DES MOINES–Todd Prichard from Charles City, one of the last rural Democrats in the Iowa house and a Lieutenant Colonel in the Iowa Guard spoke to the Northwest Des Moines Democrats last week to provide a teaser to his upcoming Gubernatorial bid. However, his political acumen is probably not yet up to dealing with the scrutiny in a race to lead the state.
Twice-failed Congressional candidate, Jim Mowrer, introduced Prichard to the crowd by connecting him to an earlier statement which had been debunked by Politifact.
“Todd was my company commander, and we were getting ready to deploy to Iraq. And as you might imagine, it was a very difficult time, but I got to see Todd up close and to see who he is. And we deployed to Iraq with the Iowa National Guard. It was a very trying deployment. 23 month-deployment from start to finish.”
Mowrer had previously made the claim of a 23 month deployment last September in an ad supporting his second congressional run.
Des Moines Register Reporter, Brianne-Pfannenstiel investigated the claim and rated it Mostly False “According to military records obtained by The Des Moines Register through a Freedom of Information Act request, Mowrer served one year, three months and 18 days of foreign service in Iraq — or about 16 months.”
Although Prichard didn’t make the claim himself he did not correct it. And his carelessness of essentially being introduced as the next Iowa Governor on an integrity issue around military service could end up weighing down his ambitions. A rural Iowa Democrat who’s been to war could be what the fledgling party needs to rebuild. In revisiting this gaffe Mowrer handed Prichard his albatross of doubt when it comes to speaking about his military service.
Iowa is no stranger to veterans exaggerating their service. Senator Tom Harkin famously called Vice President Dick Cheney “Coward” only to face scrutiny himself for lying about his war record. The progressive Senator qualified his Cheney criticism as an affront to “those of us who served” despite being outed himself for not serving in Vietnam. Harkin had claimed he flew combat missions in Vietnam. It was discovered that the Senator had spent the war ferrying planes in Japan and the Philippines.
After the damaging introduction Prichard went on to open up his own military record to scrutiny. He wanted to give a proper combat pretext so he began the story in a traditional veteran combat vernacular with “So as all war stories go, I have to say, So there I was. Right?”
“Prichard turned several times to that service to relate to the challenge Democrats in Iowa face under a Republican-controlled state government. At one point he recalled a difficult mission his troops were tasked with – holding a position against a much larger Iraqi force – and how he had to explain the situation to his soldiers.
“I’ve been in a lot of forums with constituents, but I’ve never been in one that tough,” Prichard recalled. “These soldiers are depending on me to have an answer … What do we do if it doesn’t work? Well, we fight. We fight through it. And we don’t give up. Because giving up and not going home and leaving soldiers behind is not an option. We’re in the same boat [in Iowa]. Our backs are against the wall right now. We don’t know how many bills are going to come across the border in the next few weeks. They’re going to ruin this state. But we’re going to fight.”
After reading that story I pictured the end of the film, Saving Private Ryan. In that movie a group of Army Rangers risk their life to find James Ryan. He was the last survivor of his brothers who had all died in the war. The Rangers discover him among a small contingent of troopers heavily outmatched by German Armor and an impossible mission to hold the line and save the bridge. Not wanting to abandon “the last brothers I have left” he refuses follow orders to leave the other troopers forcing the Rangers to stay and fight.
As an Iraqi veteran I was aware of the battles and engagements in the theater. I also understood the military assets in the region. I tried to get my head around a battle where the description Prichard presented could have been feasible.
“his troops were tasked with – holding a position against a much larger Iraqi force”.
That situation didn’t seem like it was possible. so I found and read the transcript of his speech.
Prichard was speaking about a deployment to Kuwait in 2000. Since the end of the first Gulf War, the military conducted readiness exercises with the Kuwait military. This area is still considered a combat zone, but this was nearly ten years after hostilities had ceased with Iraq. The context of the story was greatly inflated when received by the Democratic audience who are less aware of the specifics of the Iraq war and inclined to think of Iraq in post 9/11 terms.
The Korean War ended in 1953. The US military still keeps around 30,000 troops to protect the 38th Parallel to train with South Korean forces. And to imply that they keep Kim Jong-Un and his military of over one million at bay would not necessarily be untrue. But after over 60 years of holding the line a man would get laughed out of his local VFW for regaling “war stories” about his recent time in Korea. The current stories from those stationed in Korea are about vices. They involve cheap booze, cheap women and cheap tailors.
And ten years after the Gulf War had ended, Kuwait had not achieved quite that kind of reputation or comfort. But presenting in Prichard’s own words a “war story” he intentionally implied he was defending from the hoards of Iraq. In his own description he specifically stated that his 1,200-1,500 man force was expected to hold off two Divisions of Iraqi forces for five days. However, in terms of likelihood or immediacy the situation in Korea was more like the Kuwait mission than it was to Iraq after the 2003 invasion. Although not technically false, presenting that he had held back all the Iraqi forces in Kuwait was closer in gravity to being stationed in Fort Bliss, Texas and claiming to have held off a Mexican invasion than it was to post-war Iraq.
Prichard needs to be careful. This is the kind of rude scrutiny that has a tendency to creep into headlines and his own party already jumped on it. Democrats tried to rake Senator Joni Ernst over the the coals about her status as a Combat Veteran. Ernst’s unit ran logistical convoys on roadside-bomb-endangered roads. Democrats took exception to her use of the term “Combat” because she was fortunate enough to avoid explosions and firefights even though the use of the term Combat Veteran is clearly defined by the Department of Defense and includes Senator Ernst’s service.
Prichard didn’t lie about his record. But he did make an effort to introduce his Kuwait experience as a “War Story” in an inflated context. He did actually deploy to Iraq after the invasion (albeit not for as long as Mowrer claimed). The reporting by Iowa Starting Line clearly demonstrates the context in which Democrats will hear from this type of stumping. Prichard needs to be cautious if he expects to compete in the big leagues. Mowrer’s contextual-speaking abatross should be quickly shed. Democrats already face an uphill battle and running for Governor is high stakes.
John Thompson is a graduate of West Point and Harvard. He is a veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan and is a State Central Committeeman on the Republican Party of Iowa.