There is an old saying, “You can’t always believe what you read.” These days, news frequently becomes gospel as inaccurate information sometimes overtakes valid facts. Some believe the confusion is the result of information overload. President Trump calls it “fake.”
Army Staff Sgt. Joshua Stokes’ military career is not only fake; it’s a sham. Stokes had been a squad leader in the 82nd Airborne Division for about a year when, according to Army Times, a fellow noncommissioned officer pointed out that something was wrong with one of his records.
That NCO for Company A, 2nd Battalion, 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment had seen hundreds of Airborne School graduation certificates when he noticed something was wrong with Stokes’ certificate. His name wasn’t printed in all caps as is usual. An investigation that followed unraveled a history of falsified documents and unearned distinctions in Stokes’ service record.
The official investigation report was obtained by Army Times, which contacted the Airborne School at Fort Benning, Georgia, to see if Stokes had graduated Aug. 12, 2000, as his certificate stated. A clerk there confirmed Stokes was not a member of that class. “She (said) that (Stokes’) name and Social Security number were not on any of the manifests of jumps on record at the Airborne School,” the investigator wrote. Stokes did not respond to newspaper inquiries. The probe also found that Stokes sent false documents to the Electronic Military Personnel Office, awarding himself a Purple Heart and Good Conduct Medal. But the timing was off.
Six days into the investigation, Stokes was brought in for an interview where he answered some basic questions. Unsatisfied, the investigator called him in for a second interview with more detailed inquiries.
“He answered almost half of the questions on the sworn statement before deciding to stop the interview and requested (sic) an attorney,” according to the report. In his sworn statement, Stokes denied lying about anything. He claimed he had gone to jump school in 2002, not 2000, as the suspicious certificate stated.
But there were numerous false reports in his parachute jump log, several from 2003, a time when Stokes was stationed with the 10th Mountain Division at Fort Drum, New York. It is not an airborne unit even though it’s a subordinate command of XVIII Airborne Corps. One thing was for sure: He did jump with the 82nd.
“Based on the final jump manifest from 28 Aug. 2014, real records show that he actually jumped out of an aircraft,” the investigator wrote in his report, “even though he was not airborne certified.”
“Airborne operations are inherently dangerous, and it is critical that all paratroopers on airborne status have received the basic airborne training,” 82nd spokesman Lt. Col. Joe Buccino told Army Times. Not only was Stokes’ airborne graduation certificate bogus, but it also didn’t make sense. He changed his last name from Asche in 2002, yet Stokes’ name was on his certificate dated 2000. His Army Enlisted Records Brief (an enlisted person’s personnel record) said he graduated in 2005. His jump log listed 20 jumps, but in his sworn statement, he said he had eight. He never received jump pay. He was not airborne and never had been.
In the end, the investigator recommended further Uniform Code of Military Justice action for Stokes. What remains is unexplained by the Army, including how it was that the soldier’s often contradictory records went undetected by the Army for so long. A spokeswoman for Human Resources Command confirmed to Army Times that Stokes had been separated from the Army but would not confirm what kind of discharge he received, citing privacy concerns.
“This appears to be a case in which the command identified misconduct and took appropriate action,” Buccino said.