A veteran of Bosnia who was at the event in Tuzla where Hillary Clinton falsely claimed to have landed under sniper fire is accusing the Senator of theft of valor. As General Walter L. Stewart Jr. of the Pennsylvania National Guard said earlier today on a conference call, soldiers who actually have been in war zones and performed under fire deeply despise those who falsely claim such valor. They feel this way because it attempts to cheapen or make less, their real and actual valor.
The General pointed out "this wasn't an emergency resupply mission to the Alamo. If there had been any danger that mission wouldn't have landed."
Common sense tells us the First Lady and Chelsea would never have been put in harms way by our military. Hillary's tale of bravery and valor, because it was false, is finding resentment among those who actually did serve and Tammi K. (nee Jann) Hertherington who was at Tuzla when Senator Clinton landed is one. Here is her story.
I feel compelled to write to you in regards to Senator Clinton’s remarks regarding her visit to Bosnia.
I was present at the base in question when the First Lady visited and am intimately familiar with the situation on the ground at the time. It strikes me as beyond misstatement or clarity of memory for Senator Clinton to suggest that this visit in any way compares with the reality of those of us serving in theater experienced or presented a threat to her or her daughter.
As a service person in the US Army, I was deployed to Bosnia immediately after the Peace Accord was signed and served there for eleven months in 1996. I was there at Tuzla Air base when the First Lady visited, and there was no sniper fire or anyone running under cover. I saw both the First Lady and her daughter in our headquarters building (we called it the 'White House'). When I saw them in the lobby of our Headquarters neither her or her daughter had on the "Flak" vests which even we were required to wear at all times when not inside a building.
It was my fortune to be working in the Headquarter building as a Communications Specialist, and while I did go out to the ZOS (Zone of Separation) once and lived under "Full battle rattle" rules, I would never in any way compare my experience with those who daily risked their lives. That was the M.P.'s who went on daily missions trying to round up weapons and militant individuals who opposed the Peace Accord and the contract workers who aided the Multi-National forces in trying to rebuild the infrastructure (bridges, communication, water) that had been blown up. If, as I believe, it is improper for me to compare my involvement with those who took the bulk of the real risks it is even more improper for any visiting dignitary to compare their own for any reason, let alone for personal gain.
I am quite angry that what I and my fellow soldiers worked to achieve should be used as a playing card to build up a political nominee and tear down another. This is not what those of us who actually risked our lives were working for, we were trying to maintain a Peace Keeping mission in a country that had been ravaged by ethnic cleansing. To trivialize the atrocities suffered by the real people I met in that country for political gain is beyond my ability to comprehend. I met mothers who had lost their children and children who had lost their parents. The sheer leap of credibility that the First Lady would have brought her daughter into an active war zone is an insult to the people there who suffered more than real risk, they suffered real loss.
I did have contact with some of the general population on a daily basis. Many came to work for the Military in custodial capacities. Many carried all that they possessed in plastic bags every day. They brought their own food and cooked daily on little burner plates. I was constantly amazed at how upbeat and optimistic some of the people were in spite of things. It still is hard for me to think of Srebenica and all of the women who lost husbands, sons, and fathers because of religion and nationalistic fervor.
My father still works as a Civil Servant at WOMAK on Ft. Bragg, NC and a couple of years ago he met a Bosnian woman and her daughter, who had lived through the worst of it. They got to talking and found out that I had been over there and told him to tell me 'thank you' for what we had done. It still humbles me and chokes me up a little to know that even after all of these years there is appreciation for our past efforts.
I was simply a soldier doing my job in Bosnia and I believe in what we accomplished there. I do not either want to make of my service more than it was nor to denigrate those who served with me and those who lived through more than any of us. It seems to me that if I simply stand by while others “spin” their involvement for their own personal or political ambitions that I would be contributing to the slander of my fellows in arms and the people we were working to help in Bosnia, so I offer you my personal experience of the reality of the situation.
To verify my story I have included a copy of an commendation I received for service in the Bosnian theater during that period. It would be my honor to provide you more of my perspective if it would serve to deliver the truth to the American people.
Tammi K Hetherington (nee Jann)
141 Signal Battalion, 22nd Signal Brigade, 1st Armored Division, US Army
Task Force Eagle
Update: General Walter Stewart sent me this statement to clarify his role in Europe and his feelings about the race.
Dear Mr. Morgan,
Thank you for providing a forum that is generating such meaningful discussion on the topic of Senator Clinton’s “valor theft.” I am particularly impressed with the letter sent to you by Bosnia veteran, Tammi K. Hetherington, a former specialist with the 22nd Signal Brigade, 1st Armored Division, United States Army. I commend Tammi for her service to the nation – service that continues in her courageous willingness to speak truth to power. I commanded thousands of fine soldiers during my almost four decades of active and reserve service, and I would have been honored to have had Tammi among them.
Before I go on, I want to correct misreporting about my service as a Guardsman and as an Army major general in Europe. I was never “leader” or “commander” of the Pennsylvania National Guard because that authority belongs to the Adjutant General. I did hold the same military rank as an adjutant general – major general – but did so as commander, 28th Infantry Division, and as the deputy commander of the State Area Readiness Command (figure that one out). In Europe, my service was at Headquarters, United States European Command (HQUSEUCOM), not at the Army command (USAREUR). EUCOM is the superior headquarters and USAREUR reported to us.
I know this minutia seems irrelevant, but in the military accurate representation of titles and performance are at the core of ethics. This is why fabrication of service or battle credentials – what we call “valor theft” - is so offensive to service members and veterans (or should be). Be you soldier or civilian, if you didn’t “earn it” in service to your country, for shame that you might be wearing it or talking about it - and it is equally shameful for those who have served with honor to defend the dishonor of others. Valor theft degrades every service member and veteran, and, as a point of honor, I call on the former admirals, generals, and service veterans who are publicly in support of Senator Clinton to renounce that support. Continue it, and her dishonor is your dishonor.
I proudly acknowledge that I changed voter registration so I could vote for Senator Obama in Pennsylvania’s presidential primary. With 4000 dead in the supra-strategic national tragedy that is Iraq I could not but do otherwise. As a leader of soldiers I had one rule for advocating others to higher rank: would I want that person commanding my children in combat. For me, Senator Obama - a rational thinker not dumbed-down by “years in Washington” - is the person for elevation to commander-in-chief. And as to Senator Clinton, were she a sergeant seeking promotion, her known fabrication of battle facts would disqualify her. I have been under fire many times, so much so that the incidents run together, but you can bet I remember the first time.
And let me put to rest the security situation at the Tuzla Airport during the March 1996 FLOTUS (first lady of the United States) visit. In the video clip, as she bends to caress the small girl, movement among those behind her reveals a stocky officer wearing four stars on a fatigue cap. I am certain that officer is Admiral “Snuffy” Smith, the senior commander of forces in the Bosnia operation. But Admiral Smith or no, top ranking officers in a war zone don’t wear soft caps unless the security situation warrants it.
Senator Clinton’s recollection of being under fire at Tuzla is an unarguable fabrication – a reprehensible act of valor theft, no ifs, ands, or buts.
Major General (Retired) Walter L. Stewart, Jr.
Former commander, 28th Infantry Division, Pennsylvania Army National Guard
Former Director for Reserve Affairs (ECRA), HQUSEUCOM, Stuttgart, Germany
Ps. Tammi, this one is for you, and for all those who served with you.
Update II: Tammi did an interview with her local CBS affiliate you can watch here.