Rep. Gary Peters (D-MI) has exaggerated and misrepresented his military service record on the campaign trail for U.S. Senate in Michigan, military community leaders including one of his former commanding officers told Breitbart News for an exclusive investigative report.
Peters’ military service record jacket, obtained via the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) from the Department of the Navy and provided exclusively to Breitbart News, shows a man who had a broken service record that was substandard, one of his indirect commanding officers, retired Navy Commander Jim Semerad, said in an interview with Breitbart News.
“Gary was pretty much a warm body in virtually all of the units I saw him assigned to,” Semerad said when reached by phone early Thursday. “He was never selected for anything.”
Semerad has done decades of work for the Navy. After growing up in Baltimore, he and his parents moved to Louisiana when he was 17–and he joined the Navy in 1974 as an electronics technician on radar and missile systems. He served as an active duty officer for several years, visiting 18 countries and 22 different cities. He’s since been in the Naval Reserves as well as global IT expert with several different major companies like General Dynamics, General Motors, Ross Perot’s Electronic Data Systems (EDS), Starbucks, Intel, Motorola, Mellon Bank, and more–then did another active duty stint for the U.S. Navy at the Pentagon in 2008.
It’s unusual for former commanding officers come forward, in public and on the record, to contest a politician’s description of their military service record.
Semerad was indirectly one of Peters’ commanding officers–he wasn’t giving him orders every day, but Peters was his subordinate during Peters’ time with one unit called the Seabees.
“It was a matrixed organization,” Semerad told Breitbart News. “He reported to a line officer. I was a higher logistics officer. So a vice president or CIO [chief information officer] of a company is not the CEO of the company. So you have to look at me as a vice president of the company. Gary worked instead of in say engineering or design or manufacturing [which would report to the CIO in this hypothetical example], Gary was in the division or department called supply–which is in a matrix organization. So in a matrix organization, he reported directly to the commanding officer of the unit for command and control. He reported virtually or matrixed to me at Seabee headquarters for a brief statement. But I don’t write his evals.”
And Semerad is not the only one speaking out. Former Rep. Allen West (R-FL), who served as a Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. Army, is raising concerns about Peters’ record as are Retired Navy Captain Joseph John, the head of the group Combat Veterans For Congress, and the Republican National Committee (RNC) military expert.
“Gary Peters has misled Michigan voters on his military service record,” John said in an emailed statement. “While we certainly appreciate everyone who enlists and serves on behalf of our country, on the campaign trail Congressman Peters, to put it mildly, has repeatedly made less than accurate statements about his time in the Naval Reserve and said things that aren’t necessarily true about his qualifications in the Naval Reserves.”
“As a career active duty Army officer and former Congressman, it always concerns me when those running for political office misrepresent their military service record,” former Florida GOP West added. “The case of now Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut comes to mind.”
West compared Peters’ claims to those of John Kerry.
“I thank Rep. Peters for his Naval reserve service and hope his claims survive scrutiny when measured against his official service record. I am quite sure Rep. Peters does not want an embarrassing situation as what occurred with another former Naval officer and former Democrat Senator who is now Secretary of State,” West said.
First off, Peters’ claims on his campaign website that he was “an expert pistol and rifle marksman.” Peters echoed those claims in various publications like MLive.com, a Michigan media source, and in the Detroit Free Press.
“Peters spokeswoman Haley Morris said Peters was classified an expert marksman with pistol and rifle during his time in the U.S. Navy Reserve,” MLive.com reported in September 2013.
“Peters said when he was in the U.S. Navy Reserve, he was qualified as an expert marksman in the M16 rifle and 9mm pistol,” the Detroit Free Press reported in February 2013.
His record jacket shows that not only is that not true–but Peters actually made up a new, cooler-sounding firearms qualifications level for his campaign. Peters was never an “expert marksman” in either firearm category because there is no such category of qualification. In reality, according to military records, Peters was a “sharpshooter”–a lower military qualification than “expert”–in both M16 rifle and 9 MM pistol.
“In the case of Michigan Congressman Gary Peters I found his claims about his personal weapons qualifications perplexing,” West told Breitbart News. “First of all professional officers rarely tout weapon qualification badges. Secondly, there are three levels of weapon qualification — marksman, sharpshooter, and expert — Rep. Peters claims to be an ‘expert marksman’ which does not exist. This leads one to believe that if one would embellish something so trivial what else could also be questionable.”
“I have never made a big deal about my skill with a pistol or rifle– using a firearm is the stock in trade of the military,” Bob Carey, the RNC’s Military and Veterans Outreach Director, added in an email. “So it is odd that Rep. Peters decided to tout his skills on the campaign trail. What is more troublesome than him making a big stink about his skills with a firearm is that he isn’t an Expert like he claims. He should be proud of serving his country, but he shouldn’t claim that he posses skills he doesn’t have. His misrepresentation makes me wonder what else isn’t true?”
