There's a new twist to the George W. Bush AWOL mystery, in which almost no one remembers him fulfilling his duties with the Alabama National Guard. According to an investigation by the Spokane, Washington, Spokesman-Review, Bush may have been involuntarily removed from being a pilot due to little-known Human Reliability Regulations. These were rules to screen out military personnel for mental, physical, and emotional fitness before letting them handle nuclear weapons and delivery systems. The regulations affected thousands of pilots and were used to suspend two Washington State pilots on suspicion of drug use, although in the end both men received honorable discharges.
News accounts have suggested that when Bush was a National Guard pilot back in the early 1970s, he may have gone AWOL from May 1972 to April 1973 while working on a campaign to elect Winton "Red" Blount, a family friend and Nixon postmaster general, to the Senate from Alabama. Blount lost. The White House denies all of this and insists records show Bush quit flying because he was no longer needed.
The government's reaction to questions about the human reliability regs merits attention. The White House gave no comment to a Spokesman-Review reporter, referring questions to the Defense Department. The National Guard Bureau, now run by a Bush pick from Texas, said it was under orders not to discuss the story. The bureau's chief historian also told the Spokane paper he was under orders not to discuss the topic. The freedom of information officer at the bureau said her people stopped taking requests on Bush's military service last month and now refer all questions regarding it to the Pentagon.