Is This The Smoking Gun on Bush National Guard Record? And Why You Should Care

[Amended at 22:05]
Forget your highpowered TV networks, with their big staffs that fall for phoney documents. Enter Paul Lukasiak, a lone researcher—not even a trendy blogger—just a guy with some web pages. A guy who has been doing detailed archival work reconstructing GW Bush's service records. A guy who may have found something, and who's put it up on the web.

And what a set of web pages. I've linked to the AWOL Project often in the past, because it's meaty and detailed and explains its reasoning. So far as I'm aware, Mr. Lukasiak's conclusions have held up well. Admittedly, much of the Project, especially in its early days, was written in a detailed, quirky style that isn't all that media-friendly. Which is why, I think, the press has only lately begun to appreciate the AWOL project for what it is.

Today the AWOL Project unveils what may be its biggest blockbuster. [Regrettably, the site works much better in IE than in Firefox — in IE you can see excerpts of all the key documents, but in Firefox you cannot.]

Back in February I started blogging about the mystery of GW Bush's missing separation codes (also known as SPN codes). In the saga of the Bush National Guard career, the absence of any mention on any of the documents of the separation codes that normally give the reasons for a military discharge have always struck me as the biggest and strangest hole in the story, especially because during the period in which Bush served, Army SPN codes were remarkably detailed and chatty—and often very derogatory. Were the same or similar codes used in the National Guard? It seemed at least possible.

Now it seems as if Lukasiak has found and partly decoded Lt. Bush's separation code. The records released to date include Bush’s NGB-22 (.pdf), his “Report of Separation and Record of Service in the Air National Guard of Texas and as a Reserve of the Air Force.” That document has a section called “Reason and Authority for Discharge” (section 31, near the bottom). And therein is found a mysterious code, PTI 961.

Mr. Lukasiak theorizes that PTI 961 was a code which

indicates that he was being thrown out of the Air National Guard for failing “to possess the required military qualifications for his grade or specialty, or does not meet the mental, moral, professional or physical standards of the Air Force.” In other words, despite the fact that Bush had an unfulfilled six year Military Service Obligation, he was discharged from the Air National Guard not because he moved to Boston, but because he failed to meet his obligation to maintain his qualifications as an F102 pilot.

Getting to that conclusion takes a little bit of work.

For starters,

“PTI” stands for “Personnel Transaction Identifier”, a code which “identifies the controlled personnel management action being accomplished the personnel data system.” And although the particular meaning of “PTI 961” remains unknown, all “900” series PTIs mean that someone is no longer considered part of “Air Force strength.”

…when an “action is reported by the 9xx PTIs” it represents a “loss to the Air Force strength.” In other words, despite the fact that Bush had almost eight months left on his six year Military Service Obligation at the time, Texas Air National Guard officers were signaling that Bush was essentially worthless to the Air Force, and should not even be retained in the “Ready Reserves” for call up in the event of a national emergency.

…This interpretation is fully consistent with the fact that Bush was placed in an “Inactive Status” retroactively, effective September 15, 1973. “Inactive Status” meant that Bush was no longer eligible to accrue time served toward “gratuitous” membership points.

In fact, under Air Force regulations, someone like Bush, who had an outstanding Military Service Obligation, could only be placed in an “Inactive Status” if he was being “completely severed from military status.”

This “complete severance” was an extraordinary event. … The fact that Bush was discharged from the Texas Air National Guard under a Personnel Transaction Identifier used to denote a reduction in total Air Force strength means Bush was considered not merely “useless” under present circumstances, but of no possible use to the Air Force at any point in the future. PTI 961 meant that Bush was unfit for service in the United States Armed Forces, and that there was no point in keeping him around in case of a national emergency.

This can be established through examining the relevant regulations. ANGR 36-05, which was the “authority” cited in Bush’s discharge papers, has a limited number of “separation criteria” that are consistent with a “900 series” Personnel Transaction Identifier, all of which could only be the result of Bush being thrown out because he wasn’t doing his job. (see Appendix 2). The most likely of these criteria is that Bush was discharged for “standby screening”, and an examination of the rules under which discharges could be accomplished (see Appendix 3) in this fashion lead to only one conclusion—-that Bush was thrown out of the Air National Guard because he was “unfit to serve.”

If this analysis is correct, it follows that ex-Lt. Bush's current claim that he did everything he was asked to do has some serious problems.

That leaves us with two big questions: First, is Mr. Lukasiak right about what PTI 961 means. Someone, somewhere must know. Second, even if he is right, now that the public has been partially innoculated against the Bush National Guard issue by the CBS scandal, will anyone care.

For my money, the important issue isn't so much what either candidate did 30 years ago. No, the big issue is how the candidates deal with reality. As I've said about the National Guard service questions previously,

This incident demonstrates the major reason why the issue of 30-year-ago National Guard service is relevant today. Not because someone pulled strings in order to put some poor person’s kid at risk in Vietnam instead of Jr. Not because Bush gamed the system to get out of flying just when his unit was going to a genuine mission to patrol US airspace. Not because the ill-minded of the world speculate that substance abuse lead to his being grounded, and meant he would have flunked the physical. Not because someone falsified the official records to record credits that were never actually earned. Nor even because the records were later sanitized to remove the critical separation codes that would tell us something about what really happened.

No. The reason this incident matters most is because GWB still can’t come clean about it. And that sort of stubborn denial of facts is digging us deeper into holes in Iraq and at home.

