In the spring of 2008 I took my daughter on a trip to visit Washington DC, where we were received in the offices of Senator Libby Dole and escorted on a personal tour of the Capitol building. Afterward, as we made our way to the Metro at Union Station, we encountered the Code Pink protesters and their compadres, the Iraqi Veterans Against the War - an advocacy group of Iraq War veterans, Afghanistan War veterans, and other veterans opposed to U.S. operations in the Middle East.
I walked right past these kids holding up their banner - they were hard to avoid - my face six inches away from theirs as I walked right past them. I was still on active duty at that time, had about a month left to go. Never mind the haircut, you can tell I'm a soldier, I stand out a mile away. The 'Veterans' were wearing DCU desert cami's, tan t-shirts, and boonie hats. None of these boonie hats had been worn down range - here's how you could tell: they were still stiff and clean, the only creases were from storage in the box they came in. No sweat stains, the fabric hadn't been softened up from countless cycles through the washing machine. Their uniforms were the same way, new.
Boots that have been soldiered in.
I own two or three pairs of desert boots and they're thrashed. The suede leather smooths out, the fine dust of the desert gets into the fabric sides of the boots and they discolor. The boots these so-called 'Veterans' wore were brand spanking new, and so were the guys wearing them; young, smooth and wet-behind-the-ears. I'm sure there were veterans within their ranks, but the ones I saw that day looked like they'd washed out their first week in Basic; that was my impression.
Fast forward to The Occupy Movement:
Christopher M. Simmance claims he saw combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. The trouble is his claims are not supported by Army records.
In several media interviews Simmance claims that he served as many as three tours in combat and that he was severely wounded in Afghanistan. the problem is that his service records show he was stationed at Fort Lewis, Wash., for three years and he left the active-duty Army in January 2001 - BEFORE the 9/11 terror attacks. Simmance claims his Army records are incomplete, and he stands by his claims of seeing combat:
"Everything I've told you is completely true; I've got nothing to hide."
I Smell a Phony Wannabe:
* In an Oct. 23 interview with The Buffalo News, Simmance identified himself as a former staff sergeant with the U.S. Army Special Forces who was wounded by a rocket-propelled grenade while serving in Afghanistan.
* Eleven days earlier, his photo accompanied a News article about Occupy Buffalo, after Simmance told a staff photographer he was a veteran of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
* An October 11th story on Channel 4's website refers to Simmance as an "Army Special Services" sergeant. Simmance told the TV station he saw combat in Afghanistan, Iraq and Gaza and he claimed he only has 10 years to live because of his injuries.
"Army Special Services" - that's a long-time inside joke in Special Forces. "Special Services" are the guys who hand out basketballs in the gym - S.L.
* In an interview in press in February 2008, Simmance said then that he saw combat while serving with an international peacekeeping force in the Middle East in 2001, with no reference to Afghanistan or Iraq.
* In November 2008, in another News article, Simmance said he was taking up to four prescription drugs a day, and had seen four or five psychiatrists for his post-traumatic stress disorder.
His Army records show Simmance served in the active-duty Army from Jan. 12, 1998 to Jan. 11, 2001, that he left active-duty service with the rank of E4, or specialist, not staff sergeant, and that he was stationed at Fort Lewis for the duration of his active-duty service. His primary military occupation specialty, or MOS, in the Army was infantry, according to the Army records, and his secondary MOS was mortar. No medals or awards that would indicate service in an overseas combat zone.
Simmance has a passport he said was stamped in the countries where he was deployed. Additionally, he has shown several ID cards issued by the U.S. Army and the Department of Veterans Affairs. These verify that he served in the U.S. Army, but they do not contain any information that indicate combat service.
When asked, Simmance insists his records are incomplete.
He said he was sent to the Gaza strip for seven months following the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole in a Yemeni port, though he also said he served in Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
OK - put this together with the bit about an international peacekeeping force in the Middle East in 2001 - maybe he did a tour with the MFO in the Sinai, and he was there at the time of the attack on the USS Cole October 12, 2000. But if he got out in January 2001, that's cutting it pretty close. I doubt a peacetime Army would have deployed a guy who was due to ETS three months after his projected return date. Unless he was kicked out, that is. The normal practice prior to 9/11was to extend a guy's ETS date six months or have him re-enlist before deployment. - S.L.
Valley of Elah:
Simmance claims he deployed for the first time to Afghanistan in 2001 and that he served in the "Valley of Elah."
The Valley of Elah is the site where the Biblical battle between David and Goliath took place. It also is the name of a 2007 movie, but there is no Valley of Elah in Afghanistan.
In 2004, his unit was deployed to Iraq. Asked where he served, he said "Route Irish." That's a military designation for a section of the road connecting Baghdad's International Zone to the Baghdad Airport. Troops never name a route when they describe where they served; they name a camp or a firebase. Interestingly enough, "Route Irish" is also the name of a 2010 foreign film.
Simmance claims he went back to the "Valley of Elah" from February 2006 to March 2007, and, after returning from that deployment, he was ordered back to Afghanistan's "Congo Valley" in April 2007. Trouble is, there is no Congo Valley in Afghanistan.
Bret Mandell, who met Simmance at the Veterans Affairs Hospital in Batavia, thinks Simmance was mistakenly referring to the Korangal Valley, the setting for the 2010 documentary film "Restrepo." Simmance said it was on that final deployment, in June 2008, that he was wounded by an RPG that broke his jaw and ribs and caused other internal injuries.
Mandell, a graduate student living in Arlington, Va., said he first trusted Simmance but eventually came to doubt his stories. Simmance has no visible injuries consistent with an RPG attack, though he has claimed on several occasions that he was wounded in combat: "He started with a roadside bomb, then he moved onto an RPG," said Mandell, who served in the U.S. Army in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Facts vs Fantasy:
His own mother, Denise Simmance, suggests that Simmance is exaggerating his military service. In a press interview in November 2008 she shared details of Simmance's experiences in Iraq, including the horrific task of pulling body parts out of the rubble of a bombed home. Now, she doesn't believe any of it. She says that when she challenged him on his assertions, Christopher Simmance became defensive. "Our relationship is severely damaged," his mother said. "I cannot confirm any of what he said."
That's pretty damning.
Simmance claims he was in Afghanistan in 2006. However, Denise Simmance says that she and her husband visited their son for 10 days during that time, in Seattle.
Denise Simmance said her son drove back to Buffalo from Seattle in June 2007, while Simmance said he still was serving in Afghanistan at that time.
Simmance also puts himself in Afghanistan in February 2008, the same month when a Buffalo News reporter and photographer met with him in Buffalo.
War Hero or Phony Wannabe? YOU decide - comment below . . .