Nov 24, 2011 9 Comments ›› Pat Dollard
The claims of a dedicated member of the Occupy Buffalo movement that he saw combat in Iraq and Afghanistan are not supported by Army records.
Christopher M. Simmance has told several media outlets, including The Buffalo News, that he served as many as three tours of duty in those war zones and that he was severely injured in Afghanistan.
Service records obtained from the Army, however, show he was stationed at Fort Lewis, Wash., for three years and he left the active-duty Army in January 2001 — before the 9/11 terror attacks.
Simmance insists his Army records are incomplete. He told The News he stands by his claims of seeing combat.
“Everything I’ve told you is completely true; I’ve got nothing to hide,” Simmance said in one of three interviews.
People close to Simmance told The News they initially believed his claims of wartime deployments but they grew disenchanted when they discovered he was exaggerating his military service.
“I cannot confirm any of what he said,” Denise Simmance, his mother, told The News.
Simmance has been interviewed numerous times by local media outlets since join ing the Occupy Buffalo movement, where he has been a constant presence since the protesters began camping out in front of City Hall early last month.
* In an Oct. 23 interview with The News, Simmance identified himself as a former staff sergeant with the U.S. Army Special Forces who was wounded by a rocket-propelled grenade while serving in Afghanistan.
* Eleven days earlier, his photo accompanied a News article about Occupy Buffalo, after Simmance told a staff photographer he was a veteran of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
* And an Oct. 11 story on Channel 4′s website refers to Simmance as an “Army Special Services” sergeant. Simmance told the TV station he saw combat in Afghanistan, Iraq and Gaza and he claimed he only has 10 years to live because of his injuries.
* Simmance was interviewed in The News for the first time in February 2008. He said then that he saw combat while serving with an international peacekeeping force in the Middle East in 2001, with no reference to Afghanistan or Iraq.
* In November 2008, in another News article, Simmance said he was taking up to four prescription drugs a day, and had seen four or five psychiatrists for his post-traumatic stress disorder.
After the most recent News article ran, two people who know Simmance contacted the newspaper to say he had exaggerated his Army service.
An Army public affairs officer told The News by email that records show Simmance served in the active-duty Army from Jan. 12, 1998 to Jan. 11, 2001.
Simmance left active-duty service with the rank of E4, or specialist, not staff sergeant, according to Army records, and he was stationed at Fort Lewis for the duration of his active-duty service.
His primary military occupation specialty, or MOS, in the Army was the infantry, according to the Army records, and his secondary MOS was mortar.
Simmance also did not earn any medals or awards that would indicate service in an overseas combat zone, Army records show.
When The News asked Simmance how to reconcile his statements with his Army record, he insisted the records are incomplete.
He said he was sent to the Gaza strip for seven months following the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole in a Yemeni port, though he also said he served in Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
In 2001, he was deployed for the first time to Afghanistan, serving in the “Valley of Elah.”
The Valley of Elah refers to the site where the Biblical battle between David and Goliath took place. It also is the name of a 2007 movie, but there is no Valley of Elah in Afghanistan.
In 2004, his unit was deployed to Iraq. Asked where he served, he said “Route Irish.” That’s a military designation for a section of the road connecting Baghdad’s International Zone to the Baghdad Airport. It’s also the name of a 2010 foreign film.
From February 2006 to March 2007, Simmance said he was again in “the Valley of Elah,” Afghanistan, and, after returning from that deployment, he was ordered back to Afghanistan’s “Congo Valley” in April 2007.
There is no Congo Valley in Afghanistan.
Bret Mandell, who met Simmance at the Veterans Affairs Hospital in Batavia, thinks Simmance was mistakenly referring to the Korangal Valley, the setting for the 2010 documentary film “Restrepo.”
Simmance said it was on that final deployment, in June 2008, that he was wounded by an RPG that broke his jaw and ribs and caused other internal injuries.
What documentation does Simmance provide to prove he served overseas?
Simmance in 2008 showed a News reporter a passport he said was stamped in the countries where he was deployed.
Tuesday, he showed another reporter several ID cards he was issued by the U.S. Army and the Department of Veterans Affairs. The cards verify he served in the U.S. Army, but they do not contain any information that substantiates Simmance’s claims of combat service.
Christopher’s mother gave an interview to a News columnist in November 2008 in which she shared details of Simmance’s experiences in Iraq, including the horrific task of pulling body parts out of the rubble of a bombed home. Now, she doesn’t believe any of it.
When she challenged him on his assertions, Christopher Simmance became defensive.
“Our relationship is severely damaged,” his mother said.
Denise Simmance said she believes his need to exaggerate his service stems from a mental illness, and she worries for him.
While Simmance claims he was in Afghanistan in 2006, Denise Simmance said she and her husband visited their son for 10 days in Seattle in May 2006.
When asked about this discrepancy, Simmance said his mother isn’t telling the truth.
Denise Simmance said her son drove back to Buffalo from Seattle in June 2007, while Simmance said he still was serving in Afghanistan at that time.
Simmance also puts himself in Afghanistan in February 2008, the same month when a News reporter and photographer met with him in Buffalo.
Mandell, too, said he first trusted Simmance but eventually came to doubt his stories.
Mandell said Simmance had no visible injuries consistent with an RPG attack, though Simmance did tell Mandell on different occasions that he was wounded in combat.
“He started with a roadside bomb, then he moved onto an RPG,” said Mandell, a graduate student living in Arlington, Va., who served in the U.S. Army in Afghanistan and Iraq.
For Simmance, everything comes back to problems with his DD-214, the document issued to members of the military upon their release or discharge.
“They’ve got all my stuff screwed up,” Simmance said.
Simmance provided The News a copy of his DD-214 in 2008, and the form includes the same information provided by the Army.
“If it’s not in the [DD-]214 then, for legal purposes, it does not exist,” said Patrick Welch, director of Daemen College’s Center for Veterans and Veteran Family Services.
There can be problems with incomplete information in DD-214s, Welch said. In that case, veterans can and should request a DD-215 form that would officially correct any gaps in their service record.
Simmance said he has a DD-215 that supports his claims.
When asked to produce the document, Simmance said the DD-215 is at his City of Tonawanda apartment.
He said he would provide the document to The News at a later date, and The News told Simmance it would write a follow-up article at that time.