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. http://www.murphy06.com/sheets/m06_bronze-star-info.pdf. 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, www.murphy06.com.
(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.)