Kirk again challenged over military record - Congressman's use of 'deployment' comes under scrutiny
By John Chase and Todd Lighty
Copyright © 2010, Chicago Tribune
June 13, 2010
When Republican Senate candidate Mark Kirk says he repeatedly deployed to Afghanistan with the Navy, he's referring to two-week training missions as part of his annual reservist requirements.
After acknowledging a series of misstatements that embellished his Navy service, Kirk is being challenged over his use of the military term "deployment," and this could be yet another opportunity for critics to parse his words in what has recently become a resume-bashing battle with Democratic Senate opponent Alexi Giannoulias.
Deployment can mean more than one thing in the military, but it is often used to describe service members going off to war for an extended time.
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Navy Cmdr. Danny Hernandez said there is a difference between annual training and being deployed, which can sometimes last more than a year.
"I would think that would be (considered) two weeks of annual training," Hernandez, a Navy spokesman, said of Kirk's stints. "A deployment is a deployment and annual training is annual training."
Officials with Kirk's campaign said the five-term North Shore congressman and commander with the Navy Reserve was accurate because deployment encompasses any relocation of forces.
"Congressman Kirk was proud to deploy to Afghanistan in 2008 and 2009 on military orders issued by the United States Navy," said Kirk spokeswoman Kirsten Kukowski.
Kirk's recent stumbles over his military record — and his attempts to put the focus back on Giannoulias' own resume issues — have dominated the high-profile race to fill the seat once held by President Barack Obama.
Kirk's campaign tried to even the score by pointing out Giannoulias had stated on a campaign Web site resume that he was a director of a little-known banking association when, in fact, he sat on a committee for the group. The shot also was an attempt by Kirk to remind voters of the biggest political baggage for state Treasurer Giannoulias, whose family-owned Broadway Bank was taken over by federal regulators and once made $20 million in loans to a pair of convicted felons.
The Giannoulias campaign admitted the error and changed the Web site. "It doesn't rise to the same level of what Kirk did," Giannoulias spokeswoman Kathleen Strand said.
Kirk has been hammered by Democrats after acknowledging he misstated his Navy record, including that he served in the Gulf War, that he once commanded the Pentagon war room and that he came under fire while flying intelligence missions over Iraq.
Last week, he was hit again after publication of a Defense Department document that suggested he had engaged in "partisan political activities" during his last two tours of duty.
The wording was part of a waiver written last year that Kirk needed in order to serve in Afghanistan. Politicians — particularly members of Congress — are not allowed to serve in imminent danger areas unless the Department of Defense specifically allows it.
Kirk insisted he never conducted any political activities while he was in Afghanistan. "Congressman Kirk never violated Defense Department policies," his campaign said in a statement. "The memorandum in question is simply off the mark."
Asked to explain the wording, a Defense Department spokeswoman said Friday the Pentagon was still examining the topic and couldn't comment.
Kirk's campaign also pointed to the congressman's fitness reports, in which supervisors praised his work in Afghanistan.