One of the Marine Corps’ biggest advocates in Congress is facing a tough re-election fight, and a former commandant has lent his name to the campaign with hopes it will swing some votes in a district teeming with active-duty Marines and veterans.
Voters in eastern North Carolina head to the polls Tuesday to determine whether Republican Rep. Walter Jones survives what’s been a heated primary contest with challenger Taylor Griffin, who worked for the Treasury Department during George W. Bush’s tenure in the White House. The race has generated significant buzz beyond North Carolina thanks to Griffin’s powerful connections, including to former vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin, who’ve either offered their endorsement or infused his campaign with cash. Slate.com published this long-form feature on Griffin just last week.
In Jones’ corner is retired Gen. Charles Krulak, the Marine Corps’ 31st commandant. Both are household names in North Carolina’s 3rd congressional district, which includes Camp Lejeune and the Marine Corps air stations at New River and Cherry Point. Jones has held that seat since 1995, just as Krulak was starting his four-year tenure as the top Marine.
I checked in with Krulak on Monday after reading a brief commentary he wrote on the congressman’s behalf for a host of local newspapers, including The Daily News of Jacksonville, N.C. It piqued my interest for several reasons, not the least of which is my own connection to that part of the country. Before moving to Washington, where Marine Corps Times is based, I spent a little less than two years working at The Daily News and in that time reported regularly on the Marine Corps and Congressman Jones.
More recently, of course, I’ve reported on Jones’ fierce criticism of the current commandant, Gen. Jim Amos, and his defense of Maj. James Weirick, the Marine attorney turned whistleblower who accused Amos and others of abusing their authority and then exacting revenge for having done so. As a result, Walter Jones does not exactly poll well in the commandant’s office.
I had to know why Krulak went to bat for him.
“You can say a lot of things about Congressman Jones,” Krulak told me. “He works hard. He’s not a slacker. … But before he’s anything, he is my friend. He’s concerned about the men and women in uniform, and that’s all I’m concerned about.”
That was a recurring theme throughout our conversation. Krulak explained that it’s not merely Jones’ support for big-ticket acquisition projects that makes him “no better friend” to the Marine Corps. It’s his support for the troops’ personal safety and their well being, he said. In other words, Krulak supports Jones because Jones supports individual Marines.
Indeed, he’s got a strong track record of doing just that. For instance, when I was city editor at The Daily News in 2004 and 2005, Jones threw down when the Marine Corps sought to prosecute 2nd Lt. Ilario Pantano for the deaths of two Iraqi men. Amos was the commanding general of Pantano’s parent command at that time.
Before that, Jones took up the cause of two MV-22 Osprey pilots who were at the controls when their aircraft crashed in Arizona in 2000, killing them and 17 other Marines. He has lobbied the Marine Corps to update its official records — so far to no avail — so that they clearly indicate the pilots were not to blame for the incident. I’ve spoken to Jones numerous times over the years, and almost every conversation comes back to this cause of his. Amos, the first aviator to become commandant, was intimately involved with the Osprey’s development and as a one-star general came under heavy scrutiny during its early troubles. It’s unclear why he hasn’t addressed Jones’ request — though certainly it’s not for a lack of effort, nor for lack of support.
Is it bad blood? I think that’s a fair question, and it compelled me to ask Krulak this: Given that many within HQMC view Walter Jones as a troublemaker, are you concerned with how your endorsement may be viewed by Gen. Amos?
“That did not enter into my decision,” he replied. “I made this decision based on the individual and his track record for taking care of the young men and women in uniform.”
Jones’ issues with Amos “have been played out in the media,” Krulak continued. I braced for what I expected to come next: a polite but pointed swipe at the muckraking Marine Corps Times and my fellow travelers in the mainstream press. But no. The general’s view is decidedly more progressive than that.
“I’m not always going to agree with Marine Corps Times,” he said, “but that’s what you’re supposed to be. You tell it like it is.”
“No one was taking it easy on General Krulak,” he said. “But I asked myself ‘what deserves media attention?’ And I came back to the Constitution and ‘what are we fighting for if not freedom of speech?’ You’re not an organ for the Marine Corps or for General Krulak. You’re an organ for the people, and they deserve unbiased reporting.”
Much has been made of Marine Corps Times’ reporting over the past year as we’ve endeavored to explain and make sense of the incredibly serious allegations Maj. Weirick and Congressman Jones have brought to light. Obviously, it’s won us few friends at Marine Corps headquarters. But we put our belief in transparency above all of that. It’s certainly encouraging to learn we’re not alone in embracing such ideals.