KTTH OPINION

Rantz Exclusive: Soldiers who researched Semi Bird detail what led to reprimand for ‘fraud,’ wearing awards and badges he did not earn

Jun 12, 2024, 4:58 PM

Image: Semi Bird is running in 2024 to be Washington's governor....

Semi Bird is running in 2024 to be Washington's governor. (Photo courtesy of Semi Bird for Governor/birdforgovernor.com)

(Photo courtesy of Semi Bird for Governor/birdforgovernor.com)

Three veterans who were directly involved in researching then-Sergeant First Class and Washington State Republican Party-endorsed gubernatorial candidate Semi Bird are now revealing significant details that led to his reprimand for defrauding the United States Army and wearing unearned badges and awards.

They said it was clear that Bird was falsifying a Warrant Officer packet in order to advance his career over more qualified candidates and that they were shocked by the level of fraud.

“I was personally involved in this specific incident beginning in 2009,” a retired Senior Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO) in the Army National Guard explained exclusively to “The Jason Rantz Show” on KTTH. “I was there when SFC Semi Bird contacted our local Special Forces unit and asked for some documentation from his time there. He had not been assigned to the unit and never worked there. This was an attempt to document service he had not performed.”

The veterans are now providing additional context after Bird’s misleading response to the original exclusive report. Additionally, newly obtained documents by “The Jason Rantz Show” on KTTH, including DD-214 and DA2-1 forms, appear to clarify which badges or awards Bird claimed but did not earn, including a Special Operations Combat Diver Badge.

Two of the veterans asked to remain anonymous fearing retribution. The third source, retired Special Forces (SF) Master Sergeant Derek Elsberry, a veteran with 26 years of military service, is on the record.

What led to the reprimand of Semi Bird?

As part of a Warrant Officer packet, Bird said he was in the Alpha Company 1st Battalion 19th Special Forces Group (A/1-19 SFG) in the state of Washington.

At first, there was excitement about slotting Bird into the dive team through the Warrant Officer program. The veterans said Bird indicated that he took the Special Forces (SF) combat diver course in Key West, Florida, which is exceptionally difficult.

“Most guys assumed because he’s a little bit older, he had a Combat Infantry badge, a SF Dive badge, he often referenced First Group, which is the active duty group at Ft. Lewis, the assumption was that he was a fairly senior SF guy,” one of the soldiers tasked with validating Bird’s Warrant Officer packet said to “The Jason Rantz Show” on KTTH.

It didn’t take long for the lies to unravel. The soldier said that, “You just pull all these threads and each one you get, just bulls***, upon bulls****.”

Semi Bird faked multiple documents

The retired Senior NCO explained that once the Company staff started to research Bird’s official records, they “found many discrepancies.”

“I personally found that SFC Bird was wearing unauthorized awards and badges to include the SCUBA badge, foreign jump wings, Afghanistan Campaign Medal (he had not been [to Afghanistan]), Aviator wings and several other ribbons,” the soldier explained to “The Jason Rantz Show” on KTTH.

The soldier researching the claims said that Bird, “wrote three totally fake NCOERs (Non-Commissioned Officer Evaluation Reports) to say he was assigned to a unit that he was not assigned to, and then shopped it around to get signatures.” He said that if this was done purely to get a “Rater,” and if he didn’t fabricate his unit and experience, “it wouldn’t have ever hit the General’s desk.”

An NCOER is a performance evaluation tool used to document the achievements, leadership, and overall performance of non-commissioned officers. A Rater is the individual responsible for assessing and documenting the performance of a subordinate on their NCOER, typically the immediate supervisor of the evaluated NCO.

But sometimes that immediate supervisor is unavailable. It’s not uncommon to get someone superior to sign the NCOER. But sources said this went several steps beyond that practice because it was for NCOERs for a unit he never served in.

Soldiers go on the record

Derek Elsberry was a Washington Army National Guard soldier involved in the Bird research at A/1-19 SFG. He spoke exclusively to “The Jason Rantz Show” on KTTH. He said he vividly remembers Bird’s case 15 years later, because of the level of what he considered fraud.

