Friday, September 10, 2004

On Guard or AWOL?


Former Alabama Guardsmen, Bob Mintz and flying mate Paul Bishop, looked forward to greeting George W. Bush at Montgomery, Alabama, Dannelly ANG base in 1972 – but never saw him because George had the connections to cover it up his AWOL status.

Two members of the Air National Guard unit that President George W. Bush allegedly served with as a young Guard flyer in 1972 had been told to expect him late in that year and were on the lookout for him. He never showed, however; of that both Bob Mintz and Paul Bishop are certain.

The question of Bush’s presence in 1972 at Dannelly Air National Guard base in Montgomery, Alabama – or the lack of it – has become an issue in the 2004 presidential campaign. And that issue, which picked up steam last week, continues to rage.

Recalls Memphian Mintz, now 62: “I remember that I heard someone was coming to drill with us from Texas. And it was implied that it was somebody with political influence. I was a young bachelor then. I was looking for somebody to prowl around with.” But, says Mintz, that “somebody” -- better known to the world now as the president of the United States -- never showed up at Dannelly in 1972. Nor in 1973, nor at any time that Mintz, a FedEx pilot now and an Eastern Airlines pilot then, when he was a reserve first lieutenant at Dannelly, can remember.

“And I was looking for him,” repeated Mintz, who said that he assumed that Bush “changed his mind and went somewhere else” to do his substitute drill. It was not “somewhere else,” however, but the 187th Air National Guard Tactical squadron at Dannelly to which the young Texas flyer had requested transfer from his regular Texas unit – the reason being Bush’s wish to work in Alabama on the ultimately unsuccessful U.S. Senate campaign of family friend Winton "Red" Blount.

It is the 187th, Mintz’s unit, which was cited, during the 2000 presidential campaign, as the place where Bush completed his military obligation. And it is the 187th that the White House continues to contend that Bush belonged to – as recently as last week, when presidential spokesman Scott McClellan released payroll records and, later, evidence suggesting that Bush’s dental records might be on file at Dannelly.

Late last weekend, the White House even made available what it said was the entirety of Bush’s service record. Even so, the mystery of the young lieutenant’s whereabouts in late 1972 remains.

“THERE’S NO WAY WE WOULDN’T HAVE NOTICED a strange rooster in the henhouse, especially since we were looking for him,” insists Mintz, who has begun poring over such documents relating to the matter as are now making their way around the Internet. One of these is a piece of correspondence addressed to the 187th’s commanding officer, then Lt. Col. William Turnipseed, concerning Bush’s redeployment.

Mintz remembers a good deal of base scuttlebutt at the time about the letter, which clearly identifies Bush as the transferring party. “It couldn’t be anybody else. No one ever did that again, as far as I know.” In any case, he is certain that nobody else in that time frame, 1972-73, requested such a transfer into Dannelly.

Mintz, who at one time was a registered Republican and in recent years has cast votes in presidential elections for independent Ross Perot and Democrat Al Gore, confesses to “a negative reaction” to what he sees as out-and-out dissembling on President Bush’s part. “You don’t do that as an officer, you don’t do that as a pilot, you don’t do it as an important person, and you don’t do it as a citizen. This guy’s got a lot of nerve.”

Though some accounts reckon the total personnel component of the 187th as consisting of several hundred, the actual flying squadron – that to which Bush was reassigned – numbered only “25 to 30 pilots,” Mintz said. “There’s no doubt. I would have heard of him, seen him, whatever.”

Even if Bush, who was trained on a slightly different aircraft than the F4 Phantom jets flown by the squadron, opted not to fly with the unit, he would have had to encounter the rest of the flying personnel at some point, in non-flying formations or drills. “And if he did any flying at all, on whatever kind of craft, that would have involved a great number of supportive personnel. It takes a lot of people to get a plane into the air. But nobody I can think of remembers him.

“I talked to one of my buddies the other day and asked if he could remember Bush at drill at any time, and he said, ‘Naw, ol’ George wasn’t there. And he wasn’t at the Pit, either.’”

The “Pit” was The Snake Pit, a nearby bistro where the squadron’s pilots would gather for frequent after-hours revelry. And the buddy was Bishop, then a lieutenant at Dannelly and now a pilot for Kalitta, a charter airline that in recent months has been flying war materiel into the Iraq Theater of Operations

“I never saw hide nor hair of Mr. Bush,” confirms Bishop. . "In fact," he quips, mindful of the current political frame of reference, "I saw more of Al Sharpton at the base than I did of George W. Bush."

