A week ago in the living room of South Carolina’s Democratic nominee for the U.S. Senate, I asked Alvin Greene if there was anything that had not yet been written about by the press that he wanted to get out. “Bring the Air Force discharge up,” Greene replied. “Y’all go and get that.”
This was not the response I had expected. Greene has based his candidacy, in large part, on his military service—a total of 13 years in the South Carolina Air National Guard, U.S. Air Force, Army National Guard and U.S. Army. Tarnishing this record are the mysterious circumstances around what he calls his “involuntary” discharges from the U.S. Air Force and the U.S. Army. In both cases, he has refused to detail the reasons for his dismissal.
Earlier in the same interview, I had asked Greene about his dismissal from the Air Force. His answer was, somewhat typically, cryptic. “I left the Air Force in September ’05,” he said. “I ran through some problems, dealing with rank. It’s a long story. I guess that will be the next thing they will be focusing on.” I asked him repeatedly to clarify further, and he declined to do so.
But less than an hour later, he was encouraging me to pursue the story of his Air Force dismissal. He later declined to help by granting permission to one of his former officers to discuss his service. An Air Force public affairs officer said Greene was discharged through an administrative action, not a court martial, which is consistent with Greene’s characterization of an “involuntary” discharge. Otherwise, Air Force officials said they would not discuss the details.
After serving in the South Carolina Air National Guard during college, Greene served in the active-duty Air Force from July 25, 2002 to September 1, 2005. He served his duty at Shaw Air Force Base, which is located about 25 miles from his family home in Manning, South Carolina. “He was in the intel field,” an Air Force spokeswoman says, adding that when he left his rank was airman first class — to be expected for someone who had been in uniform his length of time. “But it’s a very junior rank.” Greene described his work at Shaw as an “intelligence specialist.”
“I’m not going to go into the duties,” Greene told me. “It’s classified work.”
While at Shaw, Greene won a row of ribbons and medals, according to Air Force records. They included the Global War on Terror Service Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, the Good Conduct Medal, the Armed Forces Reserve Medal, the Air Reserve Forces Meritorious Service Medal, and the Air Force Longevity Service Medal. “They’re all kind of standard,” the spokeswoman says. “So long as you don’t mess up, you’ll get them.”
After Greene was forced out of the Air Force in 2005, he says he joined the South Carolina Army National Guard for seven months, leading to an active-duty posting in the U.S. Army, this time as a supply specialist. He signed up for three years in February 2007, and was discharged from service in August of 2009, according to an Army official. He was promoted to his final rank of specialist — an E-4 rank, one higher than his final Air Force rank – in February 2009. Army officials also declined to describe the circumstances of his early departure, which Greene has characterized as “honorable.”
As in the Air Force, Greene earned a number of standard decorations in the Army, serving both in Korea, from June 2007 to July 2008 and at Ft. Riley in Kansas until his discharge. The Army awarded him the Korean Defense Service Medal, the Non Commissioned Officer Professional Development Ribbon, the Army Service Ribbon, and the Overseas Service Ribbon.
None of this answers the central question of Greene’s military service: Why did two branches of the military feel obliged to discharge him against his will? Greene will not say, though he says he expects the information to come out eventually, and he suggests that he will not be unhappy when it does.
Additional reporting by Mark Thompson and Elizabeth Dias