On the main GOP presidential debate: "Not one candidate on the debate stage has military experience … "

Jim Gilmore on Wednesday, September 16th, 2015 in a tweet.


Gilmore says prime-time GOP presidential debaters never served in military

Former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore was excluded from the Sept. 16 prime-time GOP presidential debate and from the "undercard" debate held earlier that day. (AP Photo)

Former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore was not in a charitable mood Sept. 16 when he watched from afar as his 15 major rivals for the Republican presidential nomination debated on CNN.

Gilmore was excluded because his polling numbers did not meet the 1 percent threshold for participation. He viewed the action from his campaign office in Alexandria -- first, the 90-minute "undercard" debate between the bottom four candidates, and then the three-hour main event among the top 11 that drew about 22.9 million viewers.

Gilmore live-tweeted through it all, accusing his colleagues of misunderstanding issues, ducking questions and exhibiting facial expressions that were unpresidential. And then, there was this tweet, made during the 11-candidate debate:

"Not one candidate on the stage has military experience, and it shows," Gilmore wrote.

We decided to check whether any of the prime-time debaters ever wore the uniform.

Gilmore, it should be noted, has served in the military. Faced with a low draft number when he graduated from the University of Virginia in 1971, he enlisted in the Army for three years and served in the intelligence corps at NATO headquarters in Germany -- an experience he usually mentions in citing his qualifications for the White House. He rose to the rank of sergeant.

As for the 11 debaters, we pored through biographies on their campaign websites and a variety of other authoritative sources for their resumes and backgrounds. No evidence of military service turned up for any of them.

Three were old enough to be drafted during the Vietnam War -- Donald Trump, Ben Carson and John Kasich -- but managed to avoid conscription during an era when many college students received deferments from military service and draft numbers were determined by lottery drawings of birth dates.

The draft effectively ended in December 1972, and the U.S. shifted to an all-volunteer military, but none of the candidates claims to have stepped forward either in the active military or the reserves.

Participating in the main debate -- in addition to three candidates mentioned above -- were Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Ted Cruz, Carly Fiorina, Mike Huckabee, Rand Paul, Marco Rubio and Scott Walker (who since has dropped out of the race).

The B Team

What about the four Republicans who participated in the undercard debate? Although they were not included in Gilmore’s statement, we thought it would be interesting also to look at their records.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., served as an Air Force prosecutor from 1982 to 1988 and then spent 27 years as a reservist, first in the South Carolina Air National Guard and then transferring to the Air Reserve. Graham, who was not deployed for combat, retired as a colonel in June.

His three debate partners -- Bobby Jindal, George Pataki and Rick Santorum -- list no military service in their resumes.

The Democrats

While we’re on the subject, let’s look at the military records of the five most prominent Democratic candidates. Nothing is listed for four of them: Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Martin O’Malley and Lincoln Chafee.

Former Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia served in the Marine Corps from 1969 to 1972, including a 13-month stint as a rifle platoon and company commander in Vietnam. Webb, a recipient of the Navy Cross, the Silver Star, two Bronze Stars and two Purple Hearts, achieved the rank of captain.

Our ruling

While watching the main GOP presidential debate, Gilmore tweeted, "Not one candidate on the stage has military experience … "

We rate his statement True.



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