In 2009, Elsberry was the Active Guard Reserve (AGR) Training NCO. He was with his superior, the Readiness NCO, which is primarily responsible for ensuring that their unit is prepared for deployment and mission execution, when he said Bird asked for a fraudulent NCOER.

“The Readiness NCO called me into his office and instructed me to be silent and listen in. I heard Bird, himself on the phone, asking for help in finalizing signatures on NCOERs, that he had written up, to show that he had served on an ODA in A/1-19 SFF without ever having been assigned to the unit,” Elsberry explained. “He stated he needed them to show he met the minimum ODA time required for submitting an SF Warrant Officer packet.”

ODA is an Operational Detachment Alpha, better known as a Green Beret team.

A closer look at Bird’s record

Elsberry said he distinctly remembers Bird acknowledging he was asking for NCOERs showing he served on an ODA in A/1-19 SFG even though he hadn’t. He said the Readiness NCO offered to help Bird get assigned to A/1-19 SFG “so he could just get the ODA time required,” but he said Bird said no.

“Bird continued to insist that the only way he could submit a WO packet was by forging several NCOERs, and he needed others to sign off on them,” Elsberry said. “He stated it wasn’t a big deal, just needed some people to help an SF buddy out, so he could further his career in SF. The Readiness NCO was noncommittal in agreeing to help out, said he’d just look into things, without saying what that meant.”

It was at this point that the Readiness NCO began looking into Bird’s military records.

“He thought that being asked to help produce fraudulent NCOERs was not right, and there had been concerns about some of Bird’s military badges prior to this, so combined with this very direct request to participate in evaluation report forgery, the Readiness NCO wondered if there was anything that Bird might have falsified in his record,” Elsberry said.

A ‘false Combat Diver badge’

There were immediate suspicions about the Special Operations Diver Badge (colloquially referred to by SF soldiers as a Combat Diver Badge or Special Forces Diver Badge) that Bird wore in informal pictures that were provided by other SF NCOs in the National Guard.

One example was Bird in full uniform at a military ball wearing the Special Operations Diver Badge, according to Elsberry. The “Jason Rantz Show on KTTH” has not been able to independently verify this photograph.

You earn the Special Operations Combat Diver Badge at the U.S. Army Combat Diver Qualification Course in Key West, FL, which is where Bird said he earned it, according to Elsberry and the Readiness NCO. But the Readiness NCO had heard Green Berets had asked Bird about his experiences and “his answers didn’t match up with what others would say about getting Combat Diver qualified.”

At times, sources said Bird wore different badges, like the Scuba Insignia, but treated them interchangeably.

“In our unit, we had a former Recon Marine who had then later joined the Army and become SF-qualified. He related to our Readiness NCO that when he briefly spoke with Bird about his Combat Diver badge, that his explanation made no sense, was lacking key details and was rather vague,” Elsberry said.

‘A complete fabrication’

At that point, Elsberry said his superior obtained copies of Bird’s military record and couldn’t find supporting documentation for a Special Operations Combat Diver Badge or even a Scuba Diver Insignia, which could have been earned in the Marines.

As most soldiers from the Army National Guard will likely tell you, paperwork can be messy, incomplete, or just plain wrong. Giving Bird the benefit of the doubt, Elsberry and the Readiness NCO reviewed documentation from Bird’s service in the Marines to see if he earned a Scuba Diver Insignia during his time there. They reviewed his Military Occupational Specialty (MOS), a code to identify a specific job or career field within the military. But it wasn’t adding up.

“Concerning Marine Recon, his USMC MOS was not that of a Reconnaissance Marine, but some kind of communications equipment operator/maintenance MOS. There were no documents showing he had been affiliated with Marine Recon in any way. The records of his USMC time were very limited, and other than the information of his USMC MOS, I recall seeing the UCMJ disciplinary action documents, and nothing else,” Elsberry said.

Elsberry said he and his superior concluded that his Special Operations Combat Diver Badge was “a complete fabrication.” Bird’s multiple DD-214 forms helped shine a light on the confusion.

