To snag a special direct commission slot as a human resources officer, President Donald J. Trump’s former chief of staff had to beat out 37 candidates. And because he was closer to picking up an AARP card than a college diploma, he also needed an age waiver from the sea service.
But in June, Vice President Mike Pence swore Priebus into uniform.
Now, Military Times has obtained some of the records the Reserve Human Resources Board used to pick Priebus in late 2018.
Navy officials redacted names and other identifying information in the records turned over to Military Times following a Freedom of Information Act request that sought “any and all records pertaining to the selection of Reince Priebus to enter the ranks of the Navy’s reserve officers.”
Although ex-Defense Secretary Jim Mattis reportedly penned a letter of recommendation for the Priebus package, it and similar documents weren’t provided by military officials.
Instead, the sea service turned over candidate worksheets showcasing education, military and other background information used when the selection panel picked Priebus.
Other documentation considered by panelists when making the cuts “was destroyed when the board adjourned,” according to the official response letter to Military Times.
Priebus entered the Navy with no military experience. But that didn’t hurt the Wisconsin native’s push to become one of the finalists. In fact, he was the only one of the five picks who wasn’t a veteran of the armed forces.
Several others who were not selected boasted beefier resumes when it came to military service or work in the field of human resources, according to the records.
One candidate who didn’t make the cut had eight years of reserve and active-duty service, while another had spent 17 years in the Air Force reserves and 11 years as a human resources supervisor.
One unsuccessful candidate had served as a chief petty officer. Another was a reservist who had mobilized to support the war in Afghanistan, records show.
Others who lost out included an administrative lead petty officer with a combined 11 years and three months of active and reserve service and an enlisted sailor who had served more than 26 years.
Now president of the Michael Best & Friedrich law firm, Priebus, 47, declined comment Friday.
He was ousted as White House chief of staff in July 2017, about six months after taking the job.
But he’s not the first politically connected guy to score a spot in the Navy Reserve.
South Bend, Indiana, mayor and 2020 Democratic presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg received a direct commission to serve as an intelligence officer and he deployed to Afghanistan in 2014.
Hunter Biden — the son of former vice president and current Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden — became an ensign through the same direct commissioning process in 2013, according to the Wall Street Journal.
But after popping positive for cocaine on a drug test the following year, Biden the younger was discharged, the Journal reported.
These sorts of selection boards usually convene a few times a year, depending on manpower needs, according to Chief of Naval Personnel spokesman Cmdr. Dave Hecht.
Civilian and military candidates submit application packages and a board votes in secret to choose those who will be commissioned, Hecht said in an email.
Priebus reportedly said the death of Navy SEAL William “Ryan” Owens early in the Trump presidency drove him to volunteer for military service.
“At that moment, the gravity of every action we take in the West Wing rushed down upon my shoulders,” Priebus wrote in a statement to the Navy that was later obtained by the Washington Post.
“Everything suddenly became real and raw.”
Geoff is a senior staff reporter for Military Times, focusing on the Navy. He covered Iraq and Afghanistan extensively and was most recently a reporter at the Chicago Tribune. He welcomes any and all kinds of tips at firstname.lastname@example.org.