There’s actually quite a bit more questionable and some more downright untrue things he’s said on the campaign trail about his record.
Perhaps more drastic than his make believe firearms qualifications levels, Peters has claimed that he was a Seabee in the Navy. That’s technically not true. He was never a Seabee in the Navy, says Joseph John–a retired Navy Captain who now runs the group Combat Veterans For Congress.
“I think about the training that I had as a Seabee — it’s very helpful for me in public service and the U.S. Senate,” Peters told a group of veterans at American Legion Post 426 in Trenton, MI, in early 2014, according to MLive.com.
Peters wasn’t really a Seabee, John says–he was an Assistant Supply Officer who was at one point assigned to the Seabee unit. The Seabees are an elite unit of combat-trained Naval engineers who build bridges, living quarters, airstrips and more in combat zones and harsh environments so U.S. forces can move into a region. Technically, Peters can claim he worked alongside the Seabees–but his officer designator code is one for the Supply Corps, not one for the Civil Engineer Corps of which the Seabees are a part.
“In addition, Congressman Peters’ continued claims he was a Seabee–an elite unit of Naval engineers who build bridges and other structures in combat zones for the U.S. military–is a stretch of the truth,” John said. “He worked alongside Seabees, sure, but only as an Assistant Supply Officer. The documents of Peters’ military service show he was a Supply Corps officer with designator ‘3105.’ The three digits ‘310’ indicate he was with the Supply Corps, and the digit ‘5’ indicates he was a Naval Reserve officer. That means he was not a Seabee, or member of the Civil Engineer Corps, which would have meant he would have a ‘5105’ designator.”
The Navy’s staff corps–for which commissioned officers who are not line officers, like Peters was in the Naval Reserves, work–is split into multiple different sections. The Supply Corps is where Peters was in. Seabees fall under the Civil Engineer Corps. Peters was assigned to work with the Seabees, and served with them as sometimes for instance a DEA agent may join an FBI task force–but isn’t an FBI agent because of that assignment. Peters was the assistant supply officer for a Seabee unit.
“One of our missions was to build bridges,” Peters added at that American Legion post in Trenton, pumping his claimed experience in the military as useful for him in Congress. “I like to say: We learned how to build bridges while getting shot at. It’s kind of a metaphor for Washington: people are constantly taking shots but we’ve got to be able to build bridges, we got to bring people together…it’s about being a practical problem solver.”
Semerad, Peters’ old commanding officer when he served with the Seabees, said he’ll give Peters the claim he’s a Seabee. “If I work as a burger cook at a McDonald’s franchise, am I still an employee of McDonald’s?” he asks rhetorically to make the analogy before answering: “Yes.”
But Semerad has serious issues with how Peters characterized his role for the unit on the campaign trail. For Peters’ claim that he built bridges, Semerad says that’s not true. Peters never built any bridges, Semerad said, and he certainly never was going to be “getting shot at.” He bought steel, concrete and other supplies from behind a desk in an office somewhere so “the other guys”–the members of the Seabee unit he served alongside–could build bridges.
“He’s purchasing the supplies for the other guys to build bridges and it’s not likely he’s ever getting shot at,” Semerad said in a followup phone interview on Thursday afternoon. “He’s back in an office in a safe place. He is in an office on a computer and on the telephone. My friend just came back from Afghanistan–she’s a supply officer. I know dozens of supply officers who went to Iraq. I can tell you that some of the supply officers in the early days of Iraq did get shot at, but that’s not normal. I seriously doubt he was getting shot at–especially if he was only deployed for 30 days. It’s not likely in 30 days he would even be put in a combat role because before they even put you in the role where you are at the slightest risk of getting shot at you have to go through a six-week expeditionary combat school. I seriously doubt he was in any position whatsoever to get shot at.”
Because that statement he made about learning to “build bridges while getting shot at” is false, John is calling on Peters to retract it and apologize to voters in Michigan.
“We have no record of him ever qualifying as a Seabee, despite his campaign trail claims, and while we appreciate his service in the role in which he did serve, it appears to be dishonest for the Congressman to claim as he did, that he was a Seabee and built bridges for the United States Navy,” John said. “We ask the Congressman to retract the false claim he made on the campaign trail that he was a part of a mission to ‘build bridges’ as a Seabee, and apologize to the voters of Michigan for making it.”
In addition to those fabrications of his military service record in the political arena, both John and Semerad say that Peters’ record shows he was a sub-par officer–seemingly coasting through his military time by doing as little as he possibly could in the service–something that seems to undercut the carefully politically crafted image he’s created on the campaign trail around his service record.