(The “UCMJ disciplinary action” is a reference to Bird facing a court-martial for assaulting a sergeant he said used a racial slur against him at the time. When initially confronted with the court-martial incident by the Tri-Cities Observer, the report said Bird lied and claimed he had not been court-martialed. He said it was his first cousin with the same name, before later admitting it was him.)

What are in Bird’s DD-214 forms?

A DD-214 is a document issued by the U.S. Department of Defense that certifies a service member’s retirement, separation, or discharge from active duty and includes details about their service, including assignments, training, and awards. It is updated when necessary, like getting new training or seeing new overseas service.

It’s not a “proof document,” but it helps establish details that must be proven with supportive documents (like certificates, diplomas, academic reports, etc.). It’s different from a DA 2-1 form, which is an ongoing record to track a soldier’s personnel data, qualifications, assignments, and career progression.

In a July 2003 DA 2-1 obtained by “The Jason Rantz Show” on KTTH, a Scuba Dive Badge is listed as an award. Elsberry said this award would not have come from the only quasi-relevant training course listed in his education section, Water Safety Survival. Though the Special Operations Combat Diver Badge is primarily earned by Special Forces, it’s the same for all those who complete the U.S. Army Special Forces Combat Diver Qualification Course, which can only be earned in Key West. Bird never trained in Key West for this course.

Yet in an October 2005 DD-214 form, Bird is listed as earning a Special Operations Diver Badge, appearing to replace the Scuba Badge, which was no longer listed. The same award appears again in a 2006 DA 2-1 and an unsigned February 2009 DA 2-1. And the course Water Safety Survival disappeared and Combat Diver course was added.

“To wear the Special Operations Divers badge, you had to attend the course from a certain date forward. Bird absolutely did not do that, yet had that badge listed on his official records, and was wearing it on the uniform. Then he backtracked, saying he had been to the previous combat divers course ‘somewhere,'” Elsberry said, noting that he had not seen any actual supporting documentation for that Combat Divers course.

DA DD forms – Bird – KTTH – 0624 by scoogan on Scribd

The forms can also be viewed as a PDF here.

‘We came across something unusual’

While researching the Special Operations Combat Diver Badge issue, Elsberry said he and his superior “came across something unusual” concerning Bird’s Combat Infantryman Badge (CIB) 1st Award.

Bird’s records showed a memo by a training instructor awarding him the CIB from Special Forces Training Group at Fort Bragg, NC, while he was a student in the Special Forces Qualification Course, according to Elsberry. He called this a “highly unusual and irregular document” because the CIB is usually awarded as an order from someone senior in command.

The memo said the CIB was for participation in Operation Enduring Freedom as an Infantry Team Leader. But Elsberry and the Readiness NCO found an NCOER and DD-214 showing Bird’s Primary MOS was a medic (91W Health Care Specialist), with a Duty MOS of Infantryman. Qualifications for the CIB are found in Army Regulations (AR) 600-8-22.

“This is not too unusual, as sometimes soldiers are assigned to a position that they don’t hold the MOS for, in order to support unit operations. But serving in a duty position, that one doesn’t hold the proper MOS for, will not qualify you for any kind of award that would be authorized for that duty MOS,” Elsberry said.

For Elsberry and his superior, the “smoking gun” was that Bird never served in Afghanistan for Operation Enduring Freedom. He was in the UN Peacekeeping Mission in the Sinai Peninsula at the time in direct support of the Multinational Force and Observers (MFO), an international peacekeeping force overseeing the terms of the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel – not for combat duty in Afghanistan.

“He was not authorized a CIB for OEF, because he wasn’t an Infantryman, and wasn’t in combat in Afghanistan,” Elsberry said. “In short, Bird had used documentation of his duty as a medic, in support of the MFO in Sinai, to fraudulently show that he had earned a CIB.”

A second Combat Infantryman’s badge for his duty was determined to be legitimate.

Of note, the 2006 DD-214 lists an Afghanistan Campaign medal. A solider earns this for service performed in Afghanistan or its airspace, or in direct support of operations in Afghanistan. Personnel who serve outside of the designated area, but in direct support of the operation, may also qualify. This would require specific authorization from the Secretary of Defense. The Senior NCO said Bird wore medal when he did not earn it.

