Lousy investment

In a 1968 contract, just made public, Bush agreed to serve as a pilot for five years. But he failed to fulfill that commitment -- wasting the money the Guard spent to train him.

Published September 16, 2004 10:15PM (EDT)

A newly surfaced document from President Bush's military file, apparently withheld by the White House when it released his records in February, offers more proof that Bush failed to fulfill his military obligations while serving with the Texas Air National Guard from 1968 to 1973.

Upon joining the Guard, Bush agreed in writing to maintain satisfactory participation with his Guard unit for six years, until May 1974. In exchange for his service, he would be freed from active-duty status and from serving in Vietnam. That commitment has been made public. At the same time, however, Bush, who was accepted for Guard pilot training, signed an additional document in which he acknowledged the large financial investment the Guard was making in him. He agreed to serve for five years with his parent unit after he earned his wings, or completed his "undergraduate pilot training." That document has just now come to light.

The 1968 "Agreement," as the contract is titled, did not specify what qualified as completion of "undergraduate pilot training." What is known is that Bush completed his initial training at Moody Air Force Base in Georgia on Nov. 26, 1969, and his final F-102 training on June 20, 1970. Depending on which qualified as "undergraduate pilot training," Bush's five-year pilot commitment with his parent unit would have ended in either November 1974 or May 1975.

But Lt. Bush stopped flying in May 1972. Soon thereafter, Bush, a fighter-interceptor pilot, failed to take a mandatory physical exam. In fact, there's no evidence that during his final 42 months with the Guard Bush ever underwent a required annual physical. In the spring of 1972 Bush moved to Alabama to work on the campaign of a family friend -- but without the required prior authorization from the Guard.

Although there's little proof Bush ever served with an Alabama Guard unit, in September 1973 his Texas Guard superiors let Bush leave the military to attend Harvard Business School. Bush's official release, complete with an honorable discharge, was dated November 1974. But once Bush left Texas he was a Guard member on paper only, never attending a single Guard training session, according to his own records. (Bush does not deny that he did not perform any Guard training from September 1973 to November 1974.)

Bush and his advisors say that in 1972 and most of 1973 Bush fulfilled his obligation by performing Guard duties, though often by making up training dates at a later time. But there is compelling evidence that after May 1972, Bush completely abandoned his military duties. For instance, to maintain his satisfactory participation status, he was required to attend "48 scheduled inactive duty training period days" each fiscal year -- which Bush failed to do in both 1972 and 1973.

It's clear, based on Bush's own records, that he failed to live up to the "Agreement" he signed to serve as a pilot, with his parent Guard unit, for five years after completing pilot training.

The document was discovered by Philadelphia researcher Paul Lukasiak, who has been analyzing and writing extensively about Bush's military records since February, when the White House, under pressure to explain the gaps in Bush's Guard service, released what it said was "absolutely everything" in the president's military file. The "Agreement" was not part of that document dump, even though another document released the same day referred to a "five-year commitment" Bush had signed upon joining the Guard. (The "Preview and Grade Determination," dated May 29, 1968, listed among the attachments included in Bush's enrollment form an "AF Form 125 (includes 5 yr agreement)." An AF Form 125 was among the documents released by the White House, but it did not spell out a five-year agreement.

Lukasiak believes that reporters should have demanded release of the "5 yr agreement" document over the past six months, and since they did not, he opted to release the "Agreement." He will not comment on where or when he got the document, but insists "the provenance is impeccable." Upon examination, the "Agreement" does not raise any of the typographical issues that occurred with the Guard-related memos CBS aired last week, such as proportional spacing or use of a superscript. It looks identical to all the other documents from that period released by the White House.

The memos CBS aired, purportedly written by Bush's former immediate commander, Lt. Col. Jerry Killian, have created a firestorm as Bush backers and some independent forensics experts insist the memos are not real. What has gone largely overlooked is that the contents of those memos, in which Killian expressed his frustration in dealing with a high-profile Guardsman from a prominent Texas family who refused to participate with his unit, are consistent with others' recollections from the time -- as well as with the known gaps in Bush's military service.

Killian's former secretary told the Dallas Morning News she doubted the memos were authentic because they did not look like the type created at the time. However, she said that the views expressed in the memos were similar to the sentiments in memos that would have been in Killian's file. "I remember very vividly when Bush was there and all the yak-yak that was going on about it," Marian Carr Knox told the News.

The emergence of additional Bush documents like the "Agreement" could help shed more light on what all that yakking was about.

By Eric Boehlert

Eric Boehlert, a former senior writer for Salon, is the author of "Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush."

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George W. Bush