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Ohio G.O.P. Candidate Says He Served in Afghanistan, but Air Force Has No Record of It

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J.R. Majewski, a Republican House candidate in northern Ohio, has continuously promoted himself as a combat veteran who served in Afghanistan after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, however the U.S. Air Force has no record that he served there, unraveling a central narrative of his political ascension that has been heralded by former President Donald J. Trump.

Mr. Majewski, 42, was deployed for six months in 2002 to Qatar, the Persian Gulf nation that’s now home to the biggest U.S. air base within the Middle East, in line with Air Force records obtained by The Recent York Times.

The Associated Press reported earlier about Mr. Majewski’s misrepresentations of his military service, noting that he worked as a “passenger operations specialist” while he was in Qatar, helping to load and unload planes. Along with Air Force records, it used information that it had obtained through a public records request from the National Archives but that was not immediately available on Thursday.

Melissa Pelletier, a campaign spokeswoman for Mr. Majewski, didn’t reply to multiple requests for comment. In an announcement to The A.P., Mr. Majewski did in a roundabout way address the inconsistencies, saying that his accomplishments were under attack.

“I’m proud to have served my country,” Mr. Majewski said within the statement.

The inconsistencies in Mr. Majewski’s public accounts of his military service brought renewed scrutiny to a candidate who had already been facing questions on his presence on the U.S. Capitol on the day of the Jan. 6 siege and sympathies for the QAnon conspiracy movement.

In response to questions from The Times, Rose M. Riley, an Air Force spokeswoman, said on Thursday that there was no way for the military branch to confirm whether Mr. Majewski served in Afghanistan during his time in Qatar. Air Force records showed that Mr. Majewski received no commendations or medals that will typically have been related to combat service in Afghanistan, though she acknowledged that the list “could also be incomplete or not up so far because some require motion on the member’s part to submit or validate.”

The role detailed in Mr. Majewski’s military records contrasted sharply along with his repeated claims on social media and right-wing podcasts that he was deployed to Afghanistan.

Within the immediate aftermath of the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan last yr, Mr. Majewski chided President Biden over the chaotic exit of forces there, saying in a tweet, “I’d gladly suit up and return to Afghanistan tonight and provides my best to avoid wasting those Americans who were abandoned.”

He also mentioned Afghanistan during a February 2021 appearance on a podcast platform that has drawn scrutiny for promoting conspiracy theories and misinformation.

“I lost my grandmother after I was in Afghanistan, and I didn’t get to see her funeral,” he said.

The top of a distinguished veterans’ advocacy group criticized Mr. Majewski in an interview on Wednesday, saying that his embellishment of his military record dishonored veterans who did experience combat.

“To me, that’s stolen valor,” said Don Christensen, a retired Air Force colonel and president of Protect Our Defenders. “I actually have a lot respect for the individuals who were actually getting shot at, affected by I.E.D.s, being wounded and killed. I just think you owe them that you just’re going to be honest in what you say and that you just’re not going to attempt to equate your service to their service.”

Mr. Christensen, 61, served for 23 years within the Air Force in a noncombat role. He said there was a transparent distinction between Qatar and Afghanistan or Iraq.

How Times reporters cover politics. We depend on our journalists to be independent observers. So while Times staff members may vote, they usually are not allowed to endorse or campaign for candidates or political causes. This includes participating in marches or rallies in support of a movement or giving money to, or raising money for, any political candidate or election cause.

“Qatar, for many of people that were in Iraq and Afghanistan, is where you went for R&R,” he said, noting that the military kept a “morale tent” in Qatar for service members to call members of the family.

“They were saying, oh, my God, that is so incredible — the web, someplace to eat,” Mr. Christensen said of service members getting back from combat to Qatar.

In May, Mr. Majewski emerged because the surprise winner of a Republican House primary election in northern Ohio, where redistricting has emboldened the party because it tries to flip the seat held by longtime Representative Marcy Kaptur, a Democrat, in November.

Ms. Kaptur, a member of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, said in an announcement on Wednesday that Mr. Majewski had misled voters.

“The reality matters,” Ms. Kaptur said. “The concept that anyone, much less a candidate for america Congress, would mislead voters about their service in combat is an affront to each man and woman who has proudly worn the uniform of our great country.”

Mr. Majewski first gained attention in Ohio in 2020 by turning his lawn into a 19,000-square-foot “Trump 2020” sign.

During his primary campaign earlier this yr, he ran an ad showing himself carrying an assault-style rifle and saying: “I’m willing to do whatever it takes to return this country back to its former glory. And if I’ve got to kick down doors, well, that’s just what patriots do.”

Days after Mr. Majewski defeated two other Republicans in the first, Mr. Trump praised him during a rally in Pennsylvania.

A spokeswoman for Mr. Trump didn’t reply to a request for comment about Mr. Majewski’s military record.

Mr. Trump has zeroed in on military records to attack a sitting member of Congress: Senator Richard Blumenthal, Democrat of Connecticut. He continuously highlights Mr. Blumenthal’s first campaign for the Senate in 2010, when he was accused of misrepresenting his military service in the course of the Vietnam War.

Mr. Blumenthal was a Marine Corps reservist but didn’t enter combat. He said on the time that he never meant to create the impression that he was a combat veteran and apologized.

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