What is and isn’t known about Ron DeSantis’s Navy career? Records provide a glimpse

By: - October 15, 2018 7:00 am
Ron DeSantis

Left, Ron DeSantis in Navy uniform. Right, Ron DeSantis.

Parts of Ron DeSantis’s Navy career remain unknown to the public as the Republican nominee for Florida governor heads into the final weeks of campaigning.

That’s because DeSantis, an attorney and former Congressman, hasn’t disclosed full details, and the federal government won’t provide certain information.

Through a federal public records request, the Florida Phoenix obtained 42 pages of records from the U.S. Department of Navy related to DeSantis’s active-duty service from spring of 2004 to early 2010. (DeSantis continued to serve in the Navy Reserve after 2010.)

The records provide some concrete information about his career, including legal work, medals and missions, though the Navy would not elaborate on certain duties.

The material often was redacted because “release of such information would be a clearly unwarranted invasion of the personal privacy of Ronald D. DeSantis and other identified individuals,” according to a letter from the Navy.

Still, the federal records are important because politicians or others may talk about military experiences, medals and commendations, but the government can confirm the facts about a military record.

In Florida, home to a large number of veterans and pro-military voters, a military background can give a political candidate a particularly substantial boost. DeSantis’s opponent, Democrat Andrew Gillum, doesn’t include anything about a military background on his campaign website.

But what exactly is known about DeSantis’s military background?

What is clear in the records provided to the Phoenix is that DeSantis’s Navy experience focused on his legal work as a young Harvard-trained lawyer and officer who served as a prosecutor, defense attorney, international law attorney and a Judge Advocate General’s Corps Officer.

DeSantis’s campaign website specifically mentions that he was a federal and military prosecutor — but he did do defense work as well.

But some of DeSantis’s legal work isn’t clear.

A document in the records showed that some time in the period of March of 2006 through early January 2007, DeSantis’s primary duty was a trial counsel – meaning a prosecutor. The record also showed that DeSantis’ was described as a “JTF-GTMO scheduler/administrative officer.”

The acronym stands for Joint Task Force Guantanamo, the naval base in Cuba that began operating detention camps after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Human rights groups have long been critical of detaining prisoners there without charges, among other concerns.

The Phoenix asked Navy officials to explain what DeSantis was doing as a “scheduler/administrative officer.”

However, “Unfortunately, specific details about Mr. DeSantis’s role as JTF-GTMO scheduler/administrative officer are not available,” said a Navy spokeswoman, Patricia Babb.

“However, while Mr. DeSantis was attached to Region Legal Service Office Southeast, there was a program that temporarily assigned (anywhere from two weeks to six months) judge advocates to serve at JTF-GTMO in the Office of the Staff Judge Advocate, where they performed the full spectrum of legal support duties in support of JTF-GTMO’s mission.”

Babb added: “More information about Mr. DeSantis’s exact duties at JTF-GTMO may be available through the Joint Staff or by contacting Mr. DeSantis directly.”

DeSantis’s campaign has not responded to the Phoenix. And in the past, the campaign has not responded to other media organizations asking questions about DeSantis’s service, including the Tampa Bay Times, the largest newspaper in the state.

The DeSantis campaign website states that, “During his active duty service, he supported operations at the terrorist detention center at Guantanamo Bay and deployed to Iraq as an adviser to a U.S. Navy SEAL commander in support of the SEAL mission in Fallujah, Ramadi and the rest of Al Anbar province.”

The records provided to the Phoenix reference Iraq and the Arabian Peninsula, and DeSantis’s duties in the months on or around 2007 and 2008 were described as special operations, special reconnaissance, intelligence and foreign internal defense operations.

DeSantis was awarded a bronze star medal for meritorious service from October 2007 to April 2008, the records show.

DeSantis received at least 10 awards and decorations for his service. One of them was a Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal for prosecuting at least 25 court martial cases, as well as cases in federal court involving procurement fraud and fraud related to military medals.

Other medals included an Iraq Campaign Medal and a Global War on Terrorism Service Medal “in support of Operations Iraq Freedom,” the records show.

In addition to the accolades and the legal work, DeSantis, like other members of the service, had to do other tasks as well.

The records show that DeSantis’s duties included a physical fitness coordinator, a recruiting officer, an assistant urinalysis coordinator (a program related to drug screening), and an awards officer.



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Diane Rado
Diane Rado

Diane Rado has covered state and local government and public schools in six states over some 30 years, focusing on policy and investigative stories as well as legislative and political reporting. She is married to a journalist and has three adult children.