Ellis Julian “E.J.” Laughter is running to be the Democratic nominee for the 6th District County commissioner position. In his formal announcement, published in the March 23 edition of the Cleveland Daily Banner, he listed his record of service in the United States Navy.
Laughter stated in his announcement he “was awarded the Bronze Star and Purple Heart for his military service to our country. I served four years in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya. I was an Explosive Ordinance (sic) Disposal Technician, 2nd Class, and attached to EOD Mobile Unit 2 at the end of my career.”
Laughter’s military record came into question when the Banner learned significant details after contact with the U.S. Navy showed inconsistencies between the official record provided by the U.S. Navy and Laughter’s statement.
Since publication of Laughter’s announcement, the Banner has received emails and calls from veterans in different parts of the country questioning the credibility of Laughter’s stated naval record.
Many of the emails came from members of the Navy community, who were emphatic when making the argument Laughter’s service could not be as he claimed.
The Banner has confirmed the authenticity of the document sent by the U.S. Navy.
According to Laughter’s publicly releasable service data from the U.S. Navy, Laughter’s military decorations do not include either the Bronze Star or Purple Heart, an award given for injuries received while engaged in actions with a hostile enemy.
The U.S. Navy information is also absent of any reference to acquiring an EOD rating — a rating which requires about a year of specialized training in explosives, dive school and parachute training.
The required training for such a rating occurs at Fort Walton Beach, Fla.; Panama City, Fla.; and Fort Benning, Ga. Those do not appear as sites of service on Laughter’s records as provided by the U.S. Navy.
In addition, a multiyear period of obligated service is required following successful completion of EOD training.
Laughter’s record from the U.S. Navy shows his initial induction into Recruit Training Command, Great Lakes, Ill., Dec. 14, 2009, and being detached from his last duty station Sept. 5, 2012, which is a total of 33 months — a total much less than would be required for the rating Laughter says he obtained.
Also missing from Laughter’s record provided by the U.S. Navy was any record of four years of service in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya.
Laughter was assigned, according to Navy records, to the USS Iwo Jima from Aug. 4, 2010, until March 7, 2012. During that period, according to the publicly available deployment history, the ship was deployed to Haiti for humanitarian assistance, South and Central America and participated in the annual Fleet Week in New York City.
The amphibious assault ship is not shown to have gone to the Middle East region until March 26, 2012 — more than two weeks after records show Laughter left the ship.
The duty stations reported in the U.S. Navy document acquired by the Banner show Laughter went to Nuclear Field “A” School in Charleston, S.C., from Feb. 16, 2010, through April 22, 2010; Center for Surface Combat Systems Unit student in Great Lakes, Ill., from June 20, 2010, through July 13, 2010; USS Iwo Jima as stated earlier; and the Transient Personnel Unit in Norfolk, Va., from March 12 through April 12, 2012.
The Navy lists his last duty station as the Navy Medical Center, Portsmouth, Va. That is inconsistent with Laughter’s claim his service with EOD Mobile Unit 2 came “at the end of my career.”
His “end of my career” statement would also be at odds with his announcement that he spent four years, or even parts thereof, in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya.
There is no mention of “EOD 2” in any fashion on his service history as provided by the U.S. Navy.
The U.S. Navy records list only two training items: Surface Combat Center Apprentice Training in July 2010 and Navy Security Force Sentry in October 2011.
The provided U.S. Navy record also indicates he only received the National Defense Service Medal and Global War on Terrorism Service Medal.
Laughter was contacted by the Cleveland Daily Banner and he spoke Friday during a 20-minute preliminary interview about his Navy record.
Laughter said the information provided by the Navy was incorrect and did not match with the records they gave him upon discharge. During the interview, he could not give specifics as to the exact dates of his various duty stations. He also could not be specific concerning the order of his overseas deployments.
According to Laughter, his record is being presented inaccurately against him.
He believes it is perhaps out of “political motivation” or by a disgruntled Navy officer with whom he may have had contact during his service.
