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Old 03-27-2005, 06:35 AM
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Default Phony Iraq warriors beginning to surface ( a la "Stolen Valor" )

Phony Iraq warriors beginning to surface
By LISA HOFFMAN, Scripps Howard News Service

On the front lines in Afghanistan, Sgt. Thomas Larez was said to have braved enemy fire to pull an injured soldier to safety, taking two shots to his torso and shrapnel in his thigh as he did.
Though bloodied and temporarily blinded by a concussion grenade, Larez then killed seven Taliban fighters and helped capture several others.
It was a compelling account of heroism hailed in a December 2001 Dallas newscast based on a "Marine advisory" about the battle that Larez said his commanding officer wrote.
Two days later, the station retracted the story. Not only was the "advisory" bogus, apparently concocted by Larez, but the Marine had never even left the United States, much less distinguished himself in combat overseas.
With that fraud, Larez became one of the first phony heroes of America's war on terrorism to be exposed. He was far from the last.
-- In Rockport, Texas, Andrew Isbell, clad in an Army sergeant's uniform, told jurors at his drug-possession trial in August that he had earned the two Bronze Stars on his chest in Iraq in August, along with a Purple Heart for a recent bullet wound to the shoulder.
Portraying himself as an infantryman on medical leave from his dangerous patrol job in Baghdad, Isbell was a sympathetic figure who ultimately was acquitted.
But after a juror later raised questions about Isbell's uniform, investigators found that he had actually been a food-service private who never saw combat, was not wounded, won no decorations and had been discharged from the Army after being absent without leave for 61 days.
Isbell faces perjury charges.
-- Home on leave last August in Maysville, Ky., Army Spc. Chastity Turner was honored at a Veterans of Foreign Wars picnic and lauded in a local newspaper for her calm under pressure during two convoy ambushes she survived in Iraq.
"An IED (improvised explosive device, or makeshift bomb) went off and it blew out the windows of the trucks," Turner told the Ledger Independent. "It's exciting and it gets your adrenaline going."
Only problem: Turner never left Kuwait during her deployment. She was busted in her lie by her company commander, who had read the story online and contacted the paper, which published a retraction.
-- Justin McCauley regaled his Roseville, Calif., family with his derring-do as an elite Navy SEAL in 2002 in Afghanistan, showing off his Navy jacket with a patch signifying his membership in the storied commando outfit and recounting the close call he survived when a grenade exploded near him and sprayed him with shrapnel.
"The second it happened, that hit me: 'Wow, we're at war,' " McCauley was quoted as saying in the Sacramento Bee newspaper.
But, like Turner, McCauley had made the whole thing up, the newspaper later reported. Not only was he not a SEAL, the aviation ordnanceman had never left the deck of the USS Kitty Hawk aircraft carrier where he loaded U.S. warplanes with bombs.
-- Sarah Kenney, of Grand Junction, Colo., allegedly made up a heroic husband. Kenney told a local support group for soldiers' families that her husband, Spc. Jonathan Kenney, had been killed when he shielded an Iraqi child from flying bullets only to be hit by one himself.
In fact, there was no such soldier, and Kenney was charged last month with criminal impersonation.
To the phalanx of mostly volunteer fraud-busters dedicated to outing wannabe warriors, it is no surprise that bogus soldiers claiming exploits in Iraq and Afghanistan are now surfacing.
"It's a phenomenon of every single war that's ever, ever been fought," said B.G. Burkett, co-author of the award-winning book "Stolen Valor."
He and Mary Schantag, who with her husband Chuck spend hours each day hunting down fake claims, are certain the number of Iraq and Afghanistan service frauds will only mushroom as time goes on.
Mary Schantag, who helps run the clearinghouse that also investigates non-POW frauds, says reports of phony Vietnam-era heroes have reached epidemic proportions.
When the Schantags began outing fakes in 1998, they had 22 cases. Last year, they had more than 2,000. There are now at least twice as many pretend Vietnam POWs documented than the number of U.S. troops who truly were prisoners.
"The more we expose, the more get reported," Schantag said, lamenting the fact that, despite the criminal violations committed by the poseurs, overtaxed police and other authorities simply don't have the time or resources to pursue more than a handful.
She and Burkett also warn that high-tech tools are a boon to the bad guys, who can use them to easily create fake military records that can pass for the real thing.
They are outraged, as well, that many of these phonies have snookered the government into providing them with benefits, while others are recording their made-up war exploits for assorted oral-history projects across the country.
"It's so sad," Schantag said.
These activists characterize the majority of the fakes as people with low self-esteem who create a heroic persona to inflate their image. "Being one changes everything about his life. The medals say he is not only brave but also loyal, trustworthy, honest," said Burkett, a Vietnam vet with an ordinary record like that of most who served at the time.
The rest are generally cons looking for quick bucks or other advantages. For Jim Johnson, it was romance that he apparently was seeking. Though his Navy service lasted just two years in the mid-1970s, Johnson portrayed himself to scores of women via an Internet dating site as a Navy SEAL now fighting in Iraq. He allegedly asked many to marry him.
An outfit called Veriseal, dedicated to identifying SEAL imposters, determined that Johnson had never been a Navy commando and was never in Iraq -- or even in the service. Instead, he was found to be working for an insurance company in Rocky Mount, N.C.
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