On a hot Saturday evening in late June, I sat down with Arkansas’ 3rd Congressional District Democratic Candidate Ken Aden at his Russellville office to discuss recent controversies surrounding his campaign. Just days before this interview, allegations were made by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette that Aden had been dishonest in how he had presented his military and educational background.
Aden’s office is reminiscent of just how historically dismal congressional races have been for Democrats in the 3rd District. The building – the use of which was donated by a county Justice of the Peace – is in near shambles. Termite damage is visible along a baseboard when you walk into the front door and the air conditioner inside struggles to keep pace with the 100 plus degree heat outside. One is left with the immediate impression that this candidate is not flush with corporate cash and that impression would be correct. Aden has made himself a viable candidate in a district where Bill Clinton was the last viable Democratic candidate and he’s done it running a pure grassroots campaign, refusing to accept any corporate cash.
In recent weeks, however, the Aden campaign has come under fire over allegations that Aden misrepresented his military service record. If the Aden campaign intends to remain viable in the heavily Republican 3rd District, Aden is going to have to answer the allegations directly and completely. Aden has publicly stated he has and/or will obtain all documentation to needed to his claims of military service and is dedicated to maintaining the appropriate level of transparency needed to satisfy any doubts 3rd District voters may have about his credibility.
Aden will tell you that in the end, his campaign is not about military service records and it’s not about what functions he is or isn’t qualified to do on a battlefield. One look at the magnetic oversized campaign ads on Ken’s tan pickup truck that declare the campaign’s slogan “People First” will make clear to any would be naysayer that his is a campaign that is about putting the people first.
Joining the Army
According to your campaign website, you’re from Pine Bluff; a traditionally heavily Democratic area of Arkansas. Now, you’ve served three combat tours in the last ten years and you return to Arkansas and decide to run for Congress as a Democrat, not from Eastern Arkansas but from the Republican bastion known as the 3rd District; do you just love a tough fight?
My sister used to own a small business in Russellville, so when I honorably discharged from the military, I moved here, the hometown of my wife Renea. It was while I was here that I came to appreciate the gravity of the situation the 3rd District is in. My father used to tell me that anything worthwhile is worth fighting for so I decided that here was the best place to make a stand for working-class progressive values.
You served in the Arkansas Army National Guard under the command of your Republican opponent before you transferred to active duty. Was Congressman, then Colonel, Womack’s leadership style the reason you decided to leave the National Guard?
No, that is simply not the case. Mr. Womack is a veteran as well. Politically we could not agree less, that fact is well-known, but I would never disparage his military service.
What prompted you to join the military?
I decided to join the military because I wanted to make a real tangible difference in this country and in the world. Like most young people, I felt that serving in the military would allow me to make that difference. The Army served to put me on the right track of success. Prior to my entry in the Armed Forces I was aimless, for lack of a better word, and even prone to landing in occasional trouble with the law. My service in the Army changed that, and I truly believe that it is the best thing to ever happen to me, aside from the birth of my daughter and marriage to my childhood sweetheart.
Tell me a little about your decision to your decision to go into Special Forces.
I decided I wanted to join the Special Forces because I saw it as an opportunity to challenge and improve myself as well as to further my service to my country. In the summer of 2005, I made the choice to try out for the Special Forces program. Unfortunately, I did not complete my packet in a timely manner and I did not attend the school in 2005. Instead, I went on to serve in another overseas deployment. Upon completion of said deployment, I finished my packet and was admitted into the Special Forces training program in 2008.
The article published in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette on June 28, 2012 says that you never completed Special Forces training which, understandably, must anger you. It also says that you were removed from training on three separate occasions for failing academically. Can you explain this to the voters?
That’s a great question and one that I believe needs to be addressed. A few weeks back I released a copy of my DD-214 to the media. In the MOS or job section of the document, it states what positions I held. Two of those positions were as follows: 11C3P (Indirect Fire Infantry) and 18B3P (SF Weapons Sergeant). I have also released various awards and evaluation reports that cite this. The current argument is that I should have never been allowed to carry that MOS of 18B3P forward. For the record, I have produced a copy of when this MOS was awarded. It is still recorded on my DD-214.