IN AIR NATIONAL GUARD CIRCLES, BISHOP, who now lives in Goldsboro, N.C., is something of a legendary figure. Known to his mates as “Papa Whiskey” (for “P.W.”) Bishop, he is a veteran of Gulf War I, a conflict in which he was the ranking reservist. During the current conflict, on behalf of Kalitta, Bishop has flown frequent supply missions into military facilities at Kuwait...

Some years ago, he flew a Kalitta aircraft, painted over with Air Force One markings, in the movie Air Force One starring Harrison Ford. Bishop did the rolls, tumbles, and other stunt maneuvers that looked in the movie like stressful motions afflicting the hijacked and embattled plane.

Bishop voted for Bush in 2000 and believes that the Iraq war has served some useful purposes – citing, as the White House does, disarmament actions since pursued by Libyan president Moammar Khadaffi – but he is disgruntled both about aspects of the war and about what he sees as Bush’s lack of truthfulness about his military record.

“I think a commander-in-chief who sends his men off to war ought to be a veteran who has seen the sting of battle,” Bishop says. “In Iraq: we have a bunch of great soldiers, but they are not policemen. I don’t think he [the president] was well advised; right now it’s costing us an American life a day. I’m not a peacenik, but what really bothers me is that of the 500 or so that we’ve lost almost 80 of them were reservists. We’ve got an over-extended Guard and reserve.”

Part of the problem, Bishop thinks, is a disconnect resulting from the president’s own inexperience with combat operations. And he is well beyond annoyed at the White House’s persistent claims that Bush did indeed serve time at Dannelly. Bishop didn’t pay much attention to the claim when candidate Bush first offered it in 2000. But he did after the second Iraq war started and the issue came front and center.

“It bothered me that he wouldn’t ‘fess up and say, Okay, guys, I cut out when the rest of you did your time. He shouldn’t have tried to dance around the subject. I take great exception to that. I spent 39 years defending my country.”

Like his old comrade Mintz, Bishop, now 65, was a pilot for Eastern Airlines during their reserve service in 1972 at Dannelly. Mintz then lived in Montgomery; Bishop commuted from Atlanta, a two-hour drive away. Mintz and Bishop retired from the Guard with the ranks of lieutenant colonel and colonel, respectively.

BOTH MEN KNEW JOHN “BILL” CALHOUN, the Atlanta businessman who was flight safety officer for the 187th in 1972 and who subsequently retired as a lieutenant colonel. Calhoun created something of a sensation late last week when he came forward at the apparent prompting of the administration to claim that he did in fact remember Lt. Bush, that the young officer has met with him during drill weekends, largely spending his time reading safety manuals in the 187th’s safety office.

Even in media venues sympathetic to the president, doubt was cast almost immediately on aspects of Calhoun’s statement – particularly his claim that Lt. Bush was at the 187th during spring and early summer of 1972, periods when the White House itself does not claim the young lieutenant had yet arrived at Dannelly.

Mintz and Bishop are both skeptical, as well.

“I’m not saying it wasn’t possible, but I can’t imagine Bill not introducing him around,” Mintz said. “Unless he [Bush] was an introvert back then, which I don’t think he was, he’d have spent some time out in the mainstream, in the dining hall or wherever. He’d have spent some time with us. Unless he was trying to avoid publicity. But he wasn’t well known at all then. It all seems a bit unusual.”

Bishop was even more explicit. “I’m glad he [Calhoun] remembered being with Lt. Bush and Lt. Bush’s eating sandwiches and looking at manuals. It seems a little strange that one man saw an individual, and all the rest of them did not. Because it was such a small organization. Usually, we all had lunch together.

“Maybe we’re all getting old and senile,” Bishop said with obvious sarcasm. “I don’t want to second-guess Mr. Calhoun’s memory and I would hate to impugn the integrity of a fellow officer, but I know the rest of us didn’t see Lt. Bush.” As Bishop (corroborated by Mintz) described the physical environment, the safety office where the meetings between Major Calhoun and Lt. Bush allegedly took place was on the second floor of the unit’s hangar, a relatively small structure itself... It was a very close-quarters situation “ It would have been “virtually impossible,” said Bishop, for an officer to go in and out of the safety office for eight hours a month several months in a row and be unseen by anybody except then Major Calhoun.

