In today’s world, not everything is as it seems. Not all that long ago, I ran a feature that suggested a witness claiming a long military background could produce no documents showing this, other than a couple that looked to be forgeries. When I requested his records from the National Personnel Records Center, part of the National Archives system in St Louis, they showed a short military history in the Army and nothing from the Air Force. In other words, the records that I received from them did not agree with what he was saying or with the four other documents that he had supplied.
So I decided to run a test. Using my mother-in-law’s name, I requested my records for my Air Force service from the same source. What I received from them was a surprise.
Let me point out here that I have, in my possession, literally, hundreds of documents from my military career. I have DD 214s from my service as an Army enlisted man, as a warrant officer, as a commissioned officer in the Air Force, and finally from my service in Iraq. I have copies of orders, I have commendations, I have OERs (one of which always brings a smile because it mentions that I had worked with the CIA, FBI and Special Forces). And, of course, I have the ID card supplied to retired members of the military that showed my rank at retirement. In other words, if there was nothing in St. Louis, I have backup documents.
What did I get back from St. Louis? A document so riddled with errors and mistakes, that it frightens me. Others who might request my records, to find out if I have been honest about my military service would have a field day. They could point to these errors as evidence that I have been less than candid.
This document, which says my branch of service was the Air Force (which would be correct for part of my career) also has my Army serial number on it. It gives my dates of service for the Air Force, that are actually my dates of service on active duty with the Army, my first service with the National Guard, and then the termination or discharge date which is the date I was commissioned in the Air Force. It notes my "Rank/Grade" as 1LT and provides nothing about any military education, shows that I have been awarded an Air Medal, a Good Conduct Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, the Vietnam Service Medal, the Republic of Vietnam Campagign (sic) Medal and oddly, the Air Force Small Arms Expert Marksmanship Ribbon.
Finally, they include a portion of what was known as the Form 2, which provides information on assignments and geographic locations... all of which related to my first active duty service... with the Army. It notes assignments as a helicopter pilot which means there should have been a note on the form showing that I had earned an Army Aviator’s Badge. It does, at least, confirm service in Vietnam and that I had been promoted to CW2, which means, at some point, I had been a warrant officer. I had not been commissioned until after the last date on this document.
I have tried to figure out how this got so messed up. I did request my Air Force service and this was what came back. It is a document that is useless in verifying anything. It tells me that the information supplied by the National Personnel Records Center, for verifying the claims of those who say they have military service are next to useless. Oh, it verifies my claims, but only part of them and then most of the information is inaccurate, twisted and warped.
I suspect part of the problem here is the Privacy Act of 1974 and today’s concerns with identity theft. What they are doing is designed to protect the individual, but what I don’t understand is how that information can be so twisted.
The moral of this little story is that we need to be careful as we move forward and make sure the facts are correct. We need to check other sources. For me, I found a picture of my flight school platoon on the Internet and there is a web site (a really nice one) that lists me as one of the pilots in the unit complete with a picture from 1969 and one from my service in Iraq (Standing under the Crossed Swords in downtown Baghdad). There are other ways to verify what I have said in the past, but the one source that everyone thought they could rely on turns out to be less than accurate.