When I reached the fifth stage of my SF training program, I was assigned to SF medical sergeant specialty training. Within a few weeks it became clear to both myself and my instructors that the medical specialty was not for me and I was transferred to weapons sergeant specialty training instead. I went on to complete the weapons sergeant specialty training. I was awarded the 18B3P MOS.
At this current point and time I have sent in a request for all of my military records which will include documents related to this training which will include documents related to this training. The fault is my own for not having all the documentation readily available. I assumed that my DD-214, the “actual” discharge paperwork, would be enough for the media. Sadly, I was wrong.
Do you have clear and unequivocal proof that you can release to once and for all put to rest the idea that you didn’t complete Special Forces training?
I have a few documents which I have put out there and these include MOS orders detailing the principal awarding of the 18BSF MOS, the actual DD-214, one military award, and one evaluation report. I have also, as mentioned before, made the request for my complete military records from the National Archives. Recently, a senior ranking officer has also written a detailed letter about this very matter.
The Democrat-Gazette has quoted Major Rebecca Lykins, public affairs chief at the U.S Army Special Warfare Center, as saying the “18B” entry, which signifies that you are Special Forces on your DD-214, was entered as a mistake. She says it shouldn’t have been recorded on the document because, she claims, you never finished the “Q” course which would qualify you as Special Forces and that you did not have a certificate of completion. Is Major Lykins telling us the truth?
It seems that the left hand does not know what the right hand is doing. I completed my training to obtain the MOS of 18B. That is why it is recorded on my DD-214. If it was entered by mistake, then I would not have been allowed to carry it forward and the installation management command would have not put it on the official discharge paperwork. They had the orders and the orders number and each of these numbers are tracked.
Do you have documentation that would refute Major Lykins statements about your status?
We are in the process of obtaining this documentation from the National Archives.
Some people in Arkansas media have suggested that even if you finished Special Forces training, that you weren’t Special Forces unless you were assigned to a Special Forces unit. Is it common for Special Forces soldiers or Rangers to be assigned elsewhere in the Army besides SF or Ranger units?
That is another valid question, and I will take the time to address it. It is not uncommon for someone Ranger qualified to be assigned to a non-Ranger unit. In fact, my former Platoon Sergeant who wrote a letter supporting me held the Ranger tab while serving in the 82nd. The fact is that you can continue to hold an SF designation, such as 18B, and serve in other units.
People seem to be more familiar with Rangers; do Rangers assigned to non-ranger units still wear the “Ranger” tab on their sleeve? Would these soldiers typically be referred to as “Rangers” even though they aren’t assigned to Ranger units?
Yes, if you earned the identifier, you earned the identifier. So technically if you earned the Ranger tab and were assigned to any other place besides a “Ranger Battalion” you’re still a Ranger.
The media seems to be focused on the fact you served your combat tours with the 82nd Airborne Division which is not a Special Forces Unit. Could you explain why you were not serving in a SF unit?
There was a severe injury to my right hand which I suffered. This injury precluded me from service in a dedicated Special Forces unit, which is what is commonly referred to as the Green Berets. I was assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division. I have made my medical records concerning this public as well. After my injury healed up, I could have gone back, but instead I chose to separate from the military having served for eleven years.
About the injuries to your fingers, the media has suggested that your story has changed about the nature of the injuries which disqualified you from serving in an SF unit. The Democrat-Gazette says that your medical records clearly indicate that your fingers were crushed in a weapons vault door in 2008 and that initial reports describe your fingers as “crushed, swollen, and red with limited range of motion but without any cuts.” They go on to say that in November 2011 you said parts of two fingers had been “cut off.” Finally, they quote you as saying on June 27 that the tip of “one” finger had to be reattached. Can you clarify what the injuries to your fingers consisted of?
