ARF!….No, this is not the sound that Barney makes when the White House staff is late with dinner. Rather, it’s the beginning of yet another intriguing mystery regarding George Bush’s service in the Air National Guard. Read on for more.

To begin, you need to recall the original mystery of the “torn document” that purports to show Bush’s guard activity in 1972 and 1973 (details here and here if your memory is fuzzy). Question: is the document genuine? Or some kind of clever forgery?

Answer: it’s real. Here’s the untorn version, as delivered to Bob Fertik in response to a FOIA request in late 2000:

As it turns out, though, we have traded one mystery for another. It’s now clear that the document is genuine, but what exactly does it tell us? In particular:

  • The first listed date is October 29, not November 29 as we had theorized before. But George Bush was still in Alabama in October. What exactly was he getting attendance credit for?

  • This is neither a Texas Air National Guard document nor an Alabama document. What is it?

The answer, as you can see from the top line, is that it is an ARF document, as is this record from 1973-74. So what is ARF? I asked Bob Rogers, a retired Air National Guard pilot who’s been following this for some time, and what follows is his interpretation of what happened.

ARF is the reserves, and among other things it’s where members of the guard are sent for disciplinary reasons. As we all know, Bush failed to show up for his annual physical in July 1972, he was suspended in August, and the suspension was recorded on September 29. He was apparently transferred to ARF at that time and began accumulating ARF points in October.

ARF is a “paper unit” based in Denver that requires no drills and no attendance. For active guard members it is disciplinary because ARF members can theoretically be called up for active duty in the regular military, although this obviously never happened to George Bush.

To make a long story short, Bush apparently blew off drills beginning in May 1972, failed to show up for his physical, and was then grounded and transferred to ARF as a disciplinary measure. He didn’t return to his original Texas Guard unit and cram in 36 days of active duty in 1973 ? as Time magazine and others continue to assert based on a mistaken interpretation of Bush’s 1973-74 ARF record ? but rather accumulated only ARF points during that period. In fact, it’s unclear even what the points on the ARF record are for, but what is clear is that Bush’s official records from Texas show no actual duty after May 1972, as his Form 712 Master Personnel Record from the Texas Air National Guard clearly indicates:

Bush’s record shows three years of intense service, followed by a fourth year in which his enthusiasm apparently waned, followed by no service at all in his fifth and sixth years. This is because ARF duty isn’t counted as official duty by the Texas guard.

So Bush may indeed have “fulfilled his obligation,” as he says, but only because he had essentially been relieved of any further obligation after his transfer to ARF. It’s pretty clear that no one in the Texas Air National Guard had much interest in pursuing anything more serious in the way of disciplinary action.

Can we confirm all this? Only if Bush is genuinely willing to release his entire service record, including the disciplinary action that presumably led to his transfer to ARF.

How about it, Mr. Commander-in-Chief? Will you release your full and complete service record, as you promised today on Meet the Press? Or were you just bluffing?

POSTSCRIPT: As always, any corrections, updates, or amplifications are welcome, especially from those with National Guard experience.

UPDATE: I see that I accidentally set off a storm by writing that ARF stands for “Army Reserve Force.” This is almost certainly supposed to be “Air Reserve Force” and I’ve changed the text to remove the army reference. The overall point is to propose the theory that after missing drills and blowing off his physical, Bush was warned that he could be transferred to the reserves for 24 months as a disciplinary measure, the transfer probably happened around October 1972 when he began accumulating ARF points, and ended in November 1974.

The untorn version of the “torn document” is obviously a different copy and was obtained from the ARPC archives in Denver. The original torn document was found in Texas. There’s nothing necessarily unusual about this, aside from the fact that the torn document designates Bush’s unit as L9CHPY and the Denver version designates it as L9CMPY. I don’t know if there’s any significance to this.