HELENA – U.S. House candidate Ryan Zinke on Monday released all of his Navy personnel evaluations, including one from mid-1999 in which he was marked down for lapses in judgment over two disputed travel claims, but was otherwise praised and recommended for an early promotion.
“Declining performance marks in Military Bearing and Leadership are due to lapses in judgment in executing his TAD (temporary additional duty) on two occasions,” his superior officer wrote in Zinke’s June 14, 1999, fitness report. “I am confident that he now understands his responsibility in setting an example that is beyond reproach.”
Fitness reports are issued whenever a Navy member is promoted, changes locations or is recommended for promotion, and are done nearly every year. They are like the yearly performance evaluations of employees done by their bosses in the private and public sectors.
Zinke retired in 2008 as a Navy SEAL commander after 23 years in the SEALs.
On Sept. 1, Zinke asked the Navy Personnel Command for copies of all of his military records that it had. His campaign staff said it had made a number of attempts to expedite the release of his records. He received them Monday afternoon and released 39 fitness reports and intends to release the other records midweek.
He said the two “lapses in judgment” referred to in that fitness report were when he came to Montana to scout out potential locations for SEAL training. He has said he aggressively tried to promote SEAL training in parts of Montana where the landscape resembles that in Afghanistan.
Zinke has said he was ordered to repay the Navy $211 for a one-way trip from Virginia to Whitefish.
The other lapse, he said, referred to when he had been in Yakima, Washington, for weapons training and flew to Spokane and then traveled to Montana to look at surveys of the former Glasgow Air Force Base and Fort Harrison, west of Helena. He was not required to repay money for that trip.
“My desire to have Seal Team Six train in Montana was not my commander’s,” Zinke said Monday. He previously has said he was “a little aggressive for a junior officer.”
He said his travel expenses for seven years were audited. He was ordered to pay back $211.
The rest of his June 1999 fitness report comments includes such descriptions of Zinke’s performance such as “(d)ynamic decisive and intelligent. Excels at the most complex taskings and assignments.”
It says he provided “outstanding operational and fiduciary oversight for over 200 command high-risk training events while managing an annual O&M (operations and maintenance) budget in excel of $10 (million).”
It said Zinke was singled out for “a nothing short of spectacular performance.”
Zinke was recommended in that same report for early promotion in the fitness report. It also recommended that he attend the Navy War College.
His military records have become an issue in the House race after retired Navy SEAL Capt. Larry Bailey of North Carolina contended that Zinke was forced out of SEAL Team Six because of the fitness report in June 1999.
Reached Monday night, Bailey maintained that the June 1999 fitness report “killed his (Zinke’s) career” and prevented him from being promoted to captain.
“This attack is unwarranted and shameful,” Zinke said. “This is a political attack with no substantiated evidence.
Zinke said after the June 1999 fitness report, he later was promoted to be executive officer and later a commander, selected to be a mission commander in Kosovo, selected to be a deputy and acting commander over special forces in Iraq, and later was officer in charge of SEAL advanced training and then chose to retire. He received two Bronze Stars and four Meritorious Service medals.
“As I have said, the record is one of distinguished service,” Zinke said, calling Bailey’s criticism “an affront on a veteran.”
This summer, Zinke released four of his Navy fitness reports and some other Navy personnel records to Lee Newspapers State Bureau and other news organizations. He said those were the only fitness reports he had saved.
The Montana Democratic Party accused Zinke of cherry-picking and releasing only the documents he wanted released. The party made a formal request to the Navy for Zinke’s records. The records it received were mostly redacted.
On Monday night, the Democratic Party’s spokesman, Bryan Watt, released this statement:
“There is nothing honorable about using taxpayer dollars for personal use, regardless of the amount. ... Only after months of public pressure was Zinke fully willing to come clean with the people of Montana. Z inke lied to the people of Montana – he was pushed out of Seal Team Six for lapses in judgment that he's been covering up.”
Zinke’s next fitness report after the mid-June 1999 one that cited lapses of judgment came on Nov. 11, 1999. It was filled with praise for Zinke that included: "(h)igh-energy, results oriented officer.” It was written by a different superior officer who said he had had four executive officers in two command torus and Zinke is moving to the top of the list.”
It concluded by calling Zinke “a savvy, experienced war-fighter proving equally adept in management.” The report said Lt. Cmdr. Zinke “has my complete trust and confidence.” It recommended promoting Zinke to commander as soon as possible and sending him to War College.
A January 2001 fitness report for Zinke said: “SELECT FOR COMMAND NOW! WIDELY ACCLAIMED AS A TOP NOTCH LEADER IN NAVAL SPECIAL WARFARE. STERLING PERFORMANCE AS XO (executive officer) AND ACTING CO (commanding officer). WILL EXCEL IN COMMAND.”
In a fitness report on Zinke in late July 2001, his superior officer said: “My number one CDR (commander) and ranks among the finest officers that I have served with during my 36 years of active duty. A superstar who has earned my complete trust and strongest personal recommendations for an immediate CO (commanding officer) assignment. ... If you screen just one officer for command, screen CDR (Commander) Zinke. He is that good!”
A July 2004 fitness report called Zinke a “brilliant” chief staff officer “who excels at leading the largest command in Naval Special Warfare. In my 28 years of active duty, nobody does it better or with more enthusiasm, integrity and courageous leadership. ... A superstar.”
His fitness reports both before the June 1999 report and after it until he retired were filled with similar praise.