Article By Chuck Hardin.
Richard Guerra is a wing tsun and soryu karate instructor in Austin, Texas. He has made many claims about his past military service, including that he saw combat during the Vietnam War, that he served as a Navy SEAL, that he was involved in Navy Special Operations, that he fought in North Vietnam, and that he trained Navy SEALs and other special operations personnel in martial arts. Based on publicly available records, we can refute these claims. Guerra did not participate significantly in combat, was never a SEAL, never fought in North Vietnam, was never in special operations, and never trained SEALs in martial arts in the course of his duties. He has repeatedly lied about all of these facts for years, including in materials intended to promote his services as a martial arts instructor.
Background of Bullshido's Interest In Guerra
Guerra is a well-known figure in the Austin martial arts community. He is respected as a fighter, but there is some dispute about his behavior as an instructor and his ethics as a businessman. He was mentioned on Bullshido as early as 2004 by an anonymous former student, who wrote about Guerra's claim that he was a Navy SEAL and asserted that Guerra talked various students into spending their own money to open schools for him. (Members of Bullshido have not investigated this second claim.)
However, he was not a focus of Bullshido's attention until July 2008, when Bullshido user 8bit posted a thread in which he inquired about Guerra's reputation. Early responses to the thread praised his fighting ability and made reference to his claims of past service as a Navy SEAL.
Guerra himself appeared in the thread, along with his former assistant Michael Damrow. At first, Damrow appeared to be promoting Guerra's interests, but the two began to argue. Samuel Browning, one of Bullshido's three attorneys, contacted Damrow and Guerra to get their sides of the story. Guerra replied to Browning by email:
GENTELMEN, MY NAME IS RICHARD M. GUERRA, D.O.B.1951 AUSTIN TX. ISERVED MY COUNTRY PROUDLY DURING THE VIET NAM WAR WITH TASK FORCE .77 SEARCH AND RESCUE OPERATIONS IN N. AND SO. VIETNAM HAIPHONG HARBOR, MEDALS ARE THE NATIONAL SEVICE MEDAL, THE VIETNAM SERVICE MEDAL, THE REPUBLIC OF VIETNAM CAMPAIGN MEDAL AND THE MERITOURIUS UNIT CITATION MEDAL. UNITED STATES NAVY OPERATIONS INTELLIGENCE UNIT. ONE TOUR OF DUTY 13 MO. 1972 TRU 1977 COMBAT MISSIONS OPERATION HOMECOMING. AND OPERATION LINEBACKER 11 OVER NO VIETNAM, WE ENGAGED THE N.V.A. AND VICTOR CHARLIE IN HEAVY FIRE FIGHTS ON LAND AND IN THE COASTAL WATERS OF NO. AND SO. VIETNAM IN THE GULF OF TONKIN. ... I DID TEACH NAVY SEAL OPERATORS AND INTEL UNITS DURING THAT TIME ABOARD THE U.S.S. JOUETT DLG 29 I TRAINED THEM IN TAKE DOWS AND JOINT LOCKS FOUND IN THE SORYU KARATE STYLE.
These were interesting claims. If they were true, they would make Richard Guerra a distinguished veteran of the Vietnam War. Members of Bullshido, including Samuel Browning, wanted to confirm these claims.
Getting Guerra's Service Records
Guerra offered Bullshido representatives a copy of his form DD-214 which would contain a record of Guerra's service, but we declined, since it is easy to forge a DD-214 or alter it to support false claims. We wanted him instead to sign a pre-filled form SF-180 to release his military records to us for verification. Guerra agreed to do this. This would give us an official DD-214 directly from the NPRC and would eliminate any possibility of forgery.
Chuck Hardin, also known as Bullshido user Cy Q. Faunce, sent the form, and Guerra received it on January 14, 2009. Guerra has never sent the enclosed envelope to the NPRC, and we have not received Guerra's DD-214.
However, the author also sent an SF-180 to the NPRC, asking for Guerra's records as members of the public. The response was sufficient to establish that many of Guerra's claims were unlikely. We spoke with Steve Robinson, a former Navy SEAL and an expert in identifying fraudulent claims of military service, about getting more complete records, and he recommended us to Chuck and Mary Schantag of the POW Network. The response we got with their help (Page 1, Page 2) confirms and strengthens these findings.
