Army veteran candidate criticizes U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks for wearing infantry badge, Brooks says he received it from decorated soldier

U.S. Rep Mo Brooks, R-Huntsville, talking to reporters following the shooting at an Alexandria baseball field, June 14, 2017.

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — Congressional candidate Clayton Hinchman, an Army veteran, is accusing U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks of publicly wearing a military combat badge he did not earn.

But Brooks has a ready answer, telling WHNT News 19 he was given the pin by a decorated Army combat veteran.

Hinchman, a decorated soldier who lost part of his leg during combat operations in Iraq, said Brooks should not wear the Combat Infantryman Badge. Hinchman is running as a Republican for the U.S. House seat currently held by Brooks.

“As someone who has seen brave men and women hurt in combat when answering the bold call to go serve their country in the military, I understand the frustration of the many veterans who have come to my campaign upset to see their congressman wearing a badge he was not awarded,” Hinchman said in a news release.

Brooks is running for the U.S. Senate with the primary slated for Aug. 15.

He said the medal was pinned on him by an Army combat veteran, who admired Brooks’ response to the shooting at a Congressional baseball practice in Alexandria on June 14.

“A highly decorated combat veteran walked up to me and out of appreciation for how I conducted myself on the baseball field pinned his combat infantry badge on my lapel,” Brooks told WHNT News 19 Tuesday.” I didn’t have the heart to tell him ‘no.’”

Brooks said he was given the pin by retired U.S. Army Col. John Reitzell, a 28-year veteran. Reitzell had extensive combat and special operations experience and earned two Bronze Stars among a host of decorations.

Reitzell said he gave the pin in recognition of his conduct under fire and as a consoling gesture for Brooks, who was bothered he wasn’t able to do more to stop the baseball field shooter

Reitzell said he earned the badge nearly 50 years ago in Vietnam.

“I said ‘here is a lapel pin, not a CIB’ – it’s a lapel pin I in wear recognition of winning a CIB from 50 years ago,” Reitzell said. “I also pinned it on the wrong side, so there no stolen valor confusion.  I told him, ‘I give it to you  from my heart, because I know what you went through.'”

Brooks said he received the pin “in close proximity” to the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber of Commerce Blue Origin Announcement event in late June. That’s the event Hinchman cited in his complaint about Brooks wearing the pin.

Clayton Hinchman announcing his run for Congress at the Madison County Veterans Memorial, Wednesday, May 17, 2017.

Brooks said he was also given a pin by Alabama Sen. Bill Holtzclaw, a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps.

“I was not about to insult either of these two military veterans by refusing the gift of their appreciation that they had earned,” Brooks said, adding he wore the badge for a brief time. “I was highly honored that a Marine and Army veteran would give me their awards because of their belief that I had earned it.”

Brooks was among a group of members of Congress who were practicing for a charity baseball game last month when a gunman opened fire. A number of people were wounded including House Whip Steve Scalise, R-La. Brooks recalled in an interview with WHNT News 19, a harrowing dash for cover and his efforts to help provide first aid to the wounded.

Hinchman’s news release describes the significance of the infantry badge.

“The U.S. Army website states the Combat Infantryman Badge Award Eligibility as ‘Awarded to personnel in the grade of Colonel or below with an infantry or special forces military occupational specialty who have satisfactorily performed duty while assigned as a member of an infantry/special forces unit, brigade or smaller size, during any period subsequent to 6 December 1941 when the unit was engaged in active ground combat,’” according to the news release.

Hinchman lost his right leg during a night raid to capture Al Qaeda forces in Iraq.