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Marine veterans criticise Buttigieg for overstating his military experience

'Mr. Buttigieg skipped all that—no obstacle courses, no weapons training, no evaluation of his ability or willingness to lead'

Graig Graziosi
Tuesday 11 February 2020 20:54 GMT
Pete Buttigieg: 'Nominate me and you get to see the president stand next to an American war veteran and explain why he chose to pretend to be disabled when it was his chance to serve'

A Wall Street Journal op-ed published by a pair of former US Marines has called presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg’s military experience into question.

Greg Kelly, a host at conservative Newsmax TV and a former pilot in the US Marine Corps, and Katie Horgan, a Marine officer deployed in Iraq for 13 months between 2006 and 2012, wrote the piece.

Throughout the op-ed, Mr. Kelly argues that the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, has overstated his military experience, painting the candidate instead as a careerist who used his connections to land a cushy paperwork job for the majority of his time in the service.

“The usual route to an officer’s commission includes four years at Annapolis or another military academy or months of intense training at Officer Candidate School. ROTC programs send prospective officers to far-flung summer training programs and require military drills during the academic year,” Mr Kelly wrote. “Mr. Buttigieg skipped all that—no obstacle courses, no weapons training, no evaluation of his ability or willingness to lead. Paperwork, a health exam and a background check were all it took to make him a naval officer.”

According to Mr Kelly and Ms Horgan, officers who entered the service through direct commission were begrudged by combat veterans and were often called “pomeranian princes.”

Most of Mr Kelly and Ms Horgan’s criticisms were rooted in the idea that Mr Buttigieg wasn’t actually involved in combat yet uses language to suggest he was.

“The closest he came to combat was ferrying other staffers around in an SUV: In his campaign kickoff speech last April he referred to “119 trips I took outside the wire, driving or guarding a vehicle.” That’s a strange thing to count. Combat sorties in an F-18 are carefully logged. Driving a car isn’t,” Mr Kelly and Ms Horgan wrote.

Mr Buttigieg does walk a fine line between presenting himself as someone who experienced danger and someone who experienced combat.

Mr Buttigieg’s first television ad in Iowa showed the candidate walking amongst rubble carrying a military rifle and starting with the phrase “As a veteran…” The image is clearly meant to evoke ideas of armed men and women fighting for the homeland.

However, Mr Buttigieg has refused to refer to himself as a combat veteran when pressed. According to a report by the Chicago Tribune, Mr Buttigieg drew a distinction between himself and combat veterans during a bus tour in Iowa.

“It kind of felt like combat when the rocket alarm went off. But I don’t feel prepared to use that term for myself,” he said.

Rocket alarms “feeling like danger” are not enough to warrant his bragging, according to Mr Kelly and Ms Horgan.

“Candidate Buttigieg takes every opportunity to lean in on those months in Afghanistan. Questions ranging from student debt to Colin Kaepernick to gun control prompt him to reference his military stint, sometimes indignantly,” the authors wrote.

“‘I don’t need lessons from you on courage,’ he lectured former Rep. Beto O’Rourke in an October debate, “political or personal.” Two months later he told Sen. Amy Klobuchar, ‘Let me tell you about my relationship to the First Amendment. It is part of the Constitution that I raised my right hand and swore to defend with my life. That is my experience, and it may not be the same as yours, but it counts, Senator, it counts.’”

The duo also criticised the media, claiming that the press frequently brings up Mr Buttigieg’s military service, but frequently ignores his Democratic opponent Representative Tulsi Gabbard’s own experience. Ms Gabbard has been a member of the Hawaii Army National Guard since 2003 and was deployed for a year to Iraq in 2004 and for a year to Kuwait between 2008-2009.

“Debate moderators and other journalists—hardly a veteran among them—eagerly sell Mr. Buttigieg’s narrative. Debate moderators often point out that he served in Afghanistan and, if Tulsi Gabbard isn’t there, is the only veteran on the stage. When Ms. Gabbard is present, the moderators seldom mention her military experience, which dwarfs Mr. Buttigieg’s,” the writers said.

Ultimately, it seems the pair believe only those who have engaged in combat should exploit their military service to further their political aspirations.

“In our experience, those who did the most in war talk about it the least,” they said. “Serving in a support or noncombat role is honorable, but it shouldn’t be the basis of a presidential campaign.”

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