President Bush still has a lot of explaining to do concerning his National Guard service 30-plus years ago. The charge that he was AWOL (absent without leave) is technically incorrect in that there is no evidence he was ever charged with such an offense and the fact that he eventually received an honorable discharge from the service would be inconsistent with someone guilty of that crime.
But it is also possible that Bush’s skipping out on some guard duty was overlooked by his superiors because he was the “fortunate son” of a Texas congressman. We know that is how Bush landed the coveted National Guard slot in the first place.
There is no documentation available to show that Bush attended Guard drills for at least a six-month period in 1972 and possibly for as long as a year depending upon whether or not you accept the validity of the infamous Torn Document that Calpundit analyzes. It is also a fact that Bush failed to show up for his annual flight physical in 1972 effectively grounding him for the remainder of his service.
The failure to take the flight physical should be, in my opinion, the larger scandal here. The Air Force had spent lots of time and money training Bush to be a pilot so that he could backup the pilots fighting in Vietnam. Bush apologists note that the plane that Bush was trained to fly was being phased out by the military so his grounding was really no big deal. But why should that matter? Was the war ending in 1972? Did the Air Force stop training new pilots in 1972? And which do you suppose is easier and less costly – training someone who already knows how to fly to pilot a new aircraft; or taking somebody all the way through pilot training from scratch?
I take personal offense at Bush’s failure to take his flight physical because my father was one of those pilots in Vietnam flying dangerous reconnaissance missions. It doesn’t appear to me that Bush was really that serious about his duty if he wasn’t willing to take his flight physical. What was his problem back then? Was he bored? Did he think he was too important to be bothered showing up for drills? Bush has never explained why he skipped the physical that year. It has been alleged that he bailed on the physical exam because they had began doing random drug tests. If that is the case it would add a whole new dimension to the controversy.
This is not an issue that is going to change the minds of hardcore partisans on either side. Ultimately, it shouldn’t really matter at this point anyway. What should matter is Bush’s leadership and decision making since he has been in office. But I also think that because Bush never had to face the harsh realities of combat, he has the tendency to be more brazen and less restrained in his use of the military. Why is it that the combat veterans like Colin Powell, John McCain and Chuck Hagel were the most cautious about plunging into the Iraq war while Bush officials who managed to avoid military service and/or combat were the most eager to go ahead – including Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz?