Christopher M. Simmance, a leader of Occupy Buffalo, told several media outlets that he served as many as three tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. Not only that, but he also claims to have been so severely injured by an RPG while in combat in Afghanistan, that he only has 10 years left to live. Army service records, however, show a very different story, reporting that Simmance was stationed at Fort Lewis, Washington for three years and left active-duty in January 2001 — before the September 11 attacks.
But it gets worse.
Simmance claims he was deployed to Afghanistan in 2001 where he served in the “Valley of Elah.”
If that name sounds familiar, it is because “The Valley of Elah” refers to the site where the Biblical battle between David and Goliath took place — it is also the name of a 2007 movie starring Tommy Lee Jones.
There is no “Valley of Elah” in Afghanistan.
Army records reveal that Simmance left active-duty service with the rank of E4, or specialist, not staff sergeant, and was stationed at Fort Lewis for the duration of his active-duty service.
According to Buffalo News, those close to Simmance said they initially believed the Occupier’s claims of wartime deployments and bravery but soon discovered he was exaggerating his military service. The News outlines some of Simmance’s public claims regarding his alleged service:
* 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 Buffalo News article ran, two people who know Simmance contacted the newspaper to say he had exaggerated his 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.
The News brings us more on Simmance’s Army records:
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.
But it appears movie titles serve as the basis of most of Simmance’s alleged deployments.
He also claims that in 2004 he served in “Route Irish,” which is a military designation for the section of road connecting Baghdad’s International Zone to the Baghdad Airport — but it’s also the title of a 2010 foreign film.
The Occupy leader also claims to have been redeployed to Afghanistan’s “Congo Valley” in April 2007.
Of course there is no Congo Valley in Afghanistan, but Bret Mandell, who met Simmance at the Veterans Affairs Hospital in Batavia, thinks the Occupier was mistakenly referring to the Korangal Valley, the setting for the 2010 documentary film “Restrepo.”
Thus far, Simmance has not been able to produce documents of any kind to support his claims.
This article has been updated: Tommy Lee Jones was indeed the star of “The Valley of Elah,” not Denzel Washington. Washington starred in “The Book of Eli.”