Bill Conway Explains Service Record, Being ‘Fired Upon' in Afghanistan

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Bill Conway is up with an ad in the race for Cook County state's attorney in which he says he was fired upon while serving in the military overseas.

"When I was in Afghanistan, I experienced the trauma of being fired upon," Conway said in his ad that was released on Nov. 15. "It’s something I think about every day."

Conway joined the Naval Reserve as an intelligence officer in May 2012, he said, spending some time on assignments in Britain before his first extended overseas deployment in Qatar. He was activated in July 2017 and returned home in April 2018, he said in an interview Wednesday, giving more context to his ad and his record of military service. 

Conway led an Afghanistan intelligence team tracking Taliban and Islamic State threats, the New York Times reported in early 2018. He said Friday that his ad references a time in which, while en route to Kabul, Conway was exposed to "indirect enemy fire" at Bagram Airfield, the largest U.S. military base in Afghanistan.

"I got into Bagram in the evening. The next morning, I was walking to get a cup of coffee. You have to put on a bulletproof vest just to go outside there, so I put my bulletproof vest on and I started walking into this field between the housing and the coffee place," Conway said.

"And I got a little bit of the way into the field and suddenly the rocket alarm goes off," he continued, mimicking the noises of the alarm. Conway said he got down and began crawling on his stomach toward the nearest bunker, as he'd been trained to do, but was moving slowly, encumbered by his bulletproof vest. He said he got up and "crouch ran" to the bunker about 50 yards away. 

"I was in there, continued to hear the rocket alarm blaring and I remember my heart was just racing at that point. I remember I could see the bulletproof vest moving," he said. "The alarm continued to blare for 15 or so minutes, I heard a lot of commotion outside and then we got the all clear tone about 15 or so minutes later."

Conway went on to explain that indirect enemy fire is "fairly common" at Bagram, happening up to every other day. Due to their frequency, Conway said the military doesn't make records or award any medals for incidents of that nature.

"They don't give combat action ribbons for it," Conway said, adding, "If they did they'd have to hand them out at the dining hall or something."

Conway's campaign clarified that service members are only eligible for a Combat Action Ribbon if they "actively engage the enemy in offensive counterfire actions."

In his ad, Conway equates being fired upon in Afghanistan to violence and shootings in Chicago.

"I think about the kids in our communities, gunfire near their home, the emotional toll. We really need to get after the gun crime epidemic," he said, saying that some gun offenders arrested over the weekend in Cook County are out of jail by Monday afternoon.

"We shouldn't be keeping nonviolent offenders in jail, but if somebody commits a crime with a gun, they should stay in jail. Period," Conway's ad ends.

On Wednesday, Conway said he doesn't "try and make too much of this incident."

"For me, this incident was an emotionally traumatic event for me. But I was a 39-year-old military trained person. I'm in a war zone, I'm wearing a bullet proof vest and knew I was there," Conway said.

"For me, it's something I think about every day and it is nothing compared to what some of our young people go through in some places in Chicago who have heard gunshots near their home or seen the bullets fly five times, 10 times. And considering how often I think about this, I can't even imagine the emotional toll and emotional trauma in some of our young people," he continued. 

Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx's campaign suggested allegations that Conway was exaggerating his military record. 

"If this troubling allegation is true, it is wrong in so many ways. As other Illinois politicians have found, exaggerating one’s military record is a sign of someone who puts politics above all else," her campaign wrote in a statement. "During this holiday season, there are families in the military, the police and residents in our cities, who really know what it means to come under fire. I know first-hand that people in our communities are tired of politicians claiming trials and tribulations to up their street cred. The voters of Cook County know when someone has walked in their shoes. It’s the difference between candor, and empathy and self-promoting falsehood."

Conway's campaign responded by saying Foxx "should be ashamged of herself," calling on her to apologize for the statement. 

"It's bad enough that she lied to the city of Chicago about her decision to give a politically connected celebrity a sweetheart deal, but to lie about Bill's service to our country the day before Thanksgiving is a new low, even for her," spokesman Jake Strassberger said in a statement. "The people of Cook County can see through her desperate, swiftboat style attempt to smear Bill's record, and it's not only insulting to him but an insult to every single veteran who's experienced the trauma of indirect fire. We understand that she'll do anything to distract from her inexplicable mishandling of Jussie Smollett, but perhaps she should have spent more time questioning Smollett than attacking the men and women who know what it's like to experience the trauma of being fired upon. She needs to apologize -- not only to Bill, but to every single service member who went through the same traumatic experience."

A former Cook County assistant state's attorney, Conway is the son of William E. Conway Jr., the co-founder of The Carlyle Group, one of the largest private equity firms in the world. Bill Conway's father has a net worth of about $3.1 billion, according to Forbes, which will likely give him a major cash advantage in the race.

He hopes to unseat incumbent State's Attorney Kim Foxx, first elected in 2016 and running for her second term.

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