Still from the music video for “Lets Go Brandon Save America” featuring J360, Savannah Craven and Ohio GOP congressional candidate J.R. Majewski.
BY: NICK EVANS – Ohio Capital Journal
Republicans are holding their tongues after the Associated Press published a story indicating GOP congressional nominee J.R. Majewski exaggerated his service record. Majewski himself is lashing out at the AP, threatening to sue and insinuating they worked with his opponent U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-OH.
On the campaign trail Majewski has presented himself as combat veteran who deployed to Afghanistan. In reality, the AP reported, he spent the bulk of his active-duty career in Japan, before deploying in 2002 to an airbase in Qatar for six months.
That airbase provides support services throughout the Middle East, including Afghanistan. Part of Majewski’s job as a “passenger operations specialist” took him to airbases throughout the region to load and unload. But the AP reported his campaign didn’t initially address whether he ever traveled to Afghanistan. They further noted Majewski was not awarded a service medal for those who spent 30 days consecutively or 60 days non-consecutively in the country.
Since the AP’s story published, Majewski has attempted to push back.
In a friendly interview with NewsMax he insisted that yes, he had “set foot” in Afghanistan. He went on to describe his service and effectively confirmed the AP’s reporting.
Although working from an airbase more than 1,200 miles from Afghanistan’s Bagram Airfield seems far from “combat” to a lay person, it actually counts under federal law. As the AP noted, because of an executive order signed by George H.W. Bush, support bases are considered combat zones.
Still, he was clear that most of his time was spent away from the front lines.
“Myself and other airmen deployed to Qatar,” he said. “That was where CENTCOM was, that was our staging base and we deployed from there all throughout the area of responsibility. We’re the people who gave supplies to the front line. We’re the people that transported the fighters to the front line.”
Asked directly if he can call himself a combat veteran, Majewski offered: “I believe so.”
Friday, Majewski gave a more forceful denunciation. He called the story “blatantly false” and a “politically motivated hit piece.” He added that he was considering suing the reporters.
But Majewski offered no evidence to refute the story, instead insisting “anyone insinuating that I did not serve in Afghanistan is lying.” The AP’s report indicates Majewski didn’t deploy directly to Afghanistan, and that Majewski himself was evasive about whether and for how long he served there.
As for the medal, Majewski argued he separated from the Air Force honorably before the service began awarding it. Although he has the right to request an update to his records, Majewski said, he has yet to do so.
The Majewski campaign did not immediately respond to requests for comment about whether he served enough time to earn honor or whether he has requested it.
What lawmakers had to say
Rep. Bill Johnson, R-OH, represents the southern and eastern rim of the state in congress. A veteran himself, Johnson guards the honors that men and women in uniform accrue. In 2011, he co-sponsored stolen valor legislation that would’ve fined and imprisoned anyone who fraudulently claimed to have “served in a combat zone” with “the intent to obtain anything of value.” That legislation didn’t pass, and instead a narrower measure tied medals went forward in 2013.
But in a statement, Johnson withheld judgment about Majewski. He explained that for nearly 27 years he lived by the Air Force’s core values.
“Integrity First, Service Before Self, and Excellence In All We Do,” Johnson said. “Those core values taught me, as a commander and a leader, not to make snap judgments about people without all the facts. And in this case I simply don’t have all the facts.”
Two other incumbent Ohio congressmen served in uniform as well. U.S. Rep. Brad Wenstrup, R-OH, served as a physician in the U.S. Army, and U.S. Rep. Warren Davidson, R-OH, was U.S. Army Ranger. Neither lawmaker responded to a request for comment.
Veteran rhetoric on the campaign trail
Before securing former President Trump’s endorsement, the most substantial rhetorical blow J.D. Vance landed came at the expense of fellow candidate and Marine veteran Josh Mandel.
Throughout the primary race Mandel emphasized his service as a core reason for voters to choose him. He went so far as to end several ads with the tagline, “Send in the marine.” But after Mandel nearly came to blows with Mike Gibbons in a dispute about private sector employment, Vance criticized Mandel.
“I think the way you use the U.S. Marine Corps, Josh, is disgraceful — it’s not a political tool,” Vance said.
“This guy wants to be a U.S. Senator,” he added derisively. “He was up here, ‘hold me back, hold me back, I’ve got two tours in the Marine Corps.’ What a joke.”
But Vance’s campaign declined to weigh in on Majewski’s exaggerations of his service record.
Majewski has drawn scrutiny for suggesting states that voted for Donald Trump in 2020 secede and attending the January 6 “Stop the Steal” rally. He shelled out money to help others attend the rally as well. In an interview with Spectrum News he insisted he did nothing wrong.
“I hated what happened,” Majewski said of January 6, “And it’s a total injustice to keep having to answer questions about why I was there.”
But it appears Majewski’s descriptions of his service record may be more damaging to his candidacy.
In a statement, his opponent Rep. Kaptur said, “the idea that anyone, much less a candidate for the United States Congress, would mislead voters about their service in combat is an affront to every man and woman who has proudly worn the uniform of our great country. J.R. Majewski owes each of these heroes a full explanation about his deception.”
Republicans in Ohio may stay mum, but the National Republican Congressional Committee has announced it will cancel a roughly $1 million ad buy in the race. The main campaign committee for House Republicans abandoning a candidate is a significant signal of their read of the contest.
Congressional race watchers at Sabato’s Crystal Ball changed their rating from toss-up to leans Democratic shortly after the news came out as well.
Follow OCJ Reporter Nick Evans on Twitter.
Nick Evans has spent the past seven years reporting for NPR member stations in Florida and Ohio. He got his start in Tallahassee, covering issues like redistricting, same sex marriage and medical marijuana. Since arriving in Columbus in 2018, he has covered everything from city council to football. His work on Ohio politics and local policing have been featured numerous times on NPR.
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