February 26, 2004
Opinion/Editorial (page 9)
President Bush has been accused of going AWOL during his National Guard service. Draft-dodging has become a hot topic for Presidential hopefuls within the last decade because many candidates were of age during Vietnam, when few seemed to want to serve. Though one should be wary of judging people on their behavior thirty years ago, it is understandable that voters want their leaders to have a history of fulfilling commitments.
For George Bush, the period of service that has come under question (May 1972 until May 1973) was his fifth year in the Guard. His service during that time may have been less than stellar, but he put in four years of serious service, and adequately fulfilled his full commitment to the Guard.
During his time in the Guard, Bush learned to fly a F-102 fighter plane and was given consistently high ratings by his supervisors. He was flying once or twice a week between May 1971 and May 1972. Serving in the National Guard was a way to avoid being drafted, but the flying Bush did while in the Guard was not risk-free work. A number of fliers died in accidents, including one during Bush’s time there.
During his fifth year, Bush went to Alabama to work on Winton Blount’s Senate campaign. He asked to perform equivalent service in Alabama, which was not an unusual request as many Guard members moved around the country. Records show that he was paid and given retirement credits for his service in Alabama, so he was certainly not AWOL.
He did not continue flying in Alabama because the regiment there could not accommodate another regular pilot. Also, the plane Bush had learned to fly was being taken out of service. Showing up for drills counted as fulfilling one’s obligation to the Guard, however. Records indicate that in 1973 he increased his days of service to make up for the time he had missed earlier. Guardsmen were awarded points based on the days they reported for duty each year and had to accumulate a total of 50 points to satisfy the annual requirement. A recent National Review article ("Bush and the National Guard: Case Closed" by Byron York, March 8, 2004) shows that Bush far exceeded that minimum his first four years and merely fulfilled it his last two years.
Bush was committed to the National Guard for six years. Six months before the end of that time period, Bush asked for and received an honorable discharge to leave the Guard early and attend Harvard Business School. He had already fulfilled his time commitment, so certainly there is no shame in his moving on. In fact, in 1972, there was a glut of pilots. The Vietnam War was winding down and the Air Force was putting pilots in desk jobs, so Bush was hardly shirking duty to his country.