Editor's note: This story was initially published Thursday at 8:40 p.m. EST. It has been updated to reflect Watkins' response on social media.
Official military personnel records contradict several claims made by an retired Air Force veteran whose story of surviving the 9/11 terror attacks and