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Senate candidate faces more heat over Navy record

FILE - In this April 19, 2010 file photo, Illinois Republican Senate candidate, Rep. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., responds to a question during a news conference in Chicago. Rep. Mark Kirk said he has amended his biography after he misstated an award he received for military service. The Illinois Republican, who is locked in a high-stakes Senate race against Illinois state treasurer Alexi Giannoulias, is highlighting his service as a Naval Reserve commander as he fights to win the seat vacated by President Barack Obama. But in a campaign blog posting Thursday, Kirk said he misidentified the award, telling constituents he was given the Navy's prestigious Intelligence Officer of the Year honor. FILE - In this April 19, 2010 file photo, Illinois Republican Senate candidate, Rep. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., responds to a question during a news conference in Chicago. Rep. Mark Kirk said he has amended his biography after he misstated an award he received for military service. The Illinois Republican, who is locked in a high-stakes Senate race against Illinois state treasurer Alexi Giannoulias, is highlighting his service as a Naval Reserve commander as he fights to win the seat vacated by President Barack Obama. But in a campaign blog posting Thursday, Kirk said he misidentified the award, telling constituents he was given the Navy's prestigious Intelligence Officer of the Year honor. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast, File)
By Christopher Wills and Deanna Bellandi
Associated Press Writers / June 2, 2010

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CHICAGO—Senate candidate Mark Kirk faced new questions Wednesday about inaccurate descriptions of his military service, this time over wrongly saying that the congressman served "in" Operation Iraqi Freedom.

It is the second time in less than a week that Kirk, the Republican nominee for President Barack Obama's old Senate seat, has had to explain inaccurate descriptions of his military record.

Kirk's campaign said his official U.S. House website once incorrectly said he was the only member of Congress to serve in the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq that began in 2003. That was changed in 2005 to say that he served "during" the operation.

Kirk, a member of the Navy Reserves, served as a stateside intelligence officer during the invasion.

"Over the course of a public career, unintentional errors do happen," Kirk's campaign said in response to a story on the blog Talking Points Memo. The campaign added that his 2005 campaign website always used the correct wording.

The description of Kirk serving "in" the operation went beyond his website. Newspaper stories of the period routinely said Kirk served in Operation Iraqi Freedom, and there's no sign that he sought corrections.

A 2004 op-ed column that Kirk co-wrote for the Washington Times also said he served in the conflict, and that's how Kirk was sometimes described when he appeared on cable talk shows.

Kieran Michael Lalor, founder of the political committee Iraq Veterans for Congress, praised Kirk's military service but suggested he was misleading the public for political purposes.

"When veterans in politics are dishonest and act like all of the other self-serving politicians in government, it undermines all veteran candidates," Lalor said.

Kirk's first correction of his military record involved his frequent claims that he has been named the U.S. Navy's intelligence officer of the year in 1999. In fact, it was a different award and it went to his entire unit, not to Kirk personally, as the Washington Post first reported.

Kirk played down the discrepancy, describing it as simply a matter of getting the award's name wrong in his official biography. He said his aides found and corrected the mistake on their own, although the Navy said it contacted Kirk's campaign after getting questions from reporters.

The five-term congressman portrays questions about his record as an attack on his military service by his Democratic opponent for the U.S. Senate, Alexi Giannoulias.

Giannoulias, the Illinois treasurer, says Kirk served honorably but has misled voters.

"I don't know why he feels the need to embellish the record and not tell the truth," Giannoulias said over the weekend.

Several Illinois newspaper editorials on Wednesday said Kirk owes Illinois voters an apology.

"If you're a politician who pumps up your military record, you should admit it, beg for forgiveness and move on as best you can," the Chicago Sun-Times wrote. "But, please, don't insult the public by pretending your exaggerations were all honest errors."

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Wills reported from Springfield, Ill.

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