“Some people skate, and some people do the work,” Semerad said. “To me, it looks like he skated his way through the Navy. Skating is a slang word meaning do nothing but take all the credit. Skating is when you tell your boss you did the work, but you did it with the absolute minimum–minimum–required effort. To me, Gary was a skater and there are two things that make that evident. There is one supply officer for the Seabee battalion. Gary was not that supply officer. He was an assistant supply officer, a position in which you typically have a chief petty officer. Secondly he was a training officer for the fuels unit–you don’t need a training officer, you just need a petty officer or senior enlisted person. So he was hanging out enjoying the pleasure of being in the Navy Reserves.”
“In his alleged 11 years of service, he has only achieved and received one award–the Navy Marine Corps Achievement Medal–which is the lowest award given in the Navy,” John added. “For an officer of his alleged service and rank, one would have expected more than just one award in his military career–something that is a sign his performed was not superlative in any area.”
That’s a very different picture than what Peters paints of himself on the campaign trail in Michigan and in advertisements his campaign and his allies have run.
“The son of a World War II veteran, a young father who put himself through night school and signed up for the Navy Reserve–after 9/11, he signed up again,” a narrator reads on a Peters campaign ad titled “Service,” showing pictures of Peters and his father in military uniforms. “Service. For Gary Peters, it’s more than a word.”
Peters himself then comes on the ad, and says that one of the most difficult votes a member of Congress could cast would be to send military men and women to war. “I will always think of the people I served with, their sacrifices and their families,” he says in the ad, which also shows him meeting with various veterans on the campaign trail.
On his campaign website’s “About Gary” section, Peters said he joined the Navy Reserves at age 34 because he “felt he could be doing more for his community and nation.”
“His Reserve duty included time in the Persian Gulf during Operation Southern Watch,” his website reads. “After the September 11th terrorist attacks, Gary felt compelled to rejoin the U.S. Navy Reserve and once again serve his country.”
What he doesn’t say, however, when touting that stint during which he was sent overseas was that he was in Bahrain while other U.S. soldiers–not him–kept control of the region between the two different Gulf Wars after freeing Kuwait in the early 1990s. Peters also had a short stint no longer than two weeks at the US Naval Air Base Sigonella in Italy, to be fair.
Being sent to Bahrain, Semerad says, was not some honorable combat zone that would Peters honestly brag about it on the campaign trail.
“Bahrain is like Las Vegas,” Semerad said. “When you’re going over to Bahrain, it’s like going to Las Vegas compared to going to Omaha, Nebraska. That’s where everybody goes to have fun. Everybody in the Middle East, that’s where they go to find girls, fast cars and have fun–drink and be merry.”
Semerad and John say that since Peters never held many jobs for more than a year during his 11 years–in the middle of which he took time away from the Navy Reserves–in the service, that means he wasn’t necessarily a reliable officer. Semerad says that even though the documents of Peters’ record are heavily redacted–which is normal, that information is private unless a member of the military chooses to release it publicly–what is available publicly in this file is brutal for his reputation.
“I write evals for people. I wrote hundreds of them. What you notice on those is the actual rating or grading is blank [redacted], and the actual summary is blank [redacted],” Semerad said. “However, there is a couple of revealing things about it. In his tours of duty, he was only in those positions for one year–which means he was pretty much just hanging out. I do know that when he was with the Seabees, the planning officer was not happy with his performance and that’s why we put a new Supply Corps officer in there.”
“We never like to see a member of the Naval Reserve relay a string of exaggerated qualifications about their reserve military service, in order to mislead the American people about those qualifications, or mislead American people about the nature of their reserve service,” John said. “We often see this being done by those seeking political office, so they can be viewed as having a military record that is exaggerated but in truth is really fraudulent. They often insert the words ‘Combat’ and ‘overseas’ when they had nothing to do with combat, and they don’t say that they actually spent 2 weeks of enjoyable ‘overseas’ duty in Italy. It is an attempt to mislead the public by calling an Officer Service designation a Combat designation –It is properly called a Officer Service designation, the word combat is wholly inappropriate—he never saw combat at all.”
Semerad said that when he was stationed in Little Creek, Virginia, in 1998 at Seabee headquarters, he had 12 Seabee battalions that reported to him–and his boss actually called Peters not a “real” Supply Officer, and asked that Peters be demoted and replaced. “My role was logistics,” Semerad said. “Gary Peters was one of my supply officers. The commanding officer of my unit said ‘we need a real supply officer’ and so we got a real supply officer and Gary became the ‘assistant supply officer.’ That was in 1998.”