Evaluating Guerra's Claims Of Military Service
(This section contains a number of dates and comparisons that are critical to its conclusions. We've provided a graphical, interactive timeline of Guerra's claims, the historical facts, and the data in his military records. This may make it easier to follow our reasoning.)
Examining Guerra's service records, we see that Guerra enlisted in the Navy on June 13, 1972. He did not report to boot camp in San Diego, California until August 23, 1972. This may have been due to a delayed entry program, but we are not sure since we do not have his full records. Navy Basic Training (boot camp) was eleven weeks in duration at the time Mr. Guerra joined the US Navy; he would have graduated at about the end of the first week in November 1972, but without access to his full records, it is difficult for us to pinpoint his exact graduation date. We believe it was probably no earlier than October 25, 1972, and no later than November 15, 1972.
On March 1, 1973, Guerra's records note that he had been on board the USS Jouett DLG-29 for less than 90 days. There is a late entry after that dated December 31, 1972, indicating that Guerra was promoted to the rank of Seaman's Apprentice. We are uncertain whether this means that Guerra was actually on board the Jouett at that time or whether the late entry was made in support of a naval formality.
Without access to Guerra's detailed records, we cannot tell more than that at this time, but Guerra has refused to sign the SF-180 to make that possible.
According to Jim Jordan, the vice-president of the USS Jouett Association who served on the Jouett from November 1971 to December 1974, the Jouett was out at sea between November 1972 and March 1973. The Navy would have had to transport Guerra to the Jouett in order for him to have been on board.
Because Guerra had been aboard the Jouett for less than 90 days as of March 1, 1973, the earliest date he could have been aboard the Jouett is December 1, 1972, and he may not have been aboard at that time. According to Jim Jordan, the Jouett returned to port in March 1973. This may have been the first opportunity for Guerra to have come on board the Jouett.
In any case, the beginning of Guerra's active service on the Jouett was no earlier than December 1, 1972, and probably no later than March 1, 1973.
Jim Jordan also informed us that the Jouett stayed in San Diego until June 1974. Therefore, from March 1973 to June 1974, Guerra could not have gone overseas.
The Jouett was a Belknap-class cruiser, designed for anti-aircraft and anti-submarine warfare. It was not a brown-water boat (i.e., not to be deployed in a river) and its mission was not supporting land combat.
Guerra claimed to have participated in Operation Linebacker II (which he erroneously referred to as "Operation Linebacker 11"), a major aerial bombardment campaign of the Vietnam War. This operation took place from December 18 to December 29, 1972. This coincides with a brief part of Guerra's possible period of active service, and Jordan confirmed that the Jouett acted in support of that operation. However, it seems unlikely that Guerra, a new addition to the crew with no special training, would have participated in any meaningful way in that operation. Even if Guerra was on board the Jouett at the time, his claim of participation in Operation Linebacker II is exaggerated at best.
Guerra's claims of combat service in Vietnam are much less likely. The Paris Peace Accords, which were signed on January 27, 1973, ended all American combat operations in Vietnam. This predates all but a very brief period of Guerra's possible service. Furthermore, Guerra received no training for land combat, and the Jouett's mission would not have been consistent with that role. Richard Guerra did not have any land combat experience as a member of the Jouett's crew.
Guerra also claimed to have participated in Operation Homecoming, in which American POWs were exchanged and transported home. This operation took place from February 12 to April 4, 1973, after America's participation in combat operations in Vietnam had ended, and was primarily carried out by the US Air Force. Jim Jordan states that the Jouett's mission from the end of the war until March 1973 was to warn ships away from Haiphong Harbor, since it was still mined. This is inconsistent with participation in Operation Homecoming. Even if Guerra was on board the Jouett during this period, he did not participate meaningfully in that operation.
Guerra also said that he trained Navy SEALs and "intel units" aboard the Jouett in Soryu karate. This is very unlikely. Jim Jordan stated: "At no time did we have Seals on board." Furthermore, Steve Robinson does not believe Guerra's claim:
Guerra sure as hell didn't instruct any SEALs in hand-to-hand combat or martial arts techniques. At the age of 19 (his statement), most of the UDT "Frogmen" who might have been temporarily assigned to ride the Jouett from one place to another wouldn't have had anything to do with the man, and would have been several years older than him ... and far more adept at martial arts.
Additionally, Guerra's service record contains no indication of any Navy training in how to instruct anyone in anything. His only military education was a course in defensive driving. Guerra would not have been entrusted with teaching martial arts to special operations personnel without being taught how to train people. He certainly could not have been a SEAL himself, as that training would have appeared in his records.
Guerra's claimed medals match the list of authorized medals in his Navy records. However, none of his medals denote exceptional individual performance or combat service of any kind. The National Defense Service Medal is issued to anyone who served on active duty in the U.S. military long enough to complete Basic Training (boot camp). The Vietnam Service Medal and the Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal are likewise accounted for by Guerra's known period of service. Both of these medals were earned by every member of the ship's crew serving on that particular deployment; neither denote exceptional individual performance or combat service. The Meritorious Unit Commendation was also awarded to the entire USS Jouett's crew in recognition of their outstanding performance during the deployment, and does not imply any individual distinction on Guerra's part.
Steve Robinson concludes:
After receiving the initial reports regarding Mr. GUERRA and the claims he has offered, I first confirmed that his name is not listed in the SEAL Database. After reviewing those claims further, my original assessment was "I'm betting Guerra was an unremarkable member of the ship's crew for a short time, who then got out of the Navy entirely ... followed by a burgeoning love affair with 'his version' of his favorite martial arts form, and his growing/evolving tales of having 'worked with the SEALs' and having 'instructed the SEALs'."
I find nothing whatsoever in Mr. GUERRA's military service records which would lead me to abjure my original statement. Mr. GUERRA's claims of instructing Navy SEALs in martial arts, and of participation in combat actions ashore of any kind have absolutely no merit or basis in fact. My original evaluation stands unmodified.
Upon reviewing Mr. GUERRA's actual military record as provided by the National Personnel Record Center, I noted that he had barely served two years in the US Navy, and that he effectively went directly from Basic Training (boot camp) to service aboard the USS JOUETT with no profession/skill training. Seaman Recruit Richard Guerra, newly graduated from Navy basic training "boot camp" and with no supplemental training of any kind other than a Defensive Driving course, joined that ship's crew at the beginning of December 1972, and on 27 January 1973 the Paris Peace Accords were signed, ending all US combat operations in Vietnam. From that date until the USS JOUETT departed the area for return to US waters, the ship was primarily involved in warning other vessels away from Haiphong harbor as the area was seeded with mines. While it may be presumed that every US Navy ship, plane, and unit stood ready to support Operation Homecoming ‚Äì the conveying of the returned US POWs to their home soil ‚Äì that operation was not combat related and was primarily accomplished by the USAF.
Guerra's Changing History
This leaves us with only one question: Why do so many of Richard Guerra's past students think he was a SEAL? Did they all mistake his claims of training SEALs with his having been a SEAL?
There is ample public information to indicate that Guerra is the source of this confusion. He has told many mutually inconsistent stories about his service.
An article by the Austin American-Statesman on August 15, 1985 ("Company planning to make film here", South Neighbor section, page 1) contained the following claim by Guerra:
"Vietnam vets are not portrayed realistically in movies today," said Guerra, who served in North Vietnam for 12 months.
This is false; Guerra was not in Vietnam for twelve months. At most, he was in the vicinity of Vietnam for two months during the war and one month afterward.
He made more elaborate and detailed claims in another article in the Austin American-Statesman on October 22, 1987 ("Austinite ready to begin own film in East Austin", East Neighbor section, page 4), which included the following:
...the story was written by Guerra and is based on his experiences in the Navy's Special Operations Intelligence Unit while stationed in North Vietnam in 1972-1974.
This is false; Guerra never served in such a unit, and was not stationed in North Vietnam during those dates. In fact, as Steve Robinson has observed, no American troops were stationed there; some of them conducted operations there, but they would be stationed in friendly territory. This error suggests that Guerra does not know much about the realities of military combat.
In an article in The Daily Texan on November 12, 2003, Guerra escalated his claims, identifying himself as a Navy SEAL.
