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Nothing dresses up a politician's resume like military experience — and Republican Rich Iott has not been shy in making the most of his in the contest for the 9th Congressional District seat.
Mr. Iott, who is running against incumbent Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo), is a colonel in the Ohio Military Reserve, an unarmed, volunteer state militia that is authorized by the Ohio Adjutant General.
The Monclova Township businessman often mentions his Ohio Military Reserve experience on the campaign trail and in mailings to prospective voters.
One glossy mailing portrays Mr. Iott in civilian and military garb and says, “Rich Iott understands the sacrifices our men and women in uniform have made because he serves himself.”
Another one says, “Reservist Rich Iott will stand up and fight for our veterans.”
But Mr. Iott's claim to be a member of the military, when he was never on active duty, have rankled those serving in or retired from the armed forces.
Retired Ohio Adjutant General John Smith, a Vietnam veteran who was once commander of the 180th Air National Guard fighter wing based at Toledo, said the OMR has no role in the national defense and has never been called up for duty.
“He's stretching it in terms of what the Ohio Military Reserve does. He's giving the impression, I would suggest, that he is involved in matters related to national security and to state matters, and they are not. They are never consulted,” General Smith said.
General Smith said it's unlikely the governor ever will activate the reserve because of the cost of paying a lot of high-ranking reservists.
“They are extremely rank-heavy,” General Smith said.
The Ohio Military Reserves may be the Rodney Dangerfield of military organizations, but the members take their jobs seriously.
“Our people are sworn in. They are working for the state,” said Mr. Iott, who is deputy commander.
Unlike the Marine Corps and Army Reserves and the Ohio Air National Guard and the Ohio Army National Guard, the Ohio Military Reserves cannot be called up for national service.
However, if the governor needed the services of the Ohio Military Reserve, he would only need to order them up and they would go on the state's payroll in service of the state defense forces.
Sarah Reeseman, public information officer for the reserve, said the Ohio Military Reserve is an official state “militia” authorized in state law.
“There is the legally authorized Ohio Revised Code militia and then there's the guys who run around in the woods who are illegal militias,” Ms. Reeseman, who holds the rank of major, said. “We do serve as a component of the adjutant general's office.”
The reserve has an authorized force of 491 and an actual force at present of about 350, she said.
Its members train one weekend a month and one week a year at Camp Perry, west of Port Clinton. They receive no pay for their service, but the state budget has in the past authorized $15,000 to subsidize the cost of training.
“How I got involved is basically out of high school,” Mr. Iott told The Blade. “I wanted to join the Army but was turned down because I had a heart murmur. I didn't know about this organization at the time. I joined in January, 1984, and have been in ever since.”
Most of Mr. Iott's resume involves assignments as a military policeman in Walbridge, Bowling Green, and Lima, Ohio.
One typical entry reads: “Commander, 4th Military Police Brigade, Bowling Green, Ohio — May '06-Aug. '06,” with the note, “not on active duty.”
Mr. Iott's military biography includes 59 courses he has taken from the Army, the Marine Corps, the Air Force, and other agencies — most by correspondence.
But in his campaign appearances Mr. Iott at times has faced criticism that his claims to a military status are exaggerated.
During a televised debate Sept. 27, Miss Kaptur quizzed Mr. Iott on how many “battalions and brigades” he commands and in what theaters of operation they were deployed.
Miss Kaptur said voters are getting an outsized impression of Mr. Iott's military record and his status as a “colonel.”
“I think that his service is being misperceived by the public, because a lot of people think or assume that he was a colonel in regular forces,” Miss Kaptur said. “It is not an active unit. It has not served in the active duty forces of the country.”
Miss Kaptur was once made an honorary captain of the Ohio Military Reserve, but hasn't mentioned it in her campaign mailings.
Miss Kaptur said she applied for admission to the U.S. Air Force Academy while in high school but was denied because the academy wasn't admitting women at the time.
She instead cites her lead role in the creation of the World War II Memorial in Washington.
During the GOP primary campaign in the spring, Mr. Iott was assailed by supporters of his Republican opponent, Jack Smith, a Marine Corps veteran, that he was overstating his military service.
“It stretches the point about being military,” Mr. Smith said during one candidate forum.
One of Mr. Smith's supporters, Tom Morgan, state co-chairman of United Veterans for Ohio, said at the time: “For him to tout himself as a 30-year military guy is a slap in the face to a veteran. He's a noncompensated volunteer.”
And in a televised debate last week, Mr. Iott was unable to explain why his occupation was identified as “soldier” and his employer as “state of Ohio” on a $500 contribution he made to the Republican National Committee in March, on a Federal Election Commission record.
During that debate, Miss Kaptur said, “Well, it seems that that isn't true, that you weren't a soldier.”
When Miss Kaptur asked him if he was a veteran, Mr. Iott said, “I have never claimed to be a veteran. My opponent in the primary claimed that I claimed that. But I have never served in the United States armed forces. All of my service has been in the state guard.”
The reserve traces its history to before the founding of Ohio, according to the reserve's commanding officer, Brigadier General Charles Rowell. And it has had several names, including Ohio Volunteer Cavalry.
It received its current name in the mid-1980s, converting from the Ohio Defense Corps, Mr. Rowell said.
In the past two years, the Ohio Adjutant General's office has revised the reserve's mission, from military police to “civil support and sustainment brigade,” with specific duties for mass care — shelters for people displaced by a tornado or flood, for example, and logistics and resource support — moving material where it needs to be.
Mr. Iott said a lot of members quit the reserve because they didn't like the new mission. He said he supported the switch “100 percent.”
Members say the new mission makes them more likely to be used at some point because there was a surplus of units capable of being military police and too few capable of providing mass care and logistical support.
Mr. Iott said those were shortages that became apparent after the Hurricane Katrina disaster.
The unit quit training with firearms a few years ago because of the cost of staying certified, he said.
Mr. Iott has battled criticism over the last two weeks over revelations that he participated in war re-enactments wearing the uniform of a Nazi SS soldier. Critics have accused him of insensitivity to the victims of Hitler's Holocaust, while Mr. Iott has insisted he simply was indulging an interest in history.
He said there's no parallel to be drawn between his re-enactment activities — which included other wars, as well — and the Ohio Military Reserve.
And he said he's not surprised to be taking abuse from higher up the military pecking order.
“The active Army looks down its nose at the Army Reserves, the Army Reserves looks down its nose at the National Guard. That's been going on for hundreds of years,” Mr. Iott said.
Contact Tom Troy at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6058.