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Walsh releases military record - Stands by support of private group for National Guard

HELENA — U.S. Senate candidate John Walsh on Sunday released his entire military record with the Montana National Guard, including a 2010 letter in which he said he used “less than sound judgment” when urging fellow officers, on state time, to support a private group that advocates for the Guard.

Yet Walsh again said he wouldn’t apologize for supporting the private National Guard Association of the United States, which lobbies for better budgets and equipment for the Guard.

“I’ve been with my soldiers when they’ve been fired upon and when they’ve been taken off the field on stretchers,” he said at a news conference at his campaign headquarters in downtown Helena. “It’s because of them, and all American heroes, that I will never stop fighting to ensure that they receive the best equipment and training available.”

Walsh also was joined Sunday by several former Guard members and colleagues who spoke in his support, including Staff Sgt. John Bennett of Cascade, who said a better-armored vehicle for his Guard patrol might have prevented a 2005 injury in Iraq that put him in a wheelchair.

“(Walsh) fought then for what we as soldiers needed,” he said. “I truly believe I wouldn’t be in this chair if I had the equipment that I needed.”

Walsh, Montana’s lieutenant governor and the leading Democratic candidate this year for an open U.S. Senate seat in Montana, has been dogged by news stories in recent weeks about a 2010 U.S. Army investigation, report and official reprimand for his actions promoting the National Guard association.

The Army inspector general report said he improperly used his position as adjutant general of the Montana National Guard to solicit fellow officers to join the private group – a “non-federal entity” – and used an office employee to perform travel and administrative duties related to the group.

In response to the report, Gen. Peter Chiarelli, the vice chief of staff for the Army, issued a letter of reprimand to Walsh on Oct. 1, 2010, calling his actions “unacceptable, inconsistent with the conduct expected of senior leaders and violative of our Army’s values.”

Walsh gave reporters copies of the Oct. 1 letter on Sunday, as well as his Oct. 21 response in which he said he regretted his actions, said they “were in no way intended for personal gain,” and asked that the reprimand not go in his official military personnel file.

Chiarelli, in a Nov. 2 letter that Walsh also released Sunday, said the reprimand would go in Walsh’s official personnel file, along with Walsh’s Oct. 21 response.

Walsh also has acknowledged that the incident prevented him from getting a federally recognized promotion to the rank of brigadier general. He retired as a colonel from the National Guard in March 2012, when he decided to be Democratic gubernatorial candidate Steve Bullock’s running mate.

Bullock and Walsh won election to governor and lieutenant governor, respectively, last November.

Walsh released 400 pages of his military record Sunday, including not only the 2010 report and its follow-up, but scores of pages of commendations for exemplary service.

He also told reporters Sunday that coverage of the investigation and reprimand has largely ignored the work of the private National Guard Association, which he said has provided vital support for programs and equipment for Guard soldiers.

The group has “led the fight” to get Guardsmen the same equipment and post-war support that’s available to active-duty military, said Walsh, who spent 33 years in the Guard before retiring in 2012.

“I won’t ever apologize for fighting for them or their families,” he said.

Bennett, in an interview after the news conference, said he was injured in February 2005 by a sniper’s bullet that shattered two vertebrae and caused him to lose a kidney, his spleen and half his pancreas.

He said he was shot after getting out of a Humvee, and if it would have had an armored turret, like those issued to active-duty troops in Iraq, he likely would have known earlier they were being fired on by a sniper.

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