After the completion of my training and awarding of the 18B MOS, I received an extensive injury to my right hand, specifically the middle and ring fingers. This injury was caused by a solid steel arms room door that was several inches this and about forty feet long. This door was on a manual roller style system and had to be physically shut versus electronically closed. With my right hand on the door, pushing it closed, and my fingers on the inside of it, the door was slammed shut on them. The middle finger was separated below the fingernail, dangling off by a very small piece of skin. The ring finger was literally crushed flat. All of the bones in the uppermost portion of those fingers were immediately pulverized. It took months for those fingers to heal and I was assigned to rehab. I have no doubt that my personal descriptions of these injuries differ from the records of medical officials at the time. Wouldn’t yours? The fingers are of course, functional today and the tips are totally numb.
Do you currently have any scarring on your fingers or do you receive any form of VA disability for this injury?
Yes, I have a tremendous amount of scarring on both of my fingers. [Aden extends his right hand to me displaying the fingers. Significant scarring is seen on one finger and the other is misshapen-the tip appearing flatter than his other fingertips.] The extreme dips of the fingers are still, to this day, numb and devoid of any feeling.
Another point which the media has questioned about your resume is your educational background. According to the Democrat-Gazette article, your website said that you held an Associate’s Degree from Arkansas State University. The authors claim they contacted the university and were told that there were no records showing that you took classes there. Now, when I accessed your campaign website on June 29, 2012, there was no mention of a degree but that you took classes at Arkansas State. This seems to me a pretty easy one to put to bed. Do you have a transcript from Arkansas State or from City Colleges of Chicago and Mid-South Community College where you also have stated you attended?
I have taken college courses at many places and I have well over sixty credit hours, although not from one certain place. I realize that what I should have said is that I have the equivalent of an Associate’s Degree. Also, Mid-South Community College is in partnership with ASU.
In the June 29th article in the Democrat-Gazette, issue is made of your statement that you requested your “complete military file form the National Archives,” though military records are stored at the National Personnel Records Center. Can you comment on this?
The National Archives operates the National Personnel Records Center. NPRC is a division of the National Archives, and the NPRC is where we requested the records from. If one of my spokespeople used the term National Archives, I’m sure it is because they are aware that NPRC is a division of the National Archives.
There is little doubt that in a race that is difficult at best for a Democrat to win, Ken Aden has had his work cut out for him. Deciding to run a grassroots campaign without the benefits of corporate cash against a well entrenched and corporate funded Republican has proven to be a great challenge. There is also little doubt that Aden is the kind of guy who has fire in his gut and who won’t shy away from a good fight whether it is in the political arena or in combat.
Aden has brought to the people of the Arkansas’ 3rd District, a promise of hope. Hope that their needs, interests, and desires could be heard in Washington D.C. It has been such a refreshing promise of hope in a district where the incumbent Republican has, on more than one occasion, shown signs of contempt for those who disagree with him.
There are very few of us who believe that lying about military service is anything other than despicable. Aside from being a cowardly and selfish act, it is the ultimate sign of disrespect to the men and women who have served and given their blood, sweat, tears, and best efforts to this nation. I certainly hope that Aden has been completely forthcoming in the answers you’ve seen here. There can be no forgiveness for a politician who willfully and knowingly misrepresents their military record. It cannot be overstated that Aden’s political future hinges on this issue and I know that Aden understands the importance of setting the record straight.
I have come to know Aden since he has thrown his hat in the ring and although I do not reside in Arkansas’ 3rd District; I have held hope for that district knowing that someone with ideas like those Aden espouses actually has a chance of winning. I would myself be dishonest if I didn’t admit that this controversy has jaded my view of that future.
What is fair to Aden, to his opponent Steve Womack, and most importantly to the people of the 3rd District, is that Aden has a chance to defend himself against allegations that have choked his campaign almost to the brink of death. I sincerely hope that I have provided that medium and that Aden can bounce back from this valley to give Womack the race of his life. The people of the 3rd District deserve no less and it should be the people of the 3rd District who decide which direction Ken Aden’s political future takes.
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