CIB Forms-Bird-KTTH-0624 by scoogan on Scribd

The forms can also be viewed as a PDF here.

The Semi Bird reprimand and response

As a result of the findings, Bird earned a General Officer Memorandum of Reprimand (GOMR) in 2009, signed by then-Brigadier General Hector Pagan. The document’s authenticity was verified by Bird during a recent podcast.

The Brigadier General told Bird that an investigation found he “wore awards and badges that you had not earned.” Additionally, Pagan said Bird knowingly “submitted false documents for the sole purpose of gaining an unfair advantage against other individuals” seeking entry into the Warrant Officer Corps.

The reprimand also said that Bird “manipulate(d) the system for your personal gain by aiding in the drafting of NCOERs (non-commissioned officer evaluation reports) which you knew to be false” and “enlisted the help of senior NCOs and Officers to perpetuate this fraud against the government.”

“The submission of false information to gain a promotion amounts to fraud against the United States Government,” General Pagan wrote.

At the time, Bird responded to the reprimand by taking “full responsibility for my actions.”

“The intent of this memorandum is to acknowledge the fact that I submitted false and inaccurate information in my Warrant Officer (WO) packet to include false NCOERs in order to compensate for unrated time and meet the requirements for the WO program. My actions constitute nothing less than a fraud against the United States Army plain and simple,” Bird wrote, noting he would take a new official photo and update records. In the second photo, he removed several badges and awards.

A PDF of the documents can be seen here.

Was the reprimand placed in a restricted file?

Bird addressed pieces of the original “Jason Rantz Show” report in press releases and an episode of his podcast Common Sense, vowing to provide additional context to the reprimand.

The gubernatorial hopeful characterized the report as a hit piece from the “establishment,” falsely claiming “The Jason Rantz Show” on KTTH supports his Republican gubernatorial opponent Dave Reichert. Bird has even compared the reporting as a “sexual assault,” and “inappropriately touching a child.” He said the report was intended to “lynch me publicly.”

“I think this is part of the Saul Alinsky’s rules for radicals, right? You keep them distracted. And when they try to defend, twist it, weaponize it, use it. And you know the game. You know the game of the ‘establishment.’ It’s the same game as the progressives. The progressives invented and the ‘establishment’ uses it. But we’re not doing the blame game,” he said on his podcast.

Both the press releases and podcast focused on his claim that the document was “illegally obtained” because he said it was placed in a “restricted file.” A reprimand letter placed in a permanent file is added to the soldier’s official personnel record, potentially affecting future promotions, assignments, and career advancement. If it’s placed in a “restricted file,” it has less of an impact, if any, on career advancement.

But the document cited in the original report was not accessed from a restricted file.

The reprimand did not come from a restricted file

A senior NCO confirmed to “The Jason Rantz Show” on KTTH that both the reprimand and Bird’s response were in the permanent file in 2010, not a restricted filed (at least at the time it was written). Both the reprimand and response were still in permanent file in 2011 when it was saved.

“This reprimand was placed in his permanent record and not the local file, or a restricted file,” he said.

It’s possible that the reprimand was placed in a restricted file at some point. In a press release, Bird released a generic statement from General Pagan seemingly meant to suggest Bird’s reprimand was placed in a restricted file, but it does not say when. The statement doesn’t even say the General was talking specifically about Bird. General Pagan did not respond to requests for comment.

Bird has not provided any documentation to reveal whether or not the reprimand was placed in a restricted file, for what reason it would be placed there, or even when it was placed.

Still, Bird implied a reprimand in a restricted file means he did nothing wrong. But that’s not what that means.

Does a restricted file mean Bird was cleared?

Citing Army Regulations 600-37, Bird implied, but did not say explicitly, that the reprimand was placed in that restricted file because he provided evidence that the accusations were “either untrue or unjust in whole or in part.”

Bird is referencing Chapter 7-2 under the regulation. But that’s not all 600-37 said.

