, answer that question.”
Now, after the Swift boat episode, the spotlight has returned to Bush. That's fine. We should know as much as we can. And perhaps someday Kerry will release more of his military records as well.
Byron York is a White House correspondent for National Review. His column appears in The Hill each week. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org