WASHINGTON, DCIn a move intended to dispel criticism over his Vietnam-era military record, President Bush announced Monday that he will spend the weekend at the Sheppard Air Force Base in Wichita Falls, TX, to make up his missed National Guard service.
"My fellow Americans, let's put an end to this controversy," Bush said. "This weekend, I'll take two days off from leading the greatest nation in the world, go down to Texas, and do drills with the Texas Air National Guard, if that'll make you happy. I can't imagine anything more important for me to do than sets of push-ups with a bunch of enlisted Guardsmen."
Added Bush: "Don't let me forget to ask Cheney to fill in for me as leader of the free world. Because I'll be busy spit-shining flight boots."
Critics claim records show that Bush was not seen by his direct military superiors from May 1972 to June 1973. The controversy, which first arose during Bush's Texas gubernatorial bid in 1994, resurfaced Jan. 17, when filmmaker Michael Moore called Bush a "deserter" at a rally for Democratic candidate Wesley Clark.
Although the White House has tried to prove that Bush fulfilled his obligations by releasing torn payroll records and evidence of a dental check-up, many remain unconvinced. Critics have said Bush's reluctance to release his entire military file indicates that he's hiding something.
"Go ahead and wave your dusty stacks of papers, call names, and point fingers," Bush said. "I'm just going to have to be the bigger man."
Bush, whose approval numbers have declined in recent weeks, said the accusations were false, but that he was willing to do "whatever it takes to please everybody" so that he "can return to the business of governing the country."
"I had to cancel dozens of appointments with cabinet members, congressional leaders, and foreign dignitaries," Bush said. "All that stuff's going to have to wait, since this 30-year-old story is apparently a pressing national concern, or something."
White House communications director Dan Bartlett appeared on CNN with Wolf Blitzer to defend the president.
"Others want to focus on talk, but President Bush is focused on action," Bartlett said. "George Bush, whose chief priority is keeping our country safe in a post-September 11 world, believes that going down there and making up a couple days' service is the best way to finally put this issue to rest."
Retired Army Gen. John Wilcox warned Bush that his service in Alabama might have unexpected consequences.
"Once he gets there, he's an enlisted man like anybody else," Wilcox said. "A lot of other National Guard and Army reservists thought they were just signing up for some tame domestic training and ended up in Iraq or Afghanistan. The president is taking a real risk here. For his sake and the sake of the nation, I hope he doesn't get shipped out."
At a press conference Monday afternoon, a reporter asked White House press secretary Scott McClellan why Bush wasn't making up his time in Alabama, where critics say he failed to report for drills during the entire time he was working on a family friend's U.S. Senate campaign.
"Well, the president is familiar with the base in Texas, so he chose to do his service there," McClellan said. "Why would he go to some random base in Alabama that he's never even been to before? I meanlet me start over. He did serve at the Alabama base, but we felt it would be easier to accommodate travel to a base that was closer to his ranch in Crawford. Case closed."