Placing a reprimand in a restricted file does not imply that the soldier did not deserve the reprimand or that it was proven false in part or in full. Instead, it indicates that “the document has served its intended purpose and that maintaining it in the performance file is no longer necessary for the Army’s interests.”​

In other words, it may indicate that the Army believed Bird learned a lesson and would not violate policy again. It’s a point Bird himself conceded during his podcast when, post-reprimand, he said General Pagan “taught me a lesson. He calibrated me. He was confident that his point was made.”

The process for moving the reprimand to the restricted file involves an appeal to the Department of the Army Suitability Evaluation Board (DASEB), which “may recommend the transfer of those administrative memoranda of reprimand when such transfer would be in the best interest of the Army.” There’s also a process to fully remove the unfavorable information from the soldier’s file, if the information was untrue or unjust in whole or part. The DASEB is comprised of multiple members.

The appeal process involves submitting a written appeal with substantial evidence to the DASEB, which then reviews and makes a recommendation based on the case’s merits.

Bird won’t provide supporting documentation

As Bird explains in his podcast, he provided evidence to rebut the reprimand to the Brigadier General: “And he gave me seven days to bring forth my rebuttal and to bring forth my evidence, which I did, clearly. And the reprimand was put in a restricted file we talked about.”

Bird’s actions here, if accurate, are puzzling because he submitted a memorandum accepting full responsibility for defrauding the Army by knowingly submitting false and inaccurate information in his Warrant Officer packet, including false NCOERs, and wearing awards and badges he did not earn.

But if he appealed the decision because the accusations were unjust or untrue, Bird may still have committed a fraud against the Army by falsifying the memorandum taking full responsibility.

Despite repeated declarations on his podcast and interviews with media and the Washington State Republican Party that he would immediately provide all documentation to back his claims, such as an appeal letter and evidence he said he brought forward, Bird has yet to do so. Instead, he’s released misleading or irrelevant documentation.

Bird did release a letter from retired Command Sergeant Major Steven Saunders who said he has “personal and professional knowledge of the Restricted File” and that “an inquiry was conducted, and all allegations were concluded as unfounded.” Saunders’ knowledge of the file, from a position as a superior, came after the reprimand letter and Bird’s response, indicating it could have been placed in a restricted file after a period of time when it wasn’t. It’s also unclear what “inquiry was conducted” and by whom.

Saunders did not respond to multiple inquiries.

‘Document dump’ wasn’t a dump at all

After promising his podcast listeners a “document dump,” Bird released a handful of documents that do not dispute any of the original report. Indeed, they appear to have been released to confuse a non-military audience and exploit the loyalty of his base.

On May 31st, Bird released five documents on his X account, three of which were either quoted or referenced in the original report: the Bronze Star Medal certificate, the narrative of the events that led to the Bronze Star, and documentation by superiors who agreed with the commendation based on the narrative.

The final documents show Bird’s Purple Heart certificate and the orders behind it. But the Purple Heart wasn’t mentioned in the original report.

A suspicious decision on documents

Curiously, Bird’s campaign appears to have provided a supporter additional documentation for them to post to X.

The documents were posted at the same time Bird promised to release exculpatory paperwork. But they seem meant to confuse civilians over the Special Operations Combat Diver Badge controversy.

Activist and Bird supporter Amber Krabach posted an Oregon Army National Guard document to X. It shows an “Awarded” MOS for S00B1O with the hand written note “scuba” that does not appear on the original document. An MOS is a code used by the U.S. Armed Forces to identify a specific job or career field within the military.

The administrative document posted is not a “source document” for an award. It is paperwork adding a scuba qualification skill identified to his Army MOS after Bird left the Marine Corps, but it doesn’t explain where the skill was acquired and could have been added based entirely on the word of the soldier. And it was dated 2001, not after the reprimand when it would have been removed.

“I was informed directly that anything from his USMC record that said he was combat diver qualified was removed as a result of the investigation,” Elsberry told “The Jason Rantz Show” on KTTH. “This is a poor attempt to prove something that doesn’t exist.”