Laughter steadfastly maintained his record, as he has stated it in his campaign, is accurate and the information provided by the Navy is incorrect.
He said he would provide documentation and copies of the personnel record in his possession to the Banner on Saturday afternoon. The Banner withheld publication of the story to provide Laughter the time he said he needed to retrieve his information.
Laughter kept the Saturday appointment, but came with only one single-page document — a copy (not the original) of his purported discharge certificate, also known as a DD 214.
Discrepancies continued to be unanswered after a review of the certificate which was presented.
The certificate had three major redactions, made by Laughter, that he called “nonpertinent information” — the commands under which he served, the record of military training and the “remarks” sections that gives an overview of a military service member’s record.
All of the subjects covered in the redacted areas could have helped document Laughter’s campaign announcement.
According to the certificate, Laughter entered the service on May 14, 2009. The Navy record shows his service began Dec. 14, 2009.
The dates of his departure from the service also do not match.
The certificate presented by Laughter shows his separation date from service as Dec. 5, 2012. Navy records show that date to be Sept. 5, 2012.
Laughter’s certificate does show him being awarded the Bronze Star and Purple Heart. However, he did not provide any original copy of written commendation documents that would have accompanied the awarding of those medals.
Laughter said the Bronze Star was awarded for action in Tripoli, Libya, but he could not remember the date or for what action the award was earned.
“When you are working seven days a week, going in at the same time and coming home at the same time, dates come to mean very little,” Laughter said.
Asked about any injuries he received that would have earned a Purple Heart, Laughter said he had been stabbed.
He displayed an injury, but still provided no record that would have substantiated the injury he showed was obtained during military service other than the award listed on the copy of the certificate of discharge he provided.
Laughter contended the DD214 contained “all the pertinent information” needed to prove the record as he has stated.
But when it was mentioned again that written commendations would have come with the medals, he said, “Indeed, as I do [have those].”
Concerning the time frame he says he served, Laughter said that might have been a misstatement on his part.
The U.S. Navy’s record of service from December 2009 until September 2012 is slightly less than three years, thereby contradicting Laughter’s original statement of four years in the Middle East.
The certificate of discharge shows the length of active service as being three years, seven months and 22 days.
“When I said I had four years and I served in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, I thought it was assumed — this is how I expected people to take it — I was in for four years and I served in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya. That is the way I meant it. That’s the way I thought everybody took it,” Laughter said.
Laughter’s campaign announcement in the Banner was provided by Laughter and was printed, he concurred, as he submitted it.
Laughter did not present any substantiated documentation of his training for the EOD unit during the Saturday interview session.
The discharge certificate he provided shows him to have been ranked “EOD3.” However, U.S. Navy information shows Laughter left the service with the rank of “seaman.”
The Banner again requested Laughter to present full documentation of his record of service, training and decorations.
He committed to provide that information on Monday morning, along with a photograph of himself in uniform while in service. In addition, he said he could provide additional photos and copies of his commendations.
The Banner again delayed publication of this story in order to give Laughter the amount of time he said he needed to retrieve documentation.
When Laughter arrived at the Banner Monday morning, he presented only the following one-page written statement:
“I was accused recently of lying about my military record,” Laughter’s statement reads. “In response, I have provided my DD 214 to the Cleveland Daily Banner. The DD 214 is the paper military personnel receive when we get out of the military. It summarizes a service member’s training, duration, awards, etc. Additionally, I have requested all of my documentation as further proof of my service and will take those to the Banner when they arrive. I hope this quells any doubts that anyone may have regarding my service in the United States Navy.
“I don’t know why someone would spread such lies. A dear friend of mine passed away on the 27th and these accusations surfaced on the 28th. I hope that is just a terrible coincidence. As anyone can see, these are baseless accusations.
“Please feel free to contact me directly should anyone have any questions regarding my service, my political opinions, or should you just want an intelligent debate.”
Laughter said he will have to “order new awards and all the pictures I have in full uniform are in Virginia,” and get them to the Banner.
The Banner will present the documentation from Laughter when it is received.