The Military Flap In The 3rd District Race (UPDATED)

For exasperated Republican voters in Louisiana’s 3rd Congressional District, Saturday can’t get here soon enough. Then again, after voting begins in the GOP primary that day, it looks likely that another month of mudslinging until an October runoff election will ensue in what is becoming one of the nastiest campaigns in recent memory.

Today’s battlefield was, well, the battlefield. Or something related to it.

It seems that Hunt Downer, a major general in the Louisiana National Guard, and Jeff Landry, who spent 11 years in that august body, are now tearing into each other’s military records. The other candidate in the race, Kristian Magar, is currently a 2nd Lieutenant in the Guard; nobody’s attacking his record so far.

The fireworks began yesterday over the question of decorations. Jeremy Alford, writing in the Thibodaux Daily Comet, picks up the story:

Landry was an 11-year member of the Louisiana National Guard and has repeatedly touted himself as a “veteran” of Operation Desert Storm.

While Landry said he never actually left American soil during the war, he explained that he earned the distinction of veteran for his “active duty” service during the early 1990s at Fort Hood.

“I have never claimed to have served in Iraq,” Landry said. “The only reason I didn’t go is because the war ended so quickly. I certainly never tried not to go.”

Landry said Downer’s campaign has been attempting to dismiss his military service.

He further accused Downer — a retired major general and former Veterans Affairs secretary who served with the U.S. Army and Louisiana National Guard — of “using politician connections and rank to get promotions while the rest of us sweated it out in Fort Hood.”

Landry knocked Downer’s Kuwait Liberation Medal and claimed Downer received it for spending only 24 hours in the Middle East.

“He is a disgrace to the uniform,” Landry said, adding that the medal was a “political prize.”

There are two versions of the medal: The basic Kuwait Liberation Medal was awarded sometimes just for a day of service in Desert Shield or Desert Storm, while the Saudi Arabian version was a limited edition, according to the American Forces Press Service.

Buddy Boe, Downer’s campaign manager, said Downer was awarded the standard medal and discounted Landry’s attack.

Military records show Downer spent 17 days in February 1992 in Saudi Arabia on active duty.

Downer is also a graduate of the U.S. Army War College and is the recipient of more than 30 other military awards, including the Legion of Merit, Meritorious Service Medal and the Global War on Terrorism Medal.

“This is another example of Jeff lying about the facts,” Boe said. “Hunt Downer was away from his family for over two weeks while serving in the Middle East in the early 1990s. The medal that Jeff insulted by calling it a political prize was earned by many soldiers, and for him to insult their service for his own political gain is the real disgrace.”



If from that exchange you might think Downer gets a win on the military service issue, hang on – today it got a bit more interesting when Landry picked up an endorsement from the man under whom both he and Downer served in the Guard. The Landry campaign put out the following release this afternoon:

Today, decorated Major General Frank Catalano, ret., of the Louisiana National Guard endorsed Jeff Landry for Congress.

Major General Catalono made his endorsement with a recorded call to voters.  General Catalano said the following:

“This is retired Major General Frank Catalano. I urge you to vote Saturday for a veteran I know and trust: Jeff Landry.

I served with both Mr. Landry and Mr. Downer. I can assure you that Mr. Jeff Landry served honorably and will fight for veterans and to protect our nation. Jeff Landry spent over ten years in uniform.  Jeff Landry is the candidate I trust.

Again, this is retired Major General Frank Catalano of the Louisiana National Guard.  Vote for a trustworthy veteran. Vote Jeff Landry on Saturday.”

Major General Catalano’s record of service is exemplary.  He holds the following decorations and badges:  Legion of Merit, Meritorious Service Medal (with 3 bronze Oak Leaf Clusters), Army Commendation Medal (with 1 bronze Oak Leaf Clusters), Army Achievement Medal, Good Conduct Medal, Army Reserve Component Achievement Medal (with 3 bronze Oak Leaf Clusters), National Defense Service Medal (with 1 bronze Service Star), Humanitarian Service Medal,  Armed Forces Reserve Medal (with 1 Silver Hourglass Device and “M” Device), Army Service Ribbon, Overseas Service Ribbon, Army Reserve Component Overseas Training Ribbon, Expert Infantryman Badge, Air Assault Badge, and the Ranger Tab.

Downer’s campaign didn’t have a response to Catalano’s endorsement of Landry, but instead issued this:

Dear friends,

Yesterday, my opponent, Jeff Landry, attacked my over 35 years of military service as a “disgrace to the uniform” and referred to a medal received by myself and thousands of other Servicemen and Women as a “political prize”.

I am deeply saddened that this election has come to this.  Public service in America used to be about building things for our future; but somehow, this election has become about destroying my past.

In all of the noise of this election, the candidates seem to have forgotten why we decided to run.  We let petty differences take our attention away from the issues that matter most to Louisianians and all Americans.

This personal destruction is what is wrong with American politics today, and it has got to stop!  Here in South Louisiana, families are hurting, businesses are closing their doors every day, and thousands of our people are losing their jobs.  Yet all we do is talk about what may or may not have happened 20 or 30 years ago.  None of this makes our country stronger.  It only divides us. 

When I first joined the military, I took an oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.  And when I signed up to run to be our next Congressman, it was because our Constitution was being trampled on and our country was headed in the wrong direction. 

This campaign needs to be about ending the drilling moratorium, cutting taxes, and reigning in out of control spending.  This campaign should be about securing our border, protecting the sanctity of life, and honoring and upholding the Constitution.

My commitment to you is this:  I will always be guided by what is right.  My decisions will be focused on fulfilling the American dream so that we can build a better future for our children and grandchildren because, at the end of the day, that’s why we call America home.  It’s why we are a nation of Citizen Soldiers and why Americans answer the call to public service. 

Please join me in restoring our great state and nation.  Let’s take our country back!

With just three days to go before this round of the 3rd District race culminates, those of us observing wonder what the next front in the Landry-Downer war will be.

UPDATE: Downer campaign manager Buddy Boe has now responded. Judge for yourself whether this scores points…

Jeff’s General Catalano repeatedly recommended Downer for promotion

In a letter of appreciation: Jan 10, 1993

“2nd Endorsement, Letter of Appreciation.

…I feel fortunate to have an officer of your caliber under my command. I know I can look forward to you keeping up the hard work. It is very evident you have pride in your work, unit, and the Louisiana Army National Guard.

Signed,

Colonel Frank Catalano, Jr.

Commander, 256th Infantry Brigade”

I have the Officer Evaluation Reports where Catalano (Senior Rater) rated Hunt. Following is an excerpt from the 1988 one when Hunt was a Captain:

“I expect him to rise rapidly to occupy positions of great responsibility at the highest levels of command. I would demand and fight for his assignment to my unit in a combat situation. Promote him immediately.”

In another Officer Evaluation Report where Catalano (Senior Rater) rated Hunt as a Major. In an excerpt from the Sept ’92 one (following Hunt’s service in the Middle East):

“I sincerely enjoy his service with this unit and would have no hesitation of assigning any task to him. He is versatile and has a breath of insight few officers possess.”….. “I would demand and fight for his assignment to my unit in a combat situation. Promote him immediately.”

“The Downer campaign has consistently provided documents regarding Hunt’s military service. Where is Mr. Landry’s military resume? Why does he continue to parade out someone else’s record and honors to justify his lack thereof? Why won’t he show his military resume of service? In the past few days, Jeff has made a mockery of his military service by using it as a political tool, ” said Buddy Boe.

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