ORLANDO, Fla. -- Sen. Gary Hart says he applied for a Navy commission in the 1970s -- though he had no military training and was over age -- so he could enter active duty in the event of a war in the Persian Gulf.
At an airport news conference in Orlando Thursday, Hart was asked why the Navy granted him a commission in the waning days of the Carter administration.
The Colorado Democrat was made a lieutenant junior grade in the judge advocate general's corps Dec. 4, 1980, and assigned to the 'standby reserve-active' category, a Navy spokesman in Washington, Lt. Tom Yeager, said. He was promoted to lieutentant in 1982.
Hart's commission carries no pay or allowances, Yeager said.
Hart said he first sought the status, and met the qualifications, when he was in his 20s in Colorado, but the program was canceled.
'I resumed that request ... toward the end of my first term in the Senate and because of a pending race for re-election, the secretary of the Navy and I mutually decided we would defer that request, or at least his reaction to that request, until after that '80 re-election.
'And then after the re-election, the secretary of the Navy went forward with only one waiver and that was an age waiver by, I think, about two or three years.'
Asked why he sought the commission while in the Senate, Hart said 'primarily because I was concerned as others were in the 1970s about the very likely possibility this nation would become involved in a military action in the Persian Gulf.'
The Democratic presidential candidate said he also had a teenage son who was beginning to approach draft age.
'I made a personal decision at that time that if this country were to become involved in that war, that I could not stay in the Senate and authorize and appropriate funds to send young men like my son off to fight that war,' he said.
Hart was also asked whether he still would resign from the Senate in case of a war to enter active duty. He said he believes he is now over age then added, 'I hope to be commander in chief.'
It is not unusual for the armed services to grant commissions to members of Congress, depending on their backgrounds, even though they had no previous military service. Hart is a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
A Pentagon official, who requested anonymity, said Navy Secretary Edward Hidalgo waived the age requirement for Hart's commission when he approved it in 1980.
At the time Hart was 44, but Navy regulations require an applicant to be 38 or younger to receive the commission.
Yeager said he could not comment on a Washington Post report that quoted unidentified Pentagon officials as saying Hart initially asked for a commission as a commander, a rank three ahead of lieutenant junior grade.
He said Hart had to buy his own uniform and that his only known duty as an officer was in 1981 when he spent 10 days with the 6th Fleet in the Mediterranean, without pay or allowances.