Scuba File-Bird-KTTH-0624 by scoogan on Scribd

The forms can also be viewed as a PDF here.

In podcast, Bird says he was asked to lie

Bird offered a dizzying array of excuses and justifications for his conduct over the nearly 90 minute-long podcast. He did not respond to multiple requests for an interview for this report.

According to Bird, his superiors brought forward the idea of submitting a Warrant Officer packet. He then implies the idea to submit fraudulent NCOERs came from an unidentified Lieutenant Colonel. As Bird retold the story, he indicated that General Pagan was “harsh” in the reprimand simply for him “to take ownership” for the incident.

“When the general met with me, he proceeded to educate me and said, ‘Semi, look it was harsh, it was hard. But I wanted you to take ownership. I wanted you to take ownership. No, you didn’t try to defraud, you couldn’t do it? It’s a packet, I get it. But you are a senior noncommissioned officer, and regardless of whether they outrank you by six or whatever ranks, we need you in the senior officer corps to be that balance for us. To take ownership. You have an important position, you cannot give that away. You must take responsibility and tell us no at times,'” Bird said the Brigadier General told him.

Bird went on to say he’d release documents to back up his account, but hasn’t. He then returned focus to how the reprimand was obtained, claiming it was “procured illegally.”

Bird addresses wearing badges and awards he did not earn

Towards the end of his podcast, Bird briefly discussed wearing awards and badges he did not earn.

Bird dismissed the accusation in the reprimand as the result of faulty paperwork. He acknowledges, rightly, that the military makes numerous mistakes when updating personnel records, including the DD-214.

“Not all the information goes in the system. And sometimes the information is incorrect. But when soldiers or service members do their DA photos, it’s supposed to mirror what’s on your DD-214 That’s the way it’s supposed to work. Are things always right? No, they’re not. Do service members get it wrong every now and then? Yes, they do. No excuses for me. I’m not saying that at all. But I promise you this. I have orders for everything I have ever worn. That’s what I can promise you,” Bird said, promising to release the orders behind all the badges in his original photo, but thus far failing to do so.

The DA photo, or Department of the Army photo, is an official photograph of a U.S. Army soldier used for personnel management purposes. After the reprimand, Bird retook his photo. According to an independent third-party expert who reviewed the photos for this story, Bird appears to have removed the German Jump Wings, an oak leaf cluster on his Army Commendation Medal, a star device on his National Defense Service Medal, and the Scuba badge.

Will this affect his party endorsement?

Some members of the Washington State Republican Party (WSRP) are split on how to move forward with Bird’s controversial party endorsement. Revoking Bird’s endorsement is “on the table,” according to WSRP Executive Board officials.

“I think it’s very important, and the chairman agrees, that we look at all options available on the table. I myself am a US Marine Corps veteran. I understand the seriousness of receiving a letter like Semi did from his commanding officer, and the implications of that. And so that is definitely something that needs to be considered,” WSRP Vice Chair Lisa Evans explained to “The Jason Rantz Show” on KTTH.

The WSRP investigated the allegations into Bird, based on the report. Party leadership gave the campaign an opportunity to respond to the story by providing the documentation he promised, but he hasn’t provided it. It’s unclear how the WSRP will move forward.

Bird’s endorsement followed a contentious vote to overturn WSRP leadership’s initial decision to postpone an endorsement after it was revealed that Bird withheld information about a 1993 conviction on a federal misdemeanor charge of bank larceny. Bird used his father’s name and social security number on the application and has taken full responsibility for the incident.

The WSRP was not made aware of this official reprimand until “The Jason Rantz Show” on KTTH published its report. Bird is a member of the WSRP Executive Board.

Listen to “The Jason Rantz Show” on weekday afternoons from 3-6 p.m. on KTTH 770 AM (HD Radio 97.3 FM HD-Channel 3). Subscribe to the podcast here. Follow Jason on X, formerly known as TwitterInstagram, and  Facebook.

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Rantz Exclusive: Soldiers who researched Semi Bird detail what led to reprimand for ‘fraud,’ wearing awards and badges he did not earn