On his September 9 radio show, FOX News Channel host Bill O'Reilly defended President George W. Bush's military service with a series of false claims. O'Reilly began the second hour of the broadcast by running through a timeline of Bush's service, from his entrance into the Texas Air National Guard in 1968 to his honorable discharge in 1973. O'Reilly's distortions began with the year 1972, when records show that Bush's attendance began falling off.
May - October 1972: Alabama
Regarding Bush's May 1972 move from Texas to Alabama to work on a U.S. Senate campaign, O'Reilly falsely claimed that Bush is “not in any trouble here.” In fact, Bush left Texas without permission and failed to serve for six months between mid-April 1972 and late October 1972. Bush filed his first transfer request in late May 1972. But since he was asking to be placed in a unit for which he was ineligible -- the 9921st Air Reserve Squadron, a non-flying reserve squadron -- the Air Reserve Personnel Center (ARPC) in Denver rejected his request. Bush did not gain permission to transfer to Alabama's 187th Tactical Reconnaissance Group until September, although he had already been in Alabama working for Republican Winton M. Blount's Senate campaign since May. (The Texas Guard had recommended approval of Bush's first transfer before the Denver headquarters rejected it.)
From the September 9 broadcast of The Radio Factor with Bill O'Reilly:
O'REILLY: In May of '72 Bush stops flying and he fails to take a required physical exam in August, and is officially suspended from pilot status. In September of the same year, 1972, he gets approval to transfer to an Air National Guard unit in Alabama where he works for an unsuccessful senatorial campaign of Republican Winton Blount.
All right, so you -- he's not in any trouble here. He -- he's getting his transfer and all of that, but he has -- because he had to stop flying, he doesn't have pilot status, but there's no trouble.
O'Reilly's claim that Bush “doesn't have pilot status, but there's no trouble” is also false: Losing pilot status is a serious matter that ought to have triggered an investigation and possible disciplinary action. He was officially grounded from flying in August 1972 (not May, as O'Reilly claimed) due to his failure to take a required physical. As James C. Moore wrote in Salon.com, this action alone proves that there was “trouble”:
Taking away a pilot's wings was not a minor decision. During the course of investigating this matter over the past decade, I was told by numerous Guard sources that pilots simply did not skip their physicals for any reason. ... [T]here had to be an investigation into his grounding. Normally, a formal board of inquiry would have been convened to examine the pilot's failure to keep his physical status current. At a minimum, a commanding officer would have been expected to write a narrative report on why one of his pilots had been taken off the flight duty roster. ... A pilot simply did not walk away from all of that training with two years remaining on his tour of duty without a formal explanation as to what happened and why. ... Disciplinary action taken against Bush ought to be a part of his personnel record. No such files have ever been disclosed.
The Associated Press confirmed that "[r]ecords of a required investigation into why Bush lost flight status" are missing from the documents released by the White House and the Pentagon.
January - April 1973: Alabama to Texas
O'Reilly continued his timeline of Bush's whereabouts by falsely claiming that a single record of a dental exam conducted in Alabama proves that Bush was “still doing what they tell him to do.” In fact, the dental exam proves nothing:
O'REILLY: In January of '73, the next year, he has a dental exam scheduled in Alabama, and he takes it. So he's still in the Air National Guard, still doing what they tell him to do.
The record of Bush's dental exam is the sole record indicating that he had any contact with the Guard during his time in Alabama -- suggesting that he was not “doing what they tell him to do.” Indeed, concerning his supposed service with the 187th, The Boston Globe reported on September 8: “Since the Globe first reported Bush's spotty attendance record in May 2000, no one has come forward with any credible recollection of having witnessed Bush performing guard service in Alabama or after he returned to Houston in 1973.”
O'Reilly then dismissed an Officer Effectiveness Training Report (OETR, form AF-77) -- in which Bush's Texas commanders say that Bush “has not been observed” for a year -- by insisting “that makes sense” because “he got permission to go to Alabama.” In fact, the evaluation strongly suggests Bush was missing from Texas and/or Alabama.
O'REILLY: In May of '73, five months later, Bush's supervisors in Texas state that he hasn't been seen in Houston for the past year, and therefore they can't prepare an officer evaluation of him. Commanders in Houston order him to report for duty in the summer of '73.
Well, he hadn't been seen because he got permission to go to Alabama, OK, so that -- that makes sense.
According to Air Force regulations, if Bush had performed duty in Alabama, his Alabama substitute training supervisors would have been required to send AF-40a forms back to Bush's Texas commanders for each substitute training Bush performed. Then, when it came time for Bush's annual evaluation, Bush's Texas commanders would have asked his Alabama commanders to fill out a substitute OETR (form AF-77a) evaluating Bush, since they were the ones who would have supervised his training. (Indeed, the ARPC requested such an AF-77a in response to the uninformative AF-77 from Bush's Texas commanders). But no such paperwork has surfaced.
Moreover, though it's unclear when exactly Bush returned to Texas after the November 1972 elections, he was certainly back in Houston by April 1973. A July 9, 2004, AP article states: “Reports differ on how long he [Bush] was actually in Alabama, but it's generally believed that he returned to his Texas unit after the November 1972 election.” On the other hand, the dental exam record places Bush in Alabama in early January. In any case, the fact that Bush's commanders in Texas had still not seen him by May 1973 -- and apparently had not received records of Bush's supposed service in Alabama -- indicates he was absent.
Certain inconsistencies regarding Bush's service in this period are difficult to reconcile. As a September 6 AP article pointed out, “No records have been released giving Bush permission to train with the 187th after November 1972.” The same article reports, “Pay records show Bush was credited for training in January, April and May 1973.” Yet these records don't specify a location, and no one in either Alabama or Texas recalls seeing him.
May 1973 and beyond: Too little, too late
O'Reilly continued by falsely claiming that Bush completed more service in Texas after he returned from Alabama. But many records that would document such service are missing, and even if Bush did complete all the service for which pay records credit him, it was not enough to fulfill his obligation to the Guard:
O'REILLY: But the commanders, in May of '73, after the campaign was over -- Blount's campaign was over -- they say, “You got to come back here, W.” So he does, and in July of 1973 he tells the Guard in Houston that he wants to move to Massachusetts to attend Harvard Business School.
Bush's service in January, April, and May could well have occurred in Texas, as O'Reilly claimed. But Bush had performed so little service in 1972-73 that even if he performed all the service for which these pay records credit him, it would not have been enough to fulfill the original terms of service, according to experts consulted by the Globe and U.S. News & World Report. His completion of this credited service is also far from certain, however, since there are irregularities in these pay records, and additional documents detailing this training -- including AF-40a forms -- are missing.