Brown requests duty in Afghanistan
Senator says he’d learn from a 2-week stint
WASHINGTON — Senator Scott Brown wants the National Guard to send him to Afghanistan for training this summer, saying yesterday the experience would offer a fuller understanding of what American troops are facing.
A lieutenant colonel, Brown is required to complete two weeks of training each year. He has been in the Army National Guard for 30 years but never served in combat or trained in a war zone.
“Doing so will help me to better understand our ongoing mission in that country and provide me firsthand experience for my duties on the Senate Armed Services, Homeland Security, and Veterans Affairs committees,’’ the Massachusetts Republican said in a statement.
The senator did not detail what he expects to do during the training and declined to say whether his request has been granted. In a brief telephone interview, he said he will be “going over at some point to do some missions.’’ A spokesman for the Massachusetts National Guard declined to comment on the status of his request.
Brown said he wants to follow the example set by other lawmakers who have completed their military service requirements overseas.
Senator Mark Kirk, an Illinois Republican and an intelligence officer in the US Naval Reserve, served two two-week stints in Afghanistan while a member of the US House in 2008 and 2009.
Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican and an Air Force Reserve colonel, spent eight days in Afghanistan and neighboring countries to train Afghan judges and lawyers in 2006. Graham, like Brown, is a military lawyer.
Graham worked in uniform and carried a loaded pistol on a trip that was not publicized ahead of time for security reasons, according to news accounts.
If Brown is allowed to train in Afghanistan, it could present security challenges, specialists say. As a sitting senator, Brown would be a high-value target, which could put him and those he trains with in danger, said John D. Hutson, former dean of the University of New Hampshire School of Law who served as a judge advocate general and worked in the office of legislative affairs for the US Navy.
Hutson said yesterday that requests like Brown’s are typically granted but that the senator will likely be “in the rear with the gear.’’
“He’ll be in headquarters and he’ll talk to [Afghan President Hamid] Karzai and the generals, the US generals,’’ he said. “Typically this would not happen, but he’s a United States senator.’’
Political observers say that no matter what he does, the service could have political value as Brown prepares for his reelection campaign next year.
“It increases his credibility,’’ Boston College political scientist Dennis Hale said. “If he wanted to go to Afghanistan as a senator, that would not be hard to arrange. On the other hand, if you go over there and serve with people, you’re obviously seeing something a little different. You’re seeing the grunt’s-eye view.’’Brown joined the Massachusetts National Guard in 1979, saying he was inspired by the Guard’s response to the Blizzard of 1978. In his recent memoir, the senator said he has always wanted to serve overseas but has never been deployed.
“For myself, and for other of my friends in the Guard, there’s a feeling of somehow not doing our part because we have not been called to active duty,’’ he wrote. “For years, I’ve wished that I could go over and serve, but, like all soldiers, I go where I am ordered.’’
Brown, for roughly half of his 30 years in the service, did not serve with units that would be deployed overseas, a Globe review of Massachusetts Guard records found. Instead, he was attached to a headquarters company responsible for administrative support.
He started out in an infantry brigade. By the mid-1990s, he wrote in his memoir, he was eager for a different assignment.
“By then, I was married with two kids,’’ he wrote. “It was becoming less enticing to spend weekends in the woods.’’
He became a JAG officer, an assignment that took him into headquarters administration, where he served as a lawyer. He defended soldiers facing disciplinary action before discharge boards and provided other services, such as estate planning advice and help with real estate transactions to those deploying overseas to war zones.
During the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, he was assigned for three years to a unit that could have been ordered into combat. From 2006 until 2009, Brown was with the 26th Brigade, 29th Infantry Division. Had the unit been called up, Brown, then a state senator, would have served overseas in a support role.
But in March 2009, several months before his successful campaign for Senate, he transferred out of 26th Yankee Division and back to a nondeployable headquarters post at the Joint Force Headquarters in Milford, Mass.
The 26th Brigade was called to active duty and deployed to Afghanistan in February.
Asked why Brown transferred in 2009, a spokesman for the senator said he did not request it.
“As he has throughout his military career, he proudly goes where his orders take him,’’ spokesman Colin Reed said.
Brown has had brief assignments in Paraguay in 2005 and in Kazakhstan in 2007. In Paraguay, he was part of an effort with US diplomats to raise awareness of American principles of justice, including cases involving military personnel, Reed said. In Kazakhstan, he said, he spent a week on a disaster, terrorism, and emergency preparedness exercise with military and civilian personnel from Afghanistan, Pakistan, and three former Soviet republics.