Illinois Senate candidate apologizes for misstatements on military service

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Republican Senate candidate Mark Kirk of Illinois apologized Thursday for making inaccurate statements about his 21-year record as a Navy Reserve intelligence officer and acknowledged more discrepancies between his service and the political rhetoric describing his actions.

Appearing before the Chicago Tribune’s editorial board, Kirk would not directly answer questions about whether the misstatements amounted to an effort to embellish his military history as he takes on Democrat Alexi Giannoulias for the seat formerly held by President Obama.

Kirk, a five-term congressman, acknowledged that his campaign’s promotion of him coming under fire while aboard an intelligence reconnaissance plane in Iraq may not be correct because there is no record of his aircraft being fired upon.

And he acknowledged that a constituent letter sent by his congressional district office last year described him as a member of Operation Desert Storm, even though he did not participate in the Persian Gulf War.

Kirk did fly over Iraq for intelligence reconnaissance missions in 2000. He told the Associated Press on Thursday that he did not recall coming under enemy fire on those flights, and added that it was sometimes hard to tell whether his plane was being targeted.

C-SPAN video shows Kirk on the House floor indicating that he was fired upon.

“The last time I was in Iraq, I was in uniform flying at 20,000 feet, and the Iraqi air defense network was shooting at us,” Kirk said in the undated video, which was posted online by the Giannoulias campaign.

Kirk also said last year that he once saw antiaircraft flak when flying an intelligence mission over Kosovo, and thought he might be killed.

The Kirk campaign did not respond to requests for clarification Thursday night.

“I am sorry, absolutely,” Kirk told the Tribune earlier. “You should speak with utter precision. You should stand on the documented military record. In public discourse, for high office, you should make sure that there is a degree of complete rigorous precession.”

The furor over Kirk’s military record heated up last week when he acknowledged that, contrary to his many statements over the years, he hadn’t won the Navy’s award for intelligence officer of the year.

Amid media inquiries to the Navy, Kirk corrected his resume to show that he had actually received a different award, one that went to his unit instead of to him personally.

Kirk also has said that when he’s on active duty, he commands the Pentagon war room, which is an exaggeration of his intelligence duties there. And until 2005, he sometimes said he served in Operation Iraqi Freedom, the 2003 invasion of Iraq, although his duties at the time were entirely stateside.

Kirk’s campaign also released his military fitness reports Thursday so the public could see what his commanding officers have said about his performance. In them, he is portrayed in glowing terms for his work as an intelligence officer, including for stints in Italy and Turkey.