Sen. Tom Cotton was accused of misrepresenting his military service over the weekend — an unsupported allegation he has rejected and clarified — and a former U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) commander denounced the attack against Cotton as “a dumb debate.”
Rep. Jason Crow, a three-time deployed former U.S. Army Ranger, targeted Cotton on Saturday in a tweet. The tweet featured himself wearing a Ranger beret, and saying, “Hey @SenTomCotton, unless you wore one of these berets you shouldn’t be calling yourself a Ranger. Truth matters.”
Retired Gen. Raymond “Tony” Thomas, who served as the 11th SOCOM commander from 2016 to 2019, shot back at Thomas and said, “First, wear your beret correctly. Second, you are a Congressman now, act like it. This is a dumb debate (feel pretty qualified to say that). Need you to focus on more important things for the good of the nation. You and @SenTomCotton get together and work like ‘Ranger buddies.’”
Before commanding SOCOM, Thomas’ 39-year military career included commanding the 1st Ranger Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, as well as the Joint Special Operations Command. He also served in the Invasion of Grenada, the Invasion of Panama, the Gulf War, Iraq War, and War in Afghanistan.
Crow’s claim came from a Salon article over the weekend accusing Cotton of campaigning as “an Army Ranger” without having any experience as one.
Salon pointed to a campaign ad of Cotton’s, in which he claimed to have “Volunteered to be an Army Ranger” and “Fought in Iraq and Afghanistan.” The two claims are noticeably separate, however.
Cotton graduated from the U.S. Army’s Ranger School – an 8-week infantry tactics course available to all branches of the military – and earned a “Ranger tab” to affix onto his uniform. He did not complete the 8-week 75th Ranger Regiment course and earn a beret required to call oneself an Army Ranger, but his campaign ad didn’t say he served as an Army Ranger, or in the 75th Ranger Regiment.
Retired Command Sgt. Maj. Rick Merritt, a former regimental sergeant major of the 75th Ranger Regiment, told Arkansas Online over the weekend that attacks against Cotton for his service are “absurd,” “unfair,” and “almost slanderous.”
“He’s 100 percent a Ranger. … He will always be a Ranger,” Merritt said. “An attack on him is an attack on every veteran who has served honorably.”
Cotton spokeswoman Caroline Tabler told Arkansas Online that Cotton’s claims about his service record are accurate.
“To be clear, as he’s stated many times, Senator Cotton graduated from Ranger School, earned the Ranger Tab, and served a combat tour with the 101st Airborne, not the 75th Ranger Regiment,” Tabler said.
Ranger tab versus beret has been the subject of much debate. The Army maintains that graduates of Ranger school become “Ranger qualified” upon receiving the tab. However, Army leaders have referred to tab recipients as “Rangers.”
In 2015, Maj. Gen. Scott Miller, who commanded the U.S. Army Maneuver Center of Excellence at Fort Benning, told a class of Ranger School graduates — which included two women graduates for the first time – that they earned the Ranger title.
“You carry the title of Ranger. From here on out, your subordinates, your peers, your leaders, will always expect you to be able to handle the toughest tasks,” Miller said at the time.
This story was updated to correct the time period the allegations against Sen. Cotton occurred.