WASHINGTON – Republican J.R. Majewski has centered his campaign for a competitive Ohio congressional seat around his biography as an Air Force veteran. But one of the big questions that has surfaced is why Majewski was told he could not reenlist in the Air Force after his initial four years were up.
Majewski’s campaign said last week that he was punished and demoted after getting in a “brawl” in an Air Force dormitory in 2001. Military records obtained since then by The Associated Press, however, offer a different account of the circumstances, which military legal experts say would have played a significant role in the decision to bar him from reenlisting. They indicate Majewski’s punishment and demotion were the result of him being stopped for driving drunk on a U.S. air base in Japan in September 2001.
The documents, which were provided to the AP and independently authenticated, present yet another instance where the recorded history of Majewski's service diverges from what he has told voters as he campaigns while using his veteran status as a leading credential.
In a statement, Majewski acknowledged that he was punished for drunken driving, though he didn't address why his campaign previously said his demotion was the result of a fight.
“This mistake is now more than 20 years old. I’m sure we’ve all done something as young adults that we look back on and wonder ‘what was I thinking?’ and I’m sure our parents and grandparents share these sentiments,” Majewski said.
Since starting his campaign to unseat longtime Democratic Rep. Marcy Kaptur, Majewski has repeatedly said he was a combat veteran who served a tour of duty under “tough” circumstances in Afghanistan. By his own account, he once went more than 40 days in the country without a shower due to a lack of running water.
His story came under intense scrutiny last week when the AP, citing military documents obtained through public records requests, reported that he did not deploy to Afghanistan as he claimed, but instead spent six months based in Qatar, a longtime U.S. ally, where he helped load and unload aircraft.
The latest revelation that Majewski was demoted for drunken driving adds another wrinkle. Last week, the AP asked Majewski's campaign why his military service records showed that he was not allowed to reenlist in the Air Force and left the service after four years at a rank that was one notch above where he started.
At the time, his campaign said in an email that Majewski was “in a fight in the dormitory with another servicemember” which "knocked his rank down.” His campaign added that he later gained some of that rank back.
The personnel records obtained by the AP make no mention of a fight. Instead, they state that Majewski was demoted for drunken driving at Kadena Air Base in Japan on Sept. 8, 2001. And rather than gain his rank back — as Majewski's campaign said — the records indicated he continued to hold the rank of E-2, one notch above entry level, that he was demoted to for the rest of his active duty.
“When you decided to get behind the wheel of a vehicle after indulging in intoxicating liquor you brought discredit upon yourself, 733rd Air Mobility Squadron, and the Air Force,” the disciplinary records state, referring to the unit Majewski was assigned to at the time. “Further misconduct by you of any type will not be tolerated.”
The three-page document details Majewski's punishment, which included a reprimand and 30 days of extra duty in addition to the demotion. It bears Majewski's signature and shows he consulted a lawyer and waived his right to a court-martial. He also waived his right to appeal the punishment and requested that the document not become public, the records show.
The AP was not able to obtain a “written presentation” from Majewski, which was referred to in the disciplinary paperwork. The campaign did not respond to a request from the AP to provide the document.
Eric Mayer, a former West Point graduate and Army infantry officer later turned military lawyer, reviewed Majewski’s documents at AP’s request. He said that “the overall nature and quality of (Majewski's) military service can be severely questioned simply by virtue of the fact that he got out as a E-2 after four years.”
“Basically, his commanding officer told him as long as he behaves himself for the next six months, he won’t demote him down all the way to airman basic,” Mayer said, referring to the entry-level rank Majewski could have held if he got into more trouble. Mayer also noted that Majewski was given additional duties in his punishment that generally involve “area beautification” and janitorial services.
In some cases, a DUI can be a career-ending violation in the military. But three days after Majewski was pulled over, the U.S. was suddenly at war following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Within months, Majewski was reassigned and deployed to Qatar, which served as the staging ground for operations in Afghanistan, records show.
Military records show Majewski's only deployment was to Qatar. Last Friday, during a defiant news conference, he insisted that he did indeed serve in Afghanistan, though he declined to offer specifics because he said the details were “classified.”
But there is a difference between deploying to a country and touching down there. Majewski previously said he was a “combat veteran” who deployed to Afghanistan, a term that conveys he received orders assigning him to a specific base in the country.
Majewski previously said he could not discuss flights he says he took to Afghanistan because they were “classified.”
In his statement Wednesday, he said he was aboard “outbound transport flights to forward bases and combat zones throughout the Middle East, including Afghanistan” though he acknowledged that he was stationed in Qatar.
He also described his experience joining the Air Force at the age 20 as fulfilling, yet challenging.
“Like any young serviceman away from family in a foreign land and with an assignment schedule in continual motion, it came with periods of difficulty and personal challenges,” Majewski said. “I lost my grandmother, who I loved very deeply, and it was tough work. I am proud of my service and the experiences that made me who I am today, but I have never once claimed to have undergone a ‘tough combat tour’ in Afghanistan or suggested that I was engaged in active firefights.”
Majewski's campaign has previously promoted him as a “combat veteran.” During an August 2021 interview on the One American Podcast, Majewski said that he had a “tough time in life” while serving a tour of duty in Afghanistan. He echoed that claim in other interviews unearthed by the liberal group Media Matters.
Majewski's claim that he couldn't discuss his forays to Afghanistan because the details were “classified” was a red flag to those who investigate cases of "stolen valor.”
“The No. 1 trope that comes out of people when they are either fabricating a military record or, in this case, embellishing a record is they fall back to, ‘It’s classified,’” said Ed Caffrey, a former Air Force master sergeant who now investigates “stolen valor” cases and teaches journalism at Eastern New Mexico University. He added: “There's no junior enlisted air transportation specialist who was doing something so secret that 20 years later it still needs to be classified."
Majewksi's campaign declined a request to put the AP in touch with those he served with who could vouch that he went to Afghanistan. But he has posted several pages of records to social media that he said back up his claims. Military experts consulted by the AP say the records prove no such thing.
“The AP stated that I had only been deployed to Qatar. My records show my deployment location as classified. In addition, they forgot my deployment to Camp Hialeah in Korea (which is now closed),” Majewski said in one tweet, which contained two separate documents.
One of the documents included in the tweet was a “temporary duty assignment” in early 2001 to South Korea, which are not orders to deploy as Majewski claimed. Key details including the purpose of the trip and its duration were also blurred out in the photo Majewski posted. Additionally, the document's inclusion of the phrases “top secret” and “secret” were references to the security clearances held by Majewski and the noncommissioned officer he traveled with, Air Force experts say. That officer, whose name is redacted, had a "top secret" clearance; Majewski had a “secret” clearance. Members of the military typically need security clearances to do their jobs.
The other document included in the tweet, which does not show a date, indicated Majewski had been medically cleared to go on a different temporary assignment to a “classified” location.
Experts say such forms often list a service member's destination as classified as a matter of routine.
“The reason that it says ‘classified’ is not because he's going to some top secret black ops location,” Caffrey said. “It says classified because that's a non-secured form. He's taking that form around with him to different places on base where people who put eyes on it may not have security clearances to see what he's doing."
“It's (operations security). They don't want everyone and their brother to know where he's going. That's not something you want out in the general public,” Caffrey added.
Even as scrutiny of Majewski intensifies, he has given no indication that he intends to drop out of the race and has continued to campaign.
“I have nothing to hide,” Majewski said at the end of a brief news conference Friday.
LaPorta reported from Wilmington, North Carolina.
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