Chris Wakim, the highly touted GOP challenger to Rep. Alan Mollohan (D-W.Va.), is facing questions about the accuracy of his claim to be a veteran of the first Persian Gulf War, as well as the type of graduate degree he received from Harvard University.
Wakim, a member of the West Virginia House of Delegates for the past four years, said in his official campaign biography that he is a “Gulf War veteran,” and he repeated the claim in a speech to the American Legion on May 29 and in other public appearances and interviews. The National Republican Congressional Committee, in its own release, called Wakim a “disabled Gulf War veteran honorably discharged for injuries sustained in the line of duty.”
Wakim, however, actually was stationed at Fort Devens in Massachusetts from 1988 to 1991, and he never went to Kuwait, Saudi Arabia or the Persian Gulf region during the war, which lasted from August 1990 to April 1991.
In addition, Wakim’s official Army record does not include the Southwest Asia Service Medal awarded to soldiers or sailors who participated in Operations Desert Shield or Desert Storm.
Wakim, a 1980 West Point graduate, was an active-duty Army officer during the first Gulf War, and he told reporters on Tuesday that he helped train units headed to the region, but did not go himself.
“During the Persian Gulf War, I served as an active-duty infantry officer, and according to the law, that makes me a veteran of the Persian Gulf War,” Wakim said in response to reporters’ questions.
Wakim’s campaign cites a provision in federal law defining a “veteran of any war” as “any veteran who served in the active military, naval, or air service during a period of war.”
“It’s not an exaggeration whatsoever,” Wakim insisted of his claim to have served in the conflict. “It’s in the law that I am a Gulf War veteran.”
But the Veterans of Foreign Wars, which has more than 2.4 million members, will not accept an application for membership from anyone who does not hold a service medal from a specific military campaign. Joe Davis, a VFW spokesman, said those seeking to join his organization would “have to have a service medal.”
Davis, while not referring specifically to Wakim, said it would be more accurate for an individual in such a situation to say “Gulf War-era veteran” rather than “Gulf War veteran” to make clear that he or she never saw combat.
Wakim said he helped train National Guard and Army Reserve units for deployment to the Persian Gulf, using the training he received from the Army in desert warfare.
“My capacity was to evaluate the units, train them and deploy them,” Wakim said. “The fact that I did not, or anyone I served with, did not [go to the Persian Gulf], is disingenuous.”
Wakim, who received an honorable discharge from the Army in October 1991, suffered serious injuries during his military career, including a “broken back, crushed elbow and a reconstructed knee,” and he receives a 70 percent disability payment from the Defense Department.
With reporters pressing Wakim about his résumé, he lashed out at his Democratic opponent, accusing Mollohan of being behind the effort to undermine his campaign.
“Alan Mollohan’s attempt to discredit my record is nothing but a dirty political smokescreen to try to cover [up] the fact that he has spent years in public office lining his pockets with taxpayer dollars and that he is under investigation by the FBI,” Wakim said.
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