Republican Brian Rose produced documents Thursday that he said raises questions about Rep. Steven Palazzo’s military service.
Rose said Palazzo tried to get out of the Army National Guard in 2004, when Palazzo had a desk job at Camp Shelby. He posted letters and affidavits on his website at Roseforcongress.com/documents. He said that seemed hypocritical, given Palazzo often touts his military service and talks about his sacrifice in “Once a Soldier, Always a Soldier.”
“That is not sacrifice, that is stolen valor,” he said. He challenged Palazzo to debate or hold a town hall to defend his record both in Congress and the military.
Palazzo, Rose said, wrote that his service prevented him from caring for an ailing relative, fulfilling his duties with the Biloxi Housing Authority and were creating a financial hardship for his family.
Palazzo responded to Rose’s allegations via an emailed statement:
“13 years ago, when my family was going through a very difficult time in our lives, I requested a hardship waiver from the Army so I could take care of them. My commander denied my request, and I faithfully served out my time on active duty in the Mississippi Army National Guard.
“Not once have I ever denied that I requested this waiver more than a decade ago. I am a better person and a better soldier because I remained in the National Guard, where I have and continue to serve to this day. I’ve been in the military since I was 19 years old, deployed overseas as a U.S. Marine in Desert Shield and Desert Storm, have served more than 20 years in the military, and am proud of every single minute I've spent in the United States Armed Forces.
“Unfortunately, every two years my political opponents feel the need to attack my family, my military service and my character. Frankly, it’s disgusting and my opponent should be ashamed.”
Rose said Palazzo’s response was predictable.
“I have the utmost respect and understanding for family commitments, especially while serving our military,” he said. “I was in a tent city in Zagreb, Croatia, when I was handed a week-old fax telling me my son was delivered prematurely. It was many weeks until I was able to see him for the first time. After spending just two weeks with my newborn son, I was deployed to Mogadishu, Somalia. It would be several months until I would lay eyes on him again. I understand a thing or two about sacrificing for my country.
“As predicted in my press conference, Congressman Palazzo has said my remarks were an attack on his family. Palazzo used an ailing family member as a reason for his requested military discharge. When prompted by the Army for medical records and more family documentation, Palazzo refused. I presented documents signed by his family that Palazzo was not the caretaker of this ailing person and had zero responsibility for him, contradicting Palazzo's official claim.
“Shame should only fall on those that continue to bury the truth,” he said. “I know a thing or two about sacrifice.”
Rose challenged Palazzo to debate or at least have a town hall to explain himself.
Palazzo, Rose said, refused to have town halls recently, saying he didn’t want to deal with angry Democrats.
“What he’s really hiding from is his own voting record,” he said. Rose said as a challenger in 2010, Palazzo repeatedly debated. Now, Rose said, “Palazzo is a no show.”
Rose predicted Palazzo would call Rose’s assertions a “smear campaign.”
He said he attempted to ask Palazzo about his service, but the congressman didn’t return phone calls. He said he put the debate challenge in a letter.
Bill Vallon, an Iraq war veteran and president of Bikers for Trump, went a step further, demanding Palazzo resign.
“Palazzo did everything he could to avoid joining us on the battlefield,” he said. “He’s unfit to serve in the military and he’s unfit to serve in Congress.”
Rose would not say how he obtained the documents, but said he would release more documents in two weeks and the source of all the information would become clear.
The Sun Herald asked Palazzo through his spokeswoman if he asked to be let out of the military. Jill Duckworth responded via email that she received the request for comment and “will send something over soon.”
Rose is the only announced challenger for Palazzo’s 4th Congressional District seat in next year’s election. This is not the first time a challenger has raised questions about Palazzo’s service in the Mississippi Army National Guard. In 2016, Libertarian candidate Ric McCluskey said Palazzo failed to show up for drills with the 1-155th combined arms battalion. Palazzo said he didn’t drill with the 1-155th but completed his drill requirements at Camp Shelby near Hattiesburg and the Joint Force Headquarters in Jackson.
Palazzo frequently talks about his military service. His website says he is a Marine Corps veteran with overseas service. His campaign site says he served in the Middle East in 1990 during Desert Shield and Desert Storm. He is the co-chair of the Congressional National Guard and Reserve Components Caucus.
“After the September 11 terrorist attacks, Steven’s second deployment took him to Camp Shelby, where he worked in direct support of the training and mobilization of troops deploying for Operation Enduring Freedom.”