Sunday, October 08, 2006

A Few Points on a Bronze Star

This past Friday incumbent Republican Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick, of Pennsylvania’s 8th congressional district (Bucks County, a sliver of Montgomery County, and a bit of Philadelphia), held a press conference. Fitzpatrick is in his first term of office, and running in a tough re-election campaign against Democratic candidate Patrick Murphy. It is a truism of politics that the first re-election campaign is the most difficult, the incumbent most vulnerable. Sometimes that makes people reckless. Sometimes it makes them stupid.

Murphy has made his service in Iraq a hallmark of his campaign. He mentions it often in debates and interviews. Military service records are detailed documents, where you were, what your MOS (roughly, a military job description) was, what company you were with, company commander, letters of recommendation or rebuke, and so on. There is also little privacy in the military, especially in wartime, and almost everything you do has at least one, and often a number, of witnesses. Falsifying or exaggerating military service, or misrepresenting someone else's, is a foolish thing to do, especially when the term of duty was relatively recent and memories still fresh.

Please note this report of Rep. Fitzpatrick’s press conference:

At the press conference in Newtown Township with Fitzpatrick, U.S. Air Force Major Kevin Kelly said Murphy, a former Army captain and paratrooper, has misled voters by claiming on the campaign trail he spent his time in Iraq dodging bullets and disarming improvised explosive devices. Murphy was “not a frontline fighter,” said Kelly, a Philadelphia resident who served in Iraq as an F-16 pilot from January 2006 to May 2006.

U.S. Army Capt. Richard Barbato, who served in the 82nd Airborne, the same division as Murphy, joked that Murphy was always back at the unit's headquarters while the rest of the unit's soldiers were fighting.

“While we were up on the front lines ... [Murphy] didn't see the same things we did,” Barbato said.(Source: “Murphy targeted by Iraq war vets,” by Brian Scheid, Bucks County Courier Times, 10/07/06, full text here)

Let’s dispense with Major Kelly’s remarks first. Capt. Murphy has made the recommendation letter for his Bronze Star available on his website. Look on page 3 of the pdf. In the first paragraph,
“Additionally Capt. Murphy was the convoy commander in over 75 movement-to-contact missions throughout the Baghdad area of operations, one receiving small arms fire and another successfully scouting the eventual detonation of an improvised explosion device, but all resulting in mission accomplishment and no soldiers killed or wounded in action.”
I think Major Kelly owes Capt. Murphy an apology and Capt. Barbato should find something else to joke about.

The issue of the Bronze Star, the fourth-highest medal for heroism, bravery or meritorius service, is another matter that perhaps needs to be addressed. Of the 500,000 soldiers who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan less than 10%, 47,000, have been awarded the Bronze Star, and some people think that is giving out too many ("Bronze Star loses its luster," by Christine Ramirez of the Scripps Howard News Service, Capitol Hill Blue, July 25, 2006, full text here). Even so, 47,000 is not a lot, and those who have shared that honor with Capt. Murphy may not look too favorably on Rep. Fitzpatrick for sharing the stage with two men who denigrate it. To be eligible for the Bronze Star Medal, a military member must be getting hostile fire/imminent danger pay, during the event for which the medal is to be awarded.

Murphy’s duties in Iraq also included training our troops, and working with Iraqis to establish or restore their judicial system. Read the full Bronze Star recommendation. It is fascinating

But, back to Fitzpatrick, who has never served in the military, what did he do while the men sharing the stage with him denigrated a decorated veteran? Nothing. According to the previously cited Bucks County Courier Times article:
After the press conference, Fitzpatrick said he disagreed with the veterans.

“In no way, shape or form would I ever question Pat Murphy's service to our country,” said Fitzpatrick, who is not a military veteran. “I recognize and appreciate Pat's service to our country as much as anyone in our community.

“As far as his military service in Iraq, I take him fully at his word,” Fitzpatrick added.

After the fact he says he wouldn’t question Murphy’s service, but at the time he stood quietly while others did. He let someone else question it for him.

