Statement by Captain Clay Fearnow
United States Navy (Retired)
Former Commanding Officer, VAQ-209
As a retired Navy Captain and Mark Kirk's commanding officer during Operation Allied Force, there are two things that have deeply troubled me since I read the Washington Post's story about Mark's intelligence officer award.
First, the complete lack of a benefit of the doubt - the idea that someone could make an honest mistake has become so foreign that the immediate assumption has become - you misrepresented or worse you lied. In Mark's case neither is factual.
And second, that an honest mistake related to the identification of a military award is the same as pretending to be in Vietnam when you were not. This also doesn't apply to Mark Kirk
Mark Kirk served under my command in Aviano, Italy, during Operation Allied Force - the Kosovo campaign. For his exceptional service as the lead intelligence officer of a combat intelligence action team - the largest EA-6B intelligence shop in the history of naval aviation which he assembled - I nominated then Lieutenant Commander Kirk for a Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal and the Rufus L. Taylor Intelligence Award. He received both.
When I nominated Mark for the Rufus Taylor award I thought it was more specific to Mark and not his team. But the reality is, there would have been no team without Mark Kirk's leadership and there certainly would have been no award. I can certainly understand why he would have referred to this award over the years as intelligence officer of the year - it's how I viewed the award. And in actuality, the two awards in question are of equal stature and significance.
Mark Kirk is the finest intelligence officer I have ever served with – hands down. His wealth of knowledge during this conflict put him in a position to take charge of intelligence members from the four deployed squadrons and meld them into a combat intelligence action team.
Any suggestion that Mark Kirk did not earn or receive the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal and the Rufus L. Taylor Intelligence Award is incorrect. I would further add, assertions I've seen that Mark Kirk embellished or exaggerated his record are ridiculous - he is one of the finest Naval Officers I have had the honor to work with. His intelligence, leadership skills, and keen understanding of global affairs are an asset that the Navy and, today, the Congress are fortunate to enjoy.