To the editor:
Steve Watkins has exaggerated and embellished many of his accomplishments. For the Washington Post, he projected a combat-seasoned warrior persona. However, he refused five times to answer any questions about his military service in Afghanistan when interviewed by the Topeka Capital Journal. His latest leaflets still assert that he is “battle tested.” If he was the combat leader he professes to be, it was not while he was on active duty.
1. Watkins did not deploy to Afghanistan with a combat unit. He deployed on a short tour of six months to support a Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT). These are non-combat units meant to assist in extending governance and capturing hearts and minds. The unit avoids combat. His PRT was stationed in the provincial capital of Khost, also spelled Khowst in some sources. However, their quarters and logistics were located on Forward Operating Base (FOB) Salerno.
2. Watkins has said repeatedly that he was stationed at a very dangerous FOB also known as “Rocket City” where bombardment was a way of life. According to the Official Army History, the major combat unit stationed at Salerno while Watkins was there had approximately 1,200 soldiers. No soldiers from this combat unit were killed in the entire nine-month tour. Furthermore, according to the official combat logs, there were fewer than two or three rocket attacks per month, with each attack averaging one or two projectiles. In 2004, FOB Salerno was not the “Rocket City” it would become later in the war.
3. Combat patrols? Watkins states in many sources that he was conducting patrols on the Afghan-Pakistan border. Khost is a border province, so any patrol in the province could be considered a border patrol. Were his own PRT patrols combat patrols? No. That was not the mission of his unit. Most of the actual border is extremely rough terrain and required dismounted infantry to patrol. His patrols were most likely engineer site inspections and project management visits.
4. Personal combat is not reflected in Watkins’ awards. The Joint Commendation Medal is more likely to be awarded in peace than war. He did not receive a Purple Heart for any wounds and did not receive a Combat Action Badge, for which he would have been eligible if he participated in only one minor fire fight.
5. In Independence, Kansas, on Oct. 3, after the congressional forum a veteran was asked by the Wichita Eagle what he thought about Watkins’ misstatements and exaggerations. He replied: “This is beginning to sound a lot like stolen valor.” From whom has valor been stolen? One can say all veterans, but most certainly, those young paratroopers who slugged up jagged mountains as they took the fight to the enemy in real combat patrols.