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New Questions Raised on Bush Military Record
by Greg Frost
Reuters
September 8, 2004

BOSTON (Reuters) - President Bush fell short of meeting his military obligations during the Vietnam War and was not disciplined despite irregular attendance at required training drills, The Boston Globe said on Wednesday.

In a probe of the president's service in the Texas Air National Guard, the newspaper said Bush appeared to have broken his contract with the U.S. government by not joining an Air Force Reserve unit when he moved to Massachusetts from Texas in mid-1973.

The military records of Bush and of his Democratic opponent John Kerry (news - web sites), who was decorated for service in Vietnam, have featured prominently in the campaign for the presidential election on Nov. 2.

Republicans have made Bush's leadership of what he calls a global war on terrorism central to his campaign.

In February, the White House released hundreds of pages of Bush's military records that showed he was absent for long periods of his final two years of National Guard duty but said nonetheless he met service requirements.

However, the Globe focused on documents Bush signed in 1968 and 1973 in which he pledged to meet training commitments or face a punitive call-up to active duty.

The Globe said in July 1973, before Bush left Houston to attend Harvard Business School, he signed a document saying: "It is my responsibility to locate and be assigned to another Reserve forces unit or mobilization augmentation position. If I fail to do so, I am subject to involuntary order to active duty for up to 24 months... "

Bush spokesman Dan Bartlett told the Washington Post in 1999 that the future president had served at a Boston-area Air Force Reserve unit after leaving Houston. But Bush never joined a Boston-area unit, the Globe said.

"I must have misspoke," Bartlett, now White House communications director, was quoted as telling the Globe in a recent interview.

"HONORABLE DISCHARGE"

White House spokeswoman Claire Buchan, responding to the Globe report on Wednesday, said, "The president was honored to serve his country. He met his obligations, and was honorably discharged."

The Globe also looked at a 1968 pledge by Bush in which he committed to "satisfactory participation" in Guard training.

But the newspaper said he performed no service over a six-month period in 1972 and nearly a three-month stretch in 1973 -- erratic attendance that could have prompted his superiors to discipline him or order him to active duty in 1972, 1973 or 1974.

Instead, Bush's unit certified in late 1973 that his service had been "satisfactory," the Globe said.

The National Guard and reserves, rarely called up during the Vietnam War, came to be regarded as "draft havens for relatively affluent young white men," the Air National Guard says in a history on its Internet site.

Former Texas Lt. Gov. Ben Barnes, a Democrat, is scheduled to appear on CBS' "60 Minutes" on Wednesday night to discuss how he helped Bush get into the Guard in 1968, the network said.

In a videotaped speech recently posted on the Internet, Barnes told an Austin, Texas political rally: "I got a young man named George W. Bush into the National Guard when I was lieutenant governor of Texas and I'm not necessarily proud of that ... I thought that's what people should do when you're in office: You help rich people."  

The Pentagon on Tuesday released 17 pages of what it called newly found records that showed Bush flew 336 hours in a fighter jet, most recently in April 1972, and ranked 22nd out of 53 pilots when he finished flight training at Moody Air Force Base in Georgia in 1969.

The pages did not resolve the dispute over whether Bush completed the service as required.

Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe said the details about Bush's service undermined his credibility."These new documents show that the president did not serve honorably," McAuliffe said, accusing Bush of either lying about his record or suffering "some kind of severe memory loss."

A pro-Kerry group, Texans for Truth, plans to run television commercials this week questioning Bush's Guard attendance. A group backing Bush, Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, has said in its own commercials that Kerry lied about his Vietnam war record.

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