In a post on the USS Jouett Association public forum on May 2, 2006, a poster who identified himself as Guerra, whose identity was verified by the Association, and whose IP traced back to Texas, claimed:
I was aboard the USS Jouett in 1972 I was a member of the Navy Seal Team #3.I remeber being in the cic on certain occasions while conducting combat ops in North Vietnam.Operation line backer 2 and operation homecoming the release of p.o.w.s.Does anybody remember me?
The claim is impossible in any event, since Seal Team Three was not created until 1983, nine years after Guerra was discharged from the Navy.
At other times, Guerra claimed he was not in Vietnam during this period. For example, in a post on the Ving Tsun Forum on May 15, 2005, user aquaflow claimed that "Richard Guerra indeed trained in WT in Taiwan in 1972 and continued his training until 1979". Guerra's military record makes this claim impossible, and the email address for aquaflow belongs to Daniel Huitron, a current and loyal student of Guerra's.
In soryu_fom, the Yahoo group Guerra founded for discussing himself and his private Soryu Karate federation, he posted a promotional message with more claims:
he taught commando personnel during the viet nam war. he was serving his country in n. and so. vietnam and was in a spec op unit . his skills are with the knive.
Guerra signed the post as "greg larson retired u.s navy spec ops captain u.s navy", but it was posted under his account, so he presumably endorses the statement. The claim is clearly false; Guerra was in no special operations unit and taught no "commando personnel".
By the time Guerra came to Bullshido.net, he had stopped claiming to have been a SEAL, but continued to falsify his military history. As we see from his announcement on the Yahoo group, he uses these false claims as a part of efforts to advertise his services as a martial arts instructor.
Guerra also seems to have repeatedly altered his biography to suit his immediate goals. Before he was investigated, he claimed to have actually been a SEAL. Once under scrutiny, he revised his story to say that he trained SEALs, but stopped short of asserting he ever was one. When one of his students represented him on a Ving Tsun forum, he claimed yet another training history that contradicted any SEAL affiliation whatsoever but established his bona fides in wing tsun.
All of these claims are contradicted by the documented facts of Guerra's Navy service.
Guerra's Reaction To The Investigation
Richard Guerra has been given every opportunity to respond to this investigation as it has progressed. At first he appeared to cooperate with the Bullshido investigation, but soon grew intractable. He never sent in his signed SF-180 despite repeated assurances that he would do so. The turning point probably came when we emailed him some specific questions about his service. From that point on, Guerra did not respond to emails, and would never take a call. He asked us to call him back at various later times, and would never pick up the phone when we called him back at those times. After a while, Guerra stopped answering his phone altogether, and never returned any messages.
Finally, we decided to stop being deferential. We published a post on Guerra's discussion thread on Bullshido challenging him to respond to our calls. That got Guerra's attention. He logged on under a new user account, richguerra, and replied:
my grandmother passed away on the 17th march,,, and no i am no coward...
We replied in turn, mentioning that his reluctance to reply began well before that date and we were not asking much of him. Minutes later, Guerra called us and left a long and rambling message claiming that we were harassing him and demanding that he not be called any more. We replied publicly, agreeing to stop calling him, inviting him to call us, and warning him that the investigation would proceed either way.
At this writing, Richard Guerra has not called back.
He has, however, used his alleged time of mourning to do other things: making threats to disrupt a judo seminar held by Coach Joshua Artigue, derailing a thread on wing tsun by implying that MMA fighters are homosexual, accusing others of being racist while showering them with obscenities, and issuing challenges and calling people names.
Guerra has had plenty of time to respond to questions about his background. He has not done so in spite of repeated efforts to contact him.
We invite Guerra to respond openly and truthfully to this investigation. If he has facts which call our findings into doubt, we will look into them, and we will revise our findings if this new information proves them wrong. If he wants to admit his past fraud and come clean, we will make that public as well; we will publish his retraction and apology, and we will announce his truthful intentions.
We thank Steve Robinson, Chuck and Mary Schantag of the POW Network, the Austin History Center, the archivists and researchers at the National Personnel Records Center, Georgette Oden, and the USS Jouett Association for their help in researching facts used in this article.