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By Neil Vigdor
- Sept. 22, 2022Updated 5:17 p.m. ET
J.R. Majewski, a Republican House candidate in northern Ohio, has frequently promoted himself as a combat veteran who served in Afghanistan after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, but the U.S. Air Force has no record that he served there, unraveling a central narrative of his political ascension that has been heralded by former President Donald J. Trump.
Mr. Majewski, 42, was deployed for six months in 2002 to Qatar, the Persian Gulf nation that is now home to the largest U.S. air base in the Middle East, according to Air Force records obtained by The New York Times.
The Associated Press reported earlier about Mr. Majewski’s misrepresentations of his military service, noting that he worked as a “passenger operations specialist” while he was in Qatar, helping to load and unload planes. In addition to Air Force records, it used information that it had obtained through a public records request from the National Archives but that was not immediately available on Thursday.
J.R. Majewski, a House candidate, at a rally hosted by former President Donald J. Trump in Youngstown, Ohio. He says he served in Afghanistan, but military records do not support the claim.Credit…Gaelen Morse/Reuters
Melissa Pelletier, a campaign spokeswoman for Mr. Majewski, did not respond to multiple requests for comment. In a statement to The A.P., Mr. Majewski did not directly address the inconsistencies, saying that his accomplishments were under attack.
“I am proud to have served my country,” Mr. Majewski said in the statement.
The inconsistencies in Mr. Majewski’s public accounts of his military service brought renewed scrutiny to a candidate who had already been facing questions about his presence at the U.S. Capitol on the day of the Jan. 6 siege and sympathies for the QAnon conspiracy movement.
The fallout from the revelations appeared to be swift and significant, with the National Republican Congressional Committee on Thursday canceling television ads it had booked for the final six weeks of the campaign in support of Mr. Majewski, according to AdImpact, a firm that tracks campaign advertising. The decision was also reported by Medium Buying, a political advertising news site.
A spokesman for the N.R.C.C. did not immediately respond to several requests for comment on Thursday.
In response to questions from The Times, Rose M. Riley, an Air Force spokeswoman, said on Thursday that there was no way for the military branch to verify whether Mr. Majewski served in Afghanistan during his time in Qatar. Air Force records showed that Mr. Majewski received no commendations or medals that would typically have been associated with combat service in Afghanistan, though she acknowledged that the list “may be incomplete or not up to date because some require action on the member’s part to submit or validate.”
The role detailed in Mr. Majewski’s military records contrasted sharply with his repeated claims on social media and right-wing podcasts that he was deployed to Afghanistan.
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In the immediate aftermath of the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan last year, Mr. Majewski chided President Biden over the chaotic exit of forces there, saying in a tweet, “I’d gladly suit up and go back to Afghanistan tonight and give my best to save those Americans who were abandoned.”
He also mentioned Afghanistan during a February 2021 appearance on a podcast platform that has drawn scrutiny for promoting conspiracy theories and misinformation.
“I lost my grandmother when I was in Afghanistan, and I didn’t get to see her funeral,” he said. More revelations were detailed by Media Matters for America, a left-leaning media monitoring group.
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The head of a prominent veterans’ advocacy group criticized Mr. Majewski in an interview on Wednesday, saying that his embellishment of his military record dishonored veterans who did experience combat.
“To me, that’s stolen valor,” said Don Christensen, a retired Air Force colonel and president of Protect Our Defenders. “I have so much respect for the people who were actually getting shot at, suffering from I.E.D.s, being wounded and killed. I just think you owe them that you’re going to be honest in what you say and that you’re not going to try to equate your service to their service.”
Mr. Christensen, 61, served for 23 years in the Air Force in a noncombat role. He said there was a clear distinction between Qatar and Afghanistan or Iraq.
“Qatar, for most of people who were in Iraq and Afghanistan, is where you went for R&R,” he said, noting that the military kept a “morale tent” in Qatar for service members to call family members.
“They were saying, oh, my God, this is so incredible — the internet, someplace to eat,” Mr. Christensen said of service members returning from combat to Qatar.
In May, Mr. Majewski emerged as the surprise winner of a Republican House primary election in northern Ohio, where redistricting has emboldened the party as it tries to flip the seat held by longtime Representative Marcy Kaptur, a Democrat, in November.
Ms. Kaptur, a member of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, said in a statement on Wednesday that Mr. Majewski had misled voters.
“The truth matters,” Ms. Kaptur said. “The idea that anyone, much less a candidate for the United States Congress, would mislead voters about their service in combat is an affront to every man and woman who has proudly worn the uniform of our great country.”
Mr. Majewski first gained attention in Ohio in 2020 by turning his lawn into a 19,000-square-foot “Trump 2020” sign.
During his primary campaign earlier this year, he ran an ad showing himself carrying an assault-style rifle and saying: “I’m willing to do whatever it takes to return this country back to its former glory. And if I’ve got to kick down doors, well, that’s just what patriots do.”
Days after Mr. Majewski defeated two other Republicans in the primary, Mr. Trump praised him during a rally in Pennsylvania.
A spokeswoman for Mr. Trump did not respond to a request for comment about Mr. Majewski’s military record.
Mr. Trump has zeroed in on military records to attack a sitting member of Congress: Senator Richard Blumenthal, Democrat of Connecticut. He frequently highlights Mr. Blumenthal’s first campaign for the Senate in 2010, when he was accused of misrepresenting his military service during the Vietnam War.
Mr. Blumenthal was a Marine Corps reservist but did not enter combat. He said at the time that he never meant to create the impression that he was a combat veteran and apologized.
Alyce McFadden contributed reporting.