At another point in the documents, Peters was a “training officer” with the “Fuels Unit,” something that Semerad says is a sign of incompetence on Peters’ part since usually such a “training officer” position goes to a chief petty officer, not a commissioned officer like Peters.
“He was also with the fuels unit, which I was the commanding officer of [at a different time than which Peters served in it]–we ended up winning several awards,” Semerad said. “Gary was in there as a ‘training officer,’ which leads me to believe [it was another menial job]–I had a chief petty officer as my training officer, not an officer. He was basically hanging out with a fuels unit. I wasn’t the commander at the time. You are a commanding officer of a ship, submarine or a unit for two years, max–that’s it, unless they need you to stay longer. So Gary’s an officer, and he never made it two years in any of the units that he served in. Which means he basically doesn’t have a job and he’s finding a place where he can hang his hat–and that’s what he did.”
Semerad compared Peters’ service to being in the Boy Scouts to have fun, rather than to serve the community or make personal achievements.
“To me it’s like he joined the Boy Scouts. He didn’t become any kind of badge-wearing Eagle Scout. He just joined the Boy Scouts to hang out and get away for the weekend,” Semerad said.
“My observation is that means he’s a not a leader,” Semerad said. “He’s a follower. If you look at his tenure in Congress, he is not a leader. He is a follower. In the EDS world with Ross Perot, they say ‘you can lead, you can follow, or you can get out of the way.’ Gary falls in one of the latter two categories. He either follows or gets out of the way.”
John added that if Peters’ record ever came up in front of him when he served on an officer promotion board, he would vote against his promotion.
“Having been selected as a member of previous Officer Promotion Board, by the Bordereau of Naval Personnel, I know I would never have voted to promote him to Commander; his lackluster service record, unimpressive billets, and broken service would not warrant promotion to put it mildly,” John said.
Semerad added that he’s not alone in feeling this way about Peters: Pretty much everyone else in the Navy does too.
“I’m telling you the thoughts,” Semerad said when asked if others he talks with have thoughts of Peters’ service. “They all share my same sentiment. Anybody in the Navy who worked with him would tell you the same thing I’m telling you.”
Peters’ campaign did not respond to multiple inquiries about these revelations, despite being approached by Breitbart News about them several days ago.
Semerad said he feels Peters would be incompetent as a U.S. Senator, much the same way he was as a Naval Reserve officer–and that voters should beware of him. And Semerad says this even though he’s personal friends with Peters and has had dinners with his family. Semerad serves with incumbent Democratic U.S. Sen. Carl Levin’s wife Barbara on the Commission Committee for the USS Detroit LCS-7, a new Littoral Combat Ship, and is close personal friends with Peters, Levin and many others in Michigan politics–on both the Republican and Democratic side.
“I was aware of his campaign when he ran for Congress initially, and actually worked supporting the person who opposed him–even though Gary I knew personally and he’s a good friend,” Semerad said in the Thursday interview. “I’m on the commission committee for the USS Detroit, which is a new littoral combat ship commissioned in April 2016. Barb Levin is our sponsor, and Carl Levin as you know is our minority chair of the Armed Services Committee. I’ve known Barb Levin and Carl Levin. I’m having dinner with Barb Levin on Saturday night, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Gary Peters shows up.”
The revelations that Peters has frequently exaggerated his military service come as he is locked in a tight race for Senate with Terri Lynn Land. In the past, voters have not been kind to candidates facing similar allegations.
After Montana Democratic Sen. John Walsh was found to have plagiarized large sections of the paper he wrote to earn a Master’s degree from Pennsylvania’s Army War College, he dropped out of the race. It made the seat an almost sure bet for Republicans to pick up. Similarly, Ron Dickey, the Democratic nominee for Mississippi’s first congressional district, misled voters in his state about his military record–claiming he was a green beret, when in fact he simply a “food service specialist”–or line cook–for a green beret unit. While he hasn’t dropped out of the race–his name is still on the ballot–Democrats in Mississippi, particularly state party chairman Rickey Cole, called on Dickey to drop out.
George Rasley, a conservative political operative with Richard Viguerie’s ConservativeHQ, said Democrats should call on Peters to drop out of the race.
“Being in the Reserve is a perfectly honorable way to serve the country, but Gary Peters’ phony story line about his military service goes beyond exaggeration into just plain fabrication, and it fits a pattern Democrats have established now that national security has become an issue in the midterm election,” Rasley told Breitbart News. “What Democrats like Gary Peters and Ron Dickey down in Mississippi are trying to do is create a false narrative about their military service to hide from voters the fact that their support for Barack Obama’s failed national security policies have endangered the country. At least in Mississippi the Democrats had the integrity to tell Ron Dickey to get out of the race when the truth about his military service came out, the Democrats in Michigan should do the same with Peters.”