Was national talent show contestant injured in war? Duluth unit mate says it never happened
Timothy Michael Poe says he can hardly remember anyone from his National Guard unit. Those who served with him can't say the same.
A host of veterans from the Duluth-based 114th Transportation Company are sounding off using social media to dispute Poe's military record as described on the "America's Got Talent" television show Monday night.
All week, Poe's story about injuries and medals from tours of duty in the Mideast has unraveled as not only fellow soldiers speak out, but also the National Guard itself.
Zach Dudek of Duluth, who served in the 114th, said he hadn't heard the Poe story until he was contacted by the News Tribune on Thursday. He said Poe's history with the unit was dubious.
"None of that happened," Dudek told the News Tribune, referring to claims Poe made of being injured in a grenade attack shortly after the 114th deployed to Afghanistan in August of 2009, and by an explosive device in Iraq.
Dudek said Poe had become a subject of talk within the unit. Even before the current flap,
he told of other exploits in Iraq and Kosovo that raised eyebrows, Dudek said.
"He was controversial," he said. "I wouldn't believe anything he said."
Other members of the 114th were contacted but said they were instructed to not comment until the Guard or other chains of command deal with the matter. The names of many members were posted with comments they left on Internet sites about the growing Poe controversy.
On Thursday, more suspicion came when it was revealed that Poe gave the NBC show a picture said to be of himself on duty in Afghanistan that turned out to be another soldier altogether. Poe and his fiancée said the mix-up was an honest mistake of grabbing the wrong picture in a rush to provide the show information.
But Monday's pronouncements from Poe to the NBC national audience are what got his fellow soldiers riled.
"I had volunteered for a team to go out and clear buildings and help out with the wounded," Poe said in an interview shown on NBC during the show. "There was a guy who come up with a rocket-propelled grenade. I saw it coming down, and by the time I turned and went to jump on top of my guys, I yelled 'grenade' and the blast had hit me."
Dudek said the unit was nowhere near a combat zone in mid-August, just after they arrived, when the attack is supposed to have happened. The unit was in a staging zone for more than a month, Dudek said.
After the show aired and questions arose, Lt. Col. Kevin Olson, spokesman for the Minnesota National Guard, gave the military's record of Poe's career, saying he served in the state Guard from 2002 to 2011. Last May he left the military under a medical disability, citing a chronic back injury¸ Olson said.
Poe served with the Guard in Kosovo for nine months in 2007 and 2008. His stint with the 114th in Afghanistan lasted just 34 days.
There is no military record of Poe being hurt in combat at any time¸ Olson said.
The News Tribune attempted to contact Poe at a phone number in Texas but his voice mail was full. The Associated Press also reported unsuccessful attempts to reach Poe this week.
On Tuesday, Poe spoke with C.J. Grisham, a military veteran who hosts a blog and podcast called You Served.
Poe admitted that he had lied in the past when saying he earned medals including a Purple Heart for being injured.
Just before the talent show segment aired on NBC, he was featured on a Texas television newscast where he was playing in a golf tournament to benefit injured veterans. Poe said on the You Served podcast that he felt out of place while talking to veterans describing their war injuries. He said he wanted to have a story to match and mentioned the medals and the injuries to the television reporter.
On the podcast, Poe said he was near an area where a grenade exploded and it affected his equilibrium. It went away initially, he said, but came back three days later. He was sent to a hospital in Germany.
In other accounts, Poe said the blast from the grenade bent him backward and injured his back.
On Wednesday, Poe released documents he said he had shown to "America's Got Talent" staff. The National Guard's Olson said in a statement Thursday to the News Tribune that after reviewing Poe's paperwork, "he appears to lack the required justification to conclusively prove his injuries are combat-related."
Poe told You Served that those from the 114th are misinformed about why he was sent to Germany. He said the military has a tough time accepting traumatic brain injuries.
"My unit wasn't told the real reason I was sent away," Poe said.
Olson said military records also show Poe was not a Purple Heart recipient and that there is no record that he ever served in Iraq. Had Poe suffered a traumatic brain injury in combat, the military would recognize it as an injury.
Olson said the Poe story has sent a shock through the Guard and especially the 114th.
Asked on the podcast to name members of the 114th who could support his version of events, Poe said he couldn't remember any of them.
"No one really knew me," he said.
Originally from Texas, Poe moved to Minnesota and joined the Guard. He said he moved back to Texas after leaving the military last year because he couldn't handle what cold weather did to his lingering back injury.
Poe said on the podcast Tuesday that the veracity of his military story shouldn't be the issue. He said he simply wants to use the national stage to help veterans who are suffering after leaving war zones.
"I just wanted soldiers out there to see ... you can do anything you want," Poe said on the podcast.
"It was a show," he said of his portrayal on NBC. The podcast was one of a few interviews Poe has granted this week.
"Things like this happen," he said near the end of a 23-minute interview.
"Until you actually see the proof, the documents, don't judge me."
The Guard's Olson said none of the military records Poe provided Wednesday can back up his claims of combat injuries. He said other documents indicate Poe suffered the injury that led to his medical retirement while training in Indiana in July 2009, before he deployed to Afghanistan.
"If Mr. Poe has additional information to support his claims, we welcome it, and we will also continue to investigate and, if appropriate, pursue a correction to his medical records and status," Olson wrote.