Former Marine guards California school

Thursday - 12/20/2012, 7:49pm EST

By TERRY CHEA and GOSIA WOZNIACKA
Associated Press

HUGHSON, Calif. (AP) - A former Marine applauded for voluntarily guarding a central California elementary school apparently misrepresented his service history, U.S. Marine Corps officials said Thursday.

Craig Pusley showed up for a second day of guard duty Thursday at Hughson Elementary School, this time in civilian clothes after wearing military fatigues the day before. He was gone by midmorning, after Unified School District Superintendent Brian Beck discovered discrepancies about Pusley's military service and asked him to leave.

A day earlier, Pusley, 25, told The Modesto Bee he was a sergeant in the Marine Reserve and had deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. Pusley said he was unemployed and using his reservist pay to support his wife and 3-year-old child.

Capt. Gregory A. Wolf, a Marines spokesman, told The Associated Press on Thursday that Pusley never served overseas and was discharged in 2008 as a private after serving less than a year at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego. He also is not a reservist.

Laura Fong, the principal at Hughson Elementary School, wouldn't comment on the controversy Thursday because she said she didn't know all the facts. But she said it was a "very heartwarming thing" when the former Marine showed up Wednesday, and his presence made her and the staff feel safer.

Before the controversy, parents in the small agricultural community 100 miles southeast of San Francisco thanked Pusley for guarding their children and bought him cups of coffee.

"In the beginning, I thought it was a good idea, because as a parent I was concerned about safety with everything going on," Amber Navarro, 26, said while picking up her first-grader at the school. "He seemed like a really nice guy."

Pusley, who did not respond to calls for comment from the AP, told the Bee he had responded to a call on Facebook for veterans to help protect schools in the wake of the mass shooting at a Connecticut elementary school. A Facebook group called Veterans on Watch, created this month, is circulating a White House petition that calls for the employment of competent veterans as armed security guards in America's schools, and 2,239 people have signed it so far.

"It would act as a deterrent to have a well-trained first responder on hand to neutralize the situation as soon as possible," said Chad Walker, a former combat medic in the Army and one of the group's founders.

WSMV-TV in Nashville, Tenn., reported that another former Marine, Staff Sgt. Jordan Pritchard, stood guard in front of Gower Elementary in Nashville on Wednesday. Pritchard, who has two children at the school, said he wanted to provide extra security to students and teachers.

Wolf, the Marines spokesman, said the Marine Corps contacted Pritchard, requesting that he stop wearing his uniform outside the school. At no point was the former Marine asked to stop standing in protection of his son's school, Wolf said.

Former Marines are prohibited from wearing their uniform in public, except for military funerals, memorial services, weddings, inaugurals, and parades on national or state holidays.

According to the Official Military Personnel File, Pritchard served from 2003 to 2011 as a chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear defense specialist. He was a staff sergeant and served in Afghanistan.

Marine Corps officials declined to say whether Pusley would face any legal repercussions for lying about his deployment history. However, it's unlikely he will since his fabrication was related to an act of generosity.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a law aimed at people making phony claims of heroism on the grounds that it violated First Amendment free speech rights.

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Wozniacka reported from Fresno, Calif.


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