As Bishop noted, “Fighter pilots, and that’s what we were, have situational awareness. They know everything about their environment – whether it’s an enemy plane creeping up or a stranger in their hangar.”

In any case, said Bishop, “If what he [Calhoun] says is true, there would be documentation of the fact in point summaries and pay documents.”


Yet another veteran of the 187th is Wayne Rambo of Montgomery, who as a lieutenant served as the unit’s chief administrative until April of 1972. That was a few months prior to Bush’s alleged service, which Rambo, who continued to drill with the 187th, also cannot remember.

Rambo was, however, able to shed some light on the Guard practice, then and now, of assigning annual service “points” to members, based on their record of attendance and participation. The bare minimum number is 50, and reservists meeting standard are said to have had “a good year,” Rambo said. Less than that amount to an “unsatisfactory” year – one calling for penalties assessed against the reservist’ retirement fund and, more immediately, for disciplinary or other corrective action. Such deficits can be written off only on the basis of a “commander’s call,” Rambo said – and only then because of certifiable illness or some other clearly plausible reason.

“The 50-point minimum has always been taken very seriously, especially for pilots,” says Rambo. “The reason is that it takes a lot of taxpayer money to train a pilot, and you don’t want to see it wasted.”

For whatever reason, the elusive Lt. George W. Bush was awarded 41 actual points for his service in both Texas and Alabama during 1972 – though he apparently was given 15 “gratuitous” points -- presumably by his original Texas command -- enough to bring him up from substandard. That would have been a decided violation of the norm, according to Rambo, who stresses that the awarding of gratuitous points was clearly meant only as a reward to reservists for meeting their bottom line

“You had to get to 50 to get the gratuitous points, which applied toward your retirement benefits,” the former chief administrative officer recalls. “If you were 49, you stayed at 49; if you were 50, you got up to 65.”

Bishop raises yet another issue about Bush’s ANG tenure – the cancellation after 1972 of the final year of his six-year obligation – ostensibly to pursue a post-graduate business degree at Yale.

That didn’t sit well with the veteran pilot. “When you accept a flying slot with the Air National Guard, you’re obligated for six years,” Bishop said. “Even if you grant him credit for that missing year in Alabama which none of us remember, he still failed to serve his full commitment. Even graduate school, for which he was supposedly released, is attended during the week usually. It wouldn’t have conflicted with drill weekends, whether he was in Connecticut or Massachusetts or wherever. There would have been no need for an early release.”

Bishop paused. “Maybe they do things differently in Texas. I don’t want to malign the commander-in-chief, but this is an issue of duty, honor country. You must have integrity.”

BISHOP, ESPECIALLY, IS BITTER ABOUT THE FATE of Eastern Airlines, which went bankrupt during the administration of President George H.W. Bush, the current incumbent’s father. “I watched my company dissolve under his policies. They let the airline fall victim to a hostile takeover,” Bishop said. Both Bushes were “children of privilege,” unlike himself and Mintz.

“Our fathers were poor dirt farmers. We would not have been given the same considerations he and his father were,” says Bishop, who maintains that, just as the junior Bush used family and political influence to jump himself ahead of 500 other flight training applicants, the senior Bush "apparently" did something similar when he became a naval aviator during World War Two. “I applaud him for volunteering, but he should have waited his turn like everybody else.”

But, says Bishop, “At least I can give him credit for serving his country.” That is more, he suggested, than can be granted the younger Bush.

Would he consider voting for the president’s reelection? “Naw, this goes to an integrity issue. I like either [John] Kerry or [John] Edwards better.” And who would Mintz be voting for? “Not for any Texas politicians,” was the Memphian’s sardonic answer.


1 comment:

  1. It's like Iraq, all over again!

    The administration, which successfully mobilized the media and public opinion
    behind their military venture in Iraq, are using the same techniques to fight
    a political war against their Democratic opponents.

    From, September 9, 2004
    By Danny Schechter

    During the run-up to the war in Iraq and through the US invasion, it was
    obvious that our media system had signed up as an unofficial megaphone for
    war. There was a uniformity of perspective, a reliance on the same "facts,"
    and a dismissal of critics and dissenters.

    Journalists outside America compared our TV coverage to that of a "state-run
    media" even though most U.S. media outlets are in private hands and nominally
    competitive with each other.

    A year and a half later, some journalists and newspapers took a second look
    at their coverage and acknowledged it had been flawed. There were admissions
    of misreporting, especially on supporting the government's allegations of
    weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

    These media admissions never rose to the level of institutional post-mortems
    or real mea culpas. They haven't led to more diversity of perspective,
    investigative journalism or dissection of government claims. The modalities
    of coverage continue.