To those of us left in the “reality based community,” the modern reception of the National Guard story is a trope for much larger, pressing—even disastrous—contemporary problems.

Just recently, Bush was quoted as saying,

that after flying more than 570 hours in the Guard, he asked permission to work on a political campaign. “I was granted permission by my superiors,” he said. “I did everything they asked me to do and met my requirements and was honorably discharged. I’m proud of my service in the Guard.

We already knew that was a false claim, since Bush failed to take his physical as he was asked or ordered to do. PTI 961 suggests that this failure had a knock-on effect, and that the Guard discharge was not a matter of administrative kindness, but rather an administrative device to dump out a useless former pilot, a shirker.

In other words, if Lukasiak is right, we've been lied to in matters small, just as we've been lied to in matters big. Sounds like a consistent M.O. to me, one that has worked remarkably well for the perpetrator, if not so well for us, the victims.

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9 Responses to Is This The Smoking Gun on Bush National Guard Record? And Why You Should Care

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  2. JimPortlandOR says:

    I’ve provided a discussion of the PTI codes in the USAF (and ANG/Reserve) on a dailykos diary comment. The discussion is based on my experience as a USAF Personnel Traning instructor at the the USAF Personnel School from 1965 to 1969 when the Air Force was completing a conversion from punched-card based systems to a fully computerized system.

    Here’s the link to my comment.

    DailyKos Comment on “Bush AWOL Smoking Gun” (10/18/04).

  3. Mojo says:

    I think Paul may have made an error. The documents the Pentagon released Friday included Special Order ANG-A 158 that transfers Bush to ARPC (ORS) (Ready Reserve). That matches the block 31 from his NGB-22. That doesn’t jibe with Paul’s claim that the 961 code meant that Bush was being “completely severed from military status” and wasn’t fit for service. (Although it would help to explain why he quit flying and didn’t resume flying when he returned to Texas.) In fact, one of the things Paul states is that Bush would normally have gone to one of two virtual units in Denver, including ARPC (ORS), so it looks like this particular thing went approximately as it should have. There are a couple possible explanations for the 961 code.
    – It could mean something other than what Paul thinks it means. (I have no idea what.)
    – It could have been put on Bush’s discharge papers in error. Just as the person who filled out Kerry’s dd241 incorrectly added a V to his Silver Star, administrative errors do happen. In my experience providing oversight to both active duty and Guard units, they happen more often in the Guard.
    As far as the rules forbidding letting him out of the remaining time he was obligated to serve, I think this is just another case of the TANG (and the Guard at that time in general) letting those with connections get away with bending the rules. It doesn’t reflect well on Bush’s service since it’s just one more indication that the “champagne” Guard units were closer to the Boy Scouts than the military, but it isn’t a smoking gun.
    Of course, I could have missed another document that supercedes the discharge paper that transfers Bush to ARPC (ORS). If so, I’ll have to depend on Paul to point that out to me as he knows the details much better than I do.

  4. The documents the Pentagon released Friday included Special Order ANG-A 158 that transfers Bush to ARPC (ORS) (Ready Reserve). That matches the block 31 from his NGB-22. That doesn’t jibe with Paul’s claim that the 961 code meant that Bush was being “completely severed from military status” and wasn’t fit for service.

    Actually, I did not say that 961 meant “complete severance from military service.” That phrase was used to show that 961 was consistent with the change in Bush’s status to “Inactive” effective September 15, 1973.

    it should be noted that the Air National Guard did not have the power to “completely sever” Bush in this manner. Bush’s statutorily based Military Service Obligation was to serve as a “Reserve of the Air Force” for six years, and discharge from the ANG did not end that obligation.

    The 900 series of PTIs SIGNIFIED a loss in total Air Force Strength, and the use of 961 on Bush’s discharge forms SIGNIFIED that the discharge WOULD result in that loss of strength. The PTI codes appear to have served a dual purpose—one was explain an event, and the second (within the data processing system) was to actually cause something to happen.

  5. Steve says:

    A former collegue of mine who works for a Pentagon agency related to military personnel tells me that PTI 961 is/was sort of a “catch all” code and means basically “other”. This friend, who is no supporter of Bush, suggests that they are reading far too much into the code.

    Yes, I’m being intentionally coy about this in order to protect my friend.

  6. Michael says:

    Sounds plausible to me: “other” meaning “has friends in high places”.

  7. Steve says:

    A followup to my comment above.

    My former collegue has gotten back to me on the PTI 961. She/he reports that his/her comment was based on current personnel codes and there is some evidence that they may have been changed over the years, so there may be more to it than I originally reported.

  8. Steve says:

    In the 1972 NG regs for officers the pti 961 is a discharge code for “Moving out of area”. I copied it at the National Archives last week.

  9. Lin says:

    Retired Air Force Reserve. The move from the Texas Air National Guard to ARPC would be a common move made for evaluation. The Six year obligation was not completed and is sad to know many where not only forced to do more but lost there lives doing less time.

    The ARPC does the records for inactive ( Cat B ) and Active reserves. ARPC also handles the discharge for all reserve personnel. This has created a large clerical staff that I’m sure makes several mistakes. Some of massive catagory.

    The real problem is that such records are controlled at the National Military level when at ARPC. The Guard is controlled first at the state level ( Governor ). Who was Govenor in Texas when all this was going on.

    The stated fact is G. W. makes for a poor commander and chief but this country has survived worse.

    —–

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