Unapologetic Walsh Releases Military Records

By Beacon Staff

HELENA — Lt. Gov. John Walsh released more than 400 pages of his military records Sunday in response to reports that he was reprimanded in 2010 for pressuring Montana National Guard troops to join a private association.

The Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate, backed by National Guard troops who served with him in Montana and Iraq, was unapologetic for what he called his support for the National Guard Association of the United States. He said the records spanning his 33-year military career reflect the type of leader that he is.

“I believed in what the association did on behalf of the men and women of the National Guard. I’m not going to apologize for what I did for the men and women of the National Guard,” Walsh told reporters in a news conference at his campaign headquarters. “Do I believe that what I did to support the National Guard was wrong? I do not.”

Army Vice Chief of Staff Peter Chiarelli wrote in the 2010 reprimand that Walsh’s actions to solicit membership in the association caused him to question Walsh’s leadership abilities. Walsh, who was Montana’s adjutant general at the time, was running for vice-chairman of the association, which lobbies Congress for better equipment, training, health care and other benefits for National Guard members and their families.

Walsh sought to boost the Montana National Guard’s membership numbers, writing at the time that his opponent for the vice-chairmanship position would likely bring up the state’s low membership as an issue in the campaign, the Army inspector general’s report said.

Walsh said running for the position was not about his own ambition, but to improve the lot of the troops.

“I looked at this not for what this would do for me, it was what it would do for the Montana National Guard,” he said. “I would have a seat at the table to be making decisions that were going to impact not only the National Guard as a whole, but more importantly, the Montana National Guard.”

The documents Walsh released Sunday contain training certificates, award and medal notices, letters of commendation, appointment notices and positive officer evaluations.

Those evaluations include one that described him as a “bright, enthusiastic and diligent” young major in 1998 and another in 2010 — the same year as the inspector general’s report — by Gov. Brian Schweitzer that called Walsh an “exceptional leader” who “has the potential to succeed at the senior levels of our military” and should be promoted to brigadier general immediately.

But the inspector general’s report delayed Walsh’s application for promotion, and he resigned as adjutant general in 2012 to campaign on Gov. Steve Bullock’s ticket.

In the documents, Walsh wrote to Chiarelli after the inspector general’s findings to request leniency. Walsh wrote that he used less-than-sound judgment and misinterpreted the regulations prohibiting endorsement of a non-federal entity such as the Guard association.

“You have my commitment I will not repeat this mistake,” Walsh wrote.

Walsh said Sunday the letter shows he may have used poor judgment in that instance, but he has fought on behalf of Guard troops throughout his career, and the association has been instrumental in improving the lives of men and women in service and when they return home.

He removed from his pocket a list of five names he said were soldiers under his command who died in Iraq or from injuries suffered there. He became emotional as he told reporters he carried the list with him in his briefcase.

“It’s because of them and all American heroes that I’ll never stop fighting to ensure — excuse me,” he said, pausing for 15 seconds while he collected himself. “To ensure that they receive the best equipment and training that’s available.”

Staff Sgt. John Bennett, who served in Iraq under Walsh in 2004-2005, underlined that point. A sniper’s bullet penetrated Bennett’s poorly armored Humvee while he and other soldiers were out on patrol.

Bennett said he did not know what had happened, and when he left the vehicle to determine whether an improvised-explosive device had damaged it, he was struck by sniper fire.

Bennett, who is wheelchair-bound, said Walsh fought to get better-armored vehicles so that future patrols would not meet the same fate.

“I truly believe I wouldn’t be in this chair had I had the equipment I needed,” Bennett said.

The campaign for one of Walsh’s Democratic opponents in the Senate race, former Lt. Gov. John Bohlinger, did not immediately respond to a query for comment. The campaign for the Republican candidate, U.S. Rep. Steve Daines, declined to comment.

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