The Unsolved Mystery of Ron DeSantis’ Alleged Wartime Photo

He says he was deployed to Iraq. We have no real reason to believe otherwise. But is the Governor of Florida lying about this photo?

The Unsolved Mystery of Ron DeSantis’ Alleged Wartime Photo

He says he was deployed to Iraq. We have no real reason to believe otherwise. But is the Governor of Florida lying about this photo?

A few weeks back, I was reading an old article about Ron DeSantis from his time campaigning in Florida, and I came across this photograph.

It, along with its caption (“DeSantis poses for a photo in Iraq. Courtesy of the Ron DeSantis campaign”), struck me as somewhat odd.

You ask why, dear Reader?

Well, it’s because I worked in Iraq for many years.

Spending a long while in any place is bound to imbue ones’ memories with a certain quality, such that photographs from that time and place evoke immediate recognition many years later.

However, in this photo, supposedly taken in Iraq, there were several things I couldn’t reconcile; various elements which confused me. I thought about them, then wrote out my thoughts in a thread on Twitter:

  • I had a job where I worked on these vehicles in Iraq. It’s unusual to see one without any markings. In fact, this HMMWV looks so clean, it could be fresh from a factory.
  • The right mirror was not angled-it wasn’t being driven?
  • Same with his Kevlar and boots, which show no signs of wear whatsoever (no cover on his helmet…?)
  • What is that tape on the barrel of his rifle?
  • Not sure why kitted out with Mechanix gloves when the man hasn’t seen a day of work with those soft hands in his life
  • The covered area just behind the wall and the vehicle up against the wall behind this one make me think this is a motorpool. I first thought this could be NTC at Fort Irwin, but the wall looks authentic (not built at NTC), also vaguely oddly familiar with its missing brick.

I wasn’t the only one who thought it was weird, with others chiming in.

Another wartime veteran said,

I speculated further,

Media Investigations

The Florida Phoenix confirmed some details of DeSantis’ military record via public records request in the run-up to the Florida elections in 2018.

DeSantis appears to have been deployed to Iraq from October 2007 to April 2008, while his campaign website claimed he “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 Phoenix also noted,

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 Tampa Bay Times had previously escalated the public’s knowledge gaps with regard to DeSantis’ military experience, having published an article asking pointed questions about his service record (and his unwillingness to discuss it) just one month prior.

Tampa Bay Times writers apparently felt the candidate for governor’s refusal to discuss his service record was so unusual of a flag, it merited inclusion to the subheading:

DeSantis’ campaign declined to make the candidate available to discuss the experience.

The gist of the article is that DeSantis’ military record was used as a key credential which qualified him for the Governorship of the State of Florida. However, details about his work during this period of his life have been unavailable for voters to consider.

The photo in question is described as,

DeSantis, clad in camouflage, holding an M4 carbine assault rifle in the [sic] Iraq.

I couldn’t find any other photos of Ron DeSantis actually in Iraq except for the following photograph drawn from a Miami Herald repost of the Tampa Bay Times article, having had the caption: (“Republican candidate for Florida governor Ron DeSantis as a Navy JAG lawyer serving in Iraq in 2007. Courtesy of the DeSantis campaign”).

This one looked more authentic to my eyes, although likely to be heavily cropped, because he appears to be standing in front of a display map on the wall near an American flag and guidon, as would commonly be used for decoration in a command post or an office setting. The uniform looks about right for 2007.

The background probably reads “Operation Iraqi Freedom”, and the “bone frog” on the poster/wall is a common Navy SEAL motif.

If DeSantis did serve in Iraq, why are we still talking about this?

Well, for one, DeSantis’ odious Press Secretary Christina Pushaw has used the photograph herself to address a Twitter user’s offhand comment, and has previously leveraged DeSantis’ veteran status to rebut negative statements about him.

The image is oft-used by DeSantis’ supporters to lionize him and promote his supposed fitness for office; I found myriad statements from people across several platforms stating they voted for him in part due to his military record.

And then there’s the small matter of the (fake???) rifle

Navy veteran, intelligence analyst, author and media pundit Malcolm Nance, among various other eagle-eyed Twitter users, suggested the specific upper portion of the rifle in DeSantis’ hands is actually a training device.

A training rifle would typically not be issued to a deployed officer in an active zone of hostilities.

I was able to find similar-looking conversion kits for sale advertised for use with Colt AR-15 rifles (also compatible with the U.S. Military’s M4/M16’s) on the vendor’s website.

Vendor website showing a conversion kit which turns a killing machine into a training machine.
An AR-15 conversion kit similar to the one installed on DeSantis’ rifle in “Iraq”

The product manual may explain a bit more about the odd coloring on the barrel of the rifle DeSantis is holding in the photograph:

I was able to find that SEAL teams have used these training rifles in an allied Middle-Eastern country often leveraged for training operations, Bahrain, in 2012.

Questions remain: Where was the photograph actually taken? Did Ron DeSantis’ campaign misrepresent the story behind this photo?

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