The military record of a Republican candidate for Douglas County commissioner has sparked criticism from political opponents and veterans, with the county’s sheriff breaking with his own party to support the Democrat in the race.
On his campaign biography, George Teal, a Castle Rock town council member, touts himself as a veteran of Operation Desert Storm, the 1991 military campaign to expel occupying Iraqi forces from Kuwait.
But Teal served in Germany during the Gulf War, never seeing combat.
In May, Teal was disqualified from the Veterans of Foreign Wars, with the state’s VFW commander expressing concern in a letter to the Castle Rock mayor that Teal’s characterization on the city website was a “misrepresentation of his actual service.”
“He didn’t serve in a combat zone,” Bruce Dolan, the Colorado VFW’s state adjutant and quartermaster, told The Denver Post. “This is a combat veteran’s organization.”
Ryan Lynch, a spokesman for Teal, said the candidate was actually recruited by the VFW years ago, and was accepted into the organization. The recent decision, he said, was political gamesmanship.
“He’s been very clear from the beginning of this campaign, and throughout his military career, that he was never in combat in Desert Storm,” Lynch said. “He was deployed in support of Desert Storm.”
At no point did Teal lie about his military service, the spokesman said.
Jay Ledbetter served with Teal in Germany, calling him an “outstanding soldier.” Their battalion was ready to jump into battle should another unit have suffered massive casualties, which seemed like a good possibility at the time, he said.
“Some people want to make the distinction that unless you got sand in your boots you didn’t really serve, and that’s garbage,” Ledbetter said.
But the way Teal marketed his military background was one reason Tony Spurlock, the Douglas County sheriff, elected to back Teal’s Democratic opponent, Lisa Neal-Graves.
“If you lie about your military experience because you have to pretend you’re something that you’re not, what else are you going to do?” Spurlock told The Post. “He’s a pretender.”
The sheriff made waves last week when he endorsed Neal-Graves, and on Thursday night he tweeted a list of reasons why he chose to split from his party in response to an outpouring of questions from constituents.
“In my opinion, he’s dangerous,” Spurlock said of Teal.
Neal-Graves said her opponent’s decision to “stretch the truth even modestly speaks to who he is as a leader — or who he’s not as a leader.”
For veterans, any allegations of embellishment of military service are taken seriously.
“It’d be kind of like you slept with my mother — that’s how serious we are,” the VFW’s Dolan said. “We’ve been there; we’ve seen people get killed and maimed — then people who’ve never had any part of that try to say they have, too.”
Joe Chenelly, the national executive director of AMVETS, a veteran organization representing 250,000 members, said mischaracterizations of one’s service raise major red flags. Especially since veterans know the different between a war-era veteran and a war veteran, he said.
“My question would be for that person: Why?” Chenelly said. “What you did is honorable. Why change it and make it something that it wasn’t? Be proud of your service.”
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