Assemblyman Randy Voepel, R-Santee, is facing an allegation from a Republican challenger that he has faked a part of his military service record, specifically by wrongly claiming credit for a Combat Action Ribbon.
Military documents obtained separately by The San Diego Union-Tribune and the Los Angeles Times, however, show that Voepel did earn a Combat Action Ribbon during his 16-year career in the Navy. The commendation is given to sailors and Marines that attack or are attacked by an enemy.
Voepel is a Navy veteran who reported to recruit training in San Diego 1969, became a radarman and deployed on destroyers to Vietnam. He later served in the reserves before retiring in 1986 as a operations specialist first-class, at the E-6 pay grade. The Combat Action Ribbon was the most prestigious commendation he received.
The Union-Tribune obtained a summary of Voepel’s service record, including a list of commendations he received, on April 2 from public affairs at the Navy Personnel Command. Separately, the Los Angeles Times obtained a copy of Voepel’s service record on Jan. 19, 2017, from the National Personnel Records Center, a part of the National Archives.
Both sets of records confirmed the ribbon.
But Larry Wilske, a retired Navy SEAL challenging Voepel, held a news conference on Monday at which he touted reporting by a blog — This Ain’t Hell — which reported on March 29 about service records also obtained from the National Personnel Records Center for Voepel. Those records are nearly identical to those released to the Times — but without the Combat Action Ribbon.
“I am running for office because we have someone who has lied about his service and voters deserve better than that,” Wilske said at the news conference just off the stern of the USS Midway Museum.
Voepel, 67, was on the Santee City Council from 1996 to 2000 and then served as mayor until he was elected to the Assembly in 2016. He is vice chairman of the Assembly’s Veterans Affairs Committee.
Asked to respond to the allegation that his ribbon was not earned, Voepel did not address the question directly. He issued a statement saying that the attack on his military service was politically motivated.
“I am proud of my military service and my advocacy in Sacramento on behalf of veterans. Hollow political attacks are typical during campaign season,” he said in a statement. “They won’t distract me from continuing to serve my constituents.”
Doug Sterner, the curator of the Hall of Valor, a large database of military service records, said government agencies sometimes provide incorrect transcripts of a veteran’s service record, and that human error might explain the differing records. He said he has made two identical requests for documents involving other service members under the Freedom of Information Act but has somehow received two sets of records with discrepancies between them.
“You have to use a lot of personal judgment. Is it worth trashing a legitimate hero’s reputation over something that’s sketchy? I will not proceed on a stolen valor case unless I have it 100 percent,” Sterner said by phone.