Wednesday, February 11, 2004

...Yet Another Wrinkle

My head is spinning, and it isn't just the gin.

NEW YORK - (KRT) - George W. Bush left his Texas Air National Guard assignment and moved to Alabama in 1972 even though the Air Force denied his request for a transfer, according to his military records.

In fact, Bush did not even ask for an official transfer until nine days after he moved to Alabama in May 1972.

The Air Force quickly rejected Bush's request, saying the fighter pilot was "ineligible" to move to the Alabama unit Bush wanted - a squadron of postal handlers.

Nevertheless, Bush stayed in Alabama until his Texas commanders finally gave him written authorization five months later to train there.

The controversy over Bush's Vietnam War-era record - and Democratic charges that he was AWOL - has prodded records documenting his service into public scrutiny. While they suggest he complied with the requirements of the time, they also show long absences from duty and that he was suspended from flying.

As the questions about his service continued at the White House for a second day, Bush spokesman Scott McClellan denounced them as "gutter politics."

Bush went to Alabama to work on the Republican senate campaign of Winton (Red) Blount. Mary Marks Curtis of Montgomery, Ala., who worked with Bush and dated him at the time, said that after the election, "he left and came back to Montgomery in late November or early December. He told me that he was coming back to Montgomery because he had to fulfill his Guard duty."

Defense Department payroll records released by the White House show Bush was paid for two days of Guard duty in October and four days in mid-November.

Another aspect of Bush's service that continues to prompt questions is why he missed a physical in 1972 that caused him to be suspended as a pilot.

In 1999, Bush spokeswoman Karen Hughes said Bush missed his physical because he was in Alabama, and there were only a few special doctors who could do physicals.

McClellan would not even let the question be asked Wednesday. When a Daily News reporter tried several times to ask about the missed physical, McClellan said, "I'm not going to engage in gutter politics. I'm going to focus on what we're doing to make the world safer, to make the world a better place."

Lawrence Korb, a former assistant secretary of defense for personnel and a Navy flier in Vietnam, said a pilot losing his flight status was a serious matter.

"We spent $1 million to train him to fly," Korb said. "You're supposed to be ready to fly if we need you. If you didn't show up for your flight physical, good heavens!"