That’s not to say that Fitzpatrick has no direct knowledge of Iraq. He himself took a short trip there last year. At the Anaconda Airbase in Balad things got lively when mortars hit. Here is a quote from the Bucks County Courier Times ("Fitzpatrick under fire in Iraq," by Brian Scheid, 12/31/05):

As explosions and gunfire ripped through the night, Fitzpatrick said he was escorted into a bunker with other soldiers for about an hour until the "all clear" signal was sounded.

Fitzpatrick who was in Iraq on a tour of the war-torn Middle East with seven other congressmen, said no one was injured in the bombardment. He said one of the soldiers he met seemed to be accustomed to the shelling.

"You get the impression that they operate under these circumstances from time to time," he said from a phone at a U.S. air base is Islamabad, Pakistan. "It was a surprise and a serious time."

So Fitzpatrick has visited there, seen hospitals being shelled, is surprised by this, and thus has first hand knowledge that even supposedly safe areas in Iraq are vulnerable to attack, and he stands there and lets people imply that anyone who served in Iraq wasn’t in harm's way? Not exactly a profile in courage.

You can contribute to Patrick Murphy's campaign on his website,

(Full disclosure: This evening I was part of a telephone conference call where someone who served with Murphy verified the record of his service. I have also heard other veterans who served with Murphy talk at other events.)


phillydem said...

Fitzpatrick was born Jun 28, 1963.
That would make him 43. Although as of his last birthday, this year, he's a year too old to enlist in the Army Reserves, he had every chance in the world to sign up with the military and serve in the Iraq war.

Next time this comes up, Murphy ought to ask Fitzpatrick where was he.tewd

AboveAvgJane said...

good question

Anonymous said...

Murphy should have clearly identified that his was a "Meritorious Bronze Star" Not a VALOROUS Bronze Star. I received a Bronze Star for my service in Iraq, funny that my citation is WORD for WORD the same as Murphys! Captain and above automatically got the Bronze star and Sergeant First Class and above got it as well. As far as movement to contact, no he never conducted a movement to contact mission, he was a JAG officer, a lawyer, not a combat arms officer. He conducted convoy operations, which was a neccesity, and if he made contact during those operations then he made contact. CPT Murphy served honorably, he should be proud of what he did as a part of the 82nd Airborne, not trump up his achievements to be what they werent. Barbato has a good point, I served with him and know his caliber, the media as always took what he said out of context and to the untrained civilian eye it may have seemed disrespectful. Further, when did the term "swiftboat" become a derogatory term? Those guys who conducted riverine operaions in vietnam were tough as nails, I would take it as a compliment!! God bless our country and paratroopers like Rich Barbato, we need more guys like him.

AboveAvgJane said...

My father, who served for 20 years in the Army, including a tour in Nam as a platoon sergeant and other tours of less than friendly spots, always told me that you never question another soldier's service unless you were serving right next to them, and even then only under extreme circumstances. Thus, I have never had a very positive view of those who do cast such aspersions.

As for swiftboating, the word became derogatory when the group Swiftboat for Truth started questioning the service of John Kerry. See paragraph above. Those who were in the boat with Kerry or those who were dependent on Kerry and have questions about his service can go public with their concerns. Everyone else should have just kept quiet.

Just my viewpoint.

Anonymous said...

“Additionally Capt. Murphy was the convoy commander in over 75 movement-to-contact missions throughout the Baghdad area of operations, one receiving small arms fire and another successfully scouting the eventual detonation of an improvised explosion device, but all resulting in mission accomplishment and no soldiers killed or wounded in action.”

Hmmmm....let's see...75 convoys resulting in one TIC and uncovered one IED....BFD...Basically from my perspective he's a JAG wuss who went on convoys for whatever reason, probably as a way to leave the wire for a few hours affording a great opportunity to badge hunt for his CAB because he knew at the end of the day he would be back at the FOB sucking down smoothies from the Local Green Bean. Just another Fobbit tootin' his horn for political reasons, typical modus operandi....While I only associate with combat arms on and off duty, I will say in his defense, still a better American than most people back in CONUS who don't wear a uniform.....