Illinois Republican Senate candidate admits to error on Navy award

By R. Jeffrey Smith
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 30, 2010

The Republican candidate for President Obama's old Senate seat inaccurately claimed to have received the U.S. Navy's Intelligence Officer of the Year award for service during NATO's conflict with Serbia in the late 1990s.

Rep. Mark Kirk, a Navy reservist elected to Congress in 2001, acknowledged the error in his official biography after The Washington Post began looking into whether he had received the prestigious award, which is given by top Navy officials to a single individual annually. The Post's inquiries were sparked by complaints from a representative of state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias, Kirk's Democratic opponent in the Illinois Senate race.

Kirk, an Appropriations Committee member, changed his Web site last week to incorporate a different account of the award. Kirk wrote on his blog that "upon a recent review of my records, I found that an award listed in my official biography was misidentified" and that the award he had intended to list was given to his entire unit.

A professional group, the National Military Intelligence Association, gave Kirk's unit -- based in Aviano, Italy -- an award for outstanding service in 2000. The association's Vice Admiral Rufus L. Taylor Award celebrates "the exceptional achievements of an outstanding Naval Intelligence career professional," but the citation does not mention Kirk and instead designates the entire Intelligence Division Electronic Attack Wing at Aviano.

Kirk, whose campaign has emphasized his military service as a reservist, similarly misidentified the award during a House committee hearing in March 2002. In a remark recorded by C-SPAN, he said, "I was the Navy's Intelligence Officer of the Year."

Eric Elk, a spokesman for Kirk's campaign, would say only that "we found the award was misidentified and corrected the name."

Kathleen Strand, a spokeswoman for Giannoulias, said Friday that Kirk "is lying or embellishing his military record."

Kirk and Giannoulias are in a tight race. Giannoulias has been hobbled by federal regulators' seizure last month of his family's bank.

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