    The New York Times spent more time and space exposing the fraudulent but
    minor inventions of a troubled reporter, Jayson Blair, than on its own role
    in the selling of a war that its own public editor Daniel Okrent would later
    pinpoint as an "institutional failure."

    The Washington Post's ombudsman Michael Getler selectively critiqued his
    newspaper's coverage, as did media correspondent Howard Kurtz. Editorially,
    the newspaper said little and refused to mount an internal investigation.

    The three television networks that most Americans rely on for their news and
    information about the war also said little or nothing. They moved on to other
    stories without any acknowledgement that the modes of coverage that we saw
    during the war need to be changed fundamentally.

    Mili-tainment Goes Political

    The administration, which successfully mobilized the media and public opinion
    behind their military venture in Iraq, are using the same techniques to fight
    a political war against their Democratic opponents. The embedded reporters
    may be gone but the routines of political coverage and their deferential
    approach can be relied on to achieve the same results.

    A new book analyzing the White House spin assesses why the administration's
    media machine is so successful. In "All the President's Spin," Ben Fritz,
    Bryan Keefer and Brendan Nyhan explain: "Bush's White House has broken new
    ground in its press relations strategy, exploiting the weaknesses and
    failings of the political media more systematically than any of its
    predecessors. The administration combines tight message discipline and image
    management – Reagan's trademarks – with the artful use of half- or partial
    truths and elaborate news management – Clinton's specialties – in a
    combination that is near-lethal for the press."

    The authors cite four "key weaknesses" of the press that helps a determined
    media spin operation get its message – and none other – through: " First and
    foremost, reporters are constrained by the norm of objectivity, which
    frequently causes them to avoid evaluating the truth of politicians'
    statements. In addition, because reporters are dependent upon the White House
    for news, the administration can shape the coverage it receives by
    restricting the flow of information to the press. The media are also
    vulnerable to political pressure and reprisal, which the Bush White House has
    aggressively dished out against critical journalists. Finally, the press'
    unending pursuit of scandal and entertaining news often blinds it to serious
    issues of public policy."

    The White House handles the press the way TV producers package information:
    with careful pre-planning, structured themes and packaged infomation. And so
    the "mili-tainment" we saw during the war has given way to "electo-tainment."
    The dynamics of coverage remain largely the same: simplistic, superficial and

    Only a few commentators in the media have even commented on the "Iraqization"
    of our domestic election coverage. Paul Krugman of the New York Times is one
    of them, writing: ". . .the triumph of the trivial is not a trivial matter.
    The failure of TV news to inform the public about the policy proposals of
    this year's presidential candidates is, in its own way, as serious a
    journalistic betrayal as the failure to raise questions about the rush to
    invade Iraq."

    Preceding the war, there were months of demonization of Saddam Hussein. A
    dictator in a sanctions crippled society that the U.S. had put in power in
    the first place and armed for years was pictured as prepared to attack the
    United States or the world, take your pick. He was compared to Adolph Hitler.
    Time Magazine even redid a 1930's cover once used to chastise the Fuhrer,
    replacing his face with the "butcher of Baghdad."

    The Hollywood Playbook

    To sell its war the administration dipped into the playbook of Hollywood
    narrative technique, relying on story-telling, not sloganizing. A master
    narrative was concocted that fit the good guy/bad guy formula that works so
    well on the silver screen. The narrative was simplified into themes
    justifying pre-emptive intervention as the only recourse. Corporate PR pros
    helped plan and execute the strategy. Andrew Card, the President's top aide
    compared the launch of the war to a "product roll-out."

    With some modifications, they are doing it again. This time their media plan
    relies on demonizing John Kerry with repeated charges like "flip flopper" and
    distorted information about his military service, knowing that a media that
    readily accepted their WMD claims will do little to scrutinize attacks on the
    Democratic candidate's character.

    We heard them endlessly: "The war was forced on us;" "We will either fight
    them there or here;" "Saddam Hussein was a weapon of Mass
    Destruction;" "Kerry was for the war until he was against it;" etc., etc.

    The GOP convention showcased all of these techniques built around vicious
    personal attacks, and distorted arguments that ignored any and all
    information that had earlier debunked them. They also used techniques honed
    in Qatar to build the case for their own political cruise missile: "Dubya."
    In fact, the administration official who supervised the coalition media
    center in Doha was brought in to run the GOP's convention press operation.

