The longtime Waukegan police officer named the department's chief last month wrote on his job application to the agency in 1987 that he had trained to be a Navy SEAL, linking himself to an elite, celebrated combat force.
But Chief Robert Kerkorian never trained as a SEAL, according to military records obtained by the Tribune. He was in the Navy for six months and never entered the rigorous training required of the special operations force, records show.
Asked about his military career, Kerkorian repeatedly declined to discuss the issue.
"Anything that preceded my employment here as a police officer has no bearing on my 26 years as a law enforcement officer here," he said.
Appointed in May by new Mayor Wayne Motley — a former Waukegan police officer who served on the SWAT team with the new chief and called him a "very great friend" — Kerkorian leads an agency troubled by scandal and tragedy. Three officers have committed suicide since May 2011, and the prior chief was removed partly because of his response to the deaths.
By adding SEAL training to his application, the new chief essentially credited himself with undertaking "the toughest military training in the world," said Don Shipley, a former SEAL who exposes military fakers online. People who misstate their service on applications, Shipley said, mislead employers and disrespect veterans' sacrifices.
"When you're putting that crap on a job resume, you're definitely trying to profit from it," he said.
Multiple former Waukegan police officers reported hearing that Kerkorian had trained as a Navy SEAL. One former city officer said Kerkorian told him early in his career that he had been through specialized SEAL training before leaving the Navy. The former officer asked not to be named because he believes Kerkorian is a good officer.
Questioned about his new chief's military record, Motley said he had not looked at Kerkorian's personnel file and the two had never discussed his service. His military credentials are "not relevant to his employment as chief," Motley said, describing himself as "very pro-Kerkorian."
"I think he's doing an excellent job. He's very well-respected," he said.
When applying for the department in May 1987, Kerkorian wrote on his application that he had been a "SEAL trainee" from August 1986 to February 1987, according to city records. Military documents showed he was in the Navy during those dates before being discharged.
But his name was not in a database of SEALs or people who have "participated in U.S. Navy SEAL training," according to a letter from Capt. J.M. Ryan of the Navy's Judge Advocate General's Corps. The database extends to before Kerkorian's service and would contain his name if he trained as a SEAL, said Eric Erdmann, a Naval Special Warfare Command open records coordinator.
Aspiring SEALs undergo grueling physical tests and training that go well beyond that of other Navy enlistees.
The core of training for a Navy SEAL — which stands for sea, air and land — is Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training, called BUD/S, said Lt. Cmdr. David McKinney, a spokesman for the Naval Special Warfare Command. Along with intense conditioning, SEALs learn combat diving, demolition and marksmanship, among other skills, according to Navy promotional materials.
Roughly 25 percent of men able to pass preliminary screening and make it to BUD/S actually become SEALs, McKinney said.
Navy enlistees who become SEALs are "the toughest of the tough," Shipley said.
After Kerkorian was hired by Waukegan in October 1987, he received strong performance reviews and drew commendations from his superiors and local officials as he stepped up the ranks, according to city records. His file contains letters complimenting him on his physical fitness and thanking him for acts ranging from ridding a city park of drugs and drinking to helping bust an alleged drug kingpin. He made commander in 2003, and his salary was $105,867 in 2012, city records show.
Kerkorian took the chief's job last month amid tragedy and internal discord.
Three officers committed suicide between May 2011 and January of this year. After the third death, former Chief Daniel Greathouse said he was combating an "epidemic" by pressing officers to seek help. But the Tribune obtained an internal email Greathouse sent to the department Jan. 19 in which he wrote, "These suicides were about personal choices, selfishness and weakness."
Motley said after he was elected in April that he would demote Greathouse to lieutenant after taking office, in part because of his comments on the suicides.