    This master narrative for The Garden was a tale of a humble Texan whose
    character was forged by an epiphany of Biblical proportions after America
    came under attack by a foreign evil, and who by attacking Iraq has kept
    American families safe from terror. The conveniently added subplot: bringing
    freedom, "a gift from the almighty," to those poor Arabs suffering under
    ruthless extremists in the Middle East.

    It was as if the 9-11 Commission had never happened, or the Senate
    Intelligence Committee report was never issued. The Republicans paid no
    respect to the facts; instead they hammered home a simple, made for TV
    narrative that delegates could mindlessly repeat like a mantra of received

    Media Shy Away from a Hard Truth

    Perhaps you would expect that from politicians but what of the media? Were
    news organizations fact checking and debunking distortions? A few did but
    most did not. When their keynote Zell Miller finished his rant, he did find
    himself challenged aggressively by a few journalists – Chris Matthews on
    MSNBC and Wolf Blitzer on CNN. That was it. John Stewart featured the
    confrontations as a high point on his Comedy Central show without mentioning
    that their challenges were the exception to uncritical coverage.

    The Washington Post's sometime liberal columnist called Miller's "diatribe"
    a "Category Five lie," and characterized the speech as "as mad an eruption of
    hate as I have witnessed in politics. Some time back, Kerry must have dissed
    Miller. This was personal."

    But was it? Miller actually published a book that most of the press corps had
    not bothered to dig out called "A National Party No More," In it he trashes
    all the Democratic White House hopefuls at the time in the nastiest terms.
    The Republicans knew where Miller stood even if the press corps didn't bother
    to find it.

    Most of the convention was then treated as a triumph for Bush because of
    his "likeability." His speech was not scrutinized. The largest protest at any
    convention in American history with more than l,800 arrests, as opposed to
    600 in Chicago in l968, was contained by police state tactics, treated as a
    nuisance by the GOP and ignored in most of the press, except on the Sunday
    before the event began.

    Ignoring the Protesters at Your Gate

    The streets around The Garden came to resemble Baghdad's high security Green
    Zone. There were protests against the media coverage in New York that went
    largely ignored.

    I know. I spoke at one outside Fox News and down the block from CNN studios.
    The only wire story that I read about the event was by Agence France Press on
    a Turkish news website. I was interviewed by Canadian public radio, not NPR.
    One newspaper was there: The Toledo Blade.

    The Blade's Jim Drew wrote: "For those of us with the 'limited access'
    credentials that couldn't get us on the convention floor, the streets were an
    option. And the guerrilla reporters found by far the most important and
    interesting story. In the age of international terrorism, the patriotic right
    of political dissent in the United States is in crisis."

    He quoted Peter Hart, of Fairness and Accuracy in Media, which helped
    organize the march: "Mr. Hart said activists 'demand a more accountable
    media,' and they marched to the headquarters of 'corporate media' to
    celebrate the independent and alternative press."

    "These are the people who sold us a war. The biggest media companies get
    bigger and bigger based on favors from the government. They sell ideas; that
    assistance to the poor must be reformed, and free trade is the only way.
    These are the ideas that the mainstream media are selling – and we're not
    buying," Hart told Drew.

    I was quoted too saying, "I've never seen the level of defensiveness in the
    major media, the level of disenchantment, and the level of dread; journalists
    on the front lines representing the public in some way feeling they can't
    play that role."

    And why? Because their bosses and the culture of corporate news makes it

    At least some media outlets have not lost the spirit of independence and
    crusading that the US press used to be known for. The Toledo Blade's coverage
    of the protests mirrored its relentless and award winning coverage of war
    crimes in Vietnam.

    Not the alleged "crimes" of John Kerry being blasted inside The Garden but
    real crimes committed in Vietnam 35 years ago by an American military unit
    that had all but been ignored by major media then and now. The Blade
    uncovered massacres by US troops and bravely made it news. And now the
    Pentagon is being forced by their persistence to reopen the issue.

    And so, once again, the coverage of war or lack of coverage is linked – in
    this case by a heroic example of a newspaper in a small Ohio city in the
    heart of a battleground state.

    The media battle, the political battle and the fight for truth about war have
    been joined.

    Danny Schechter writes a daily blog for He is the author
    of "Embedded: Weapons of Mass Deception – how the media failed to cover the
    war on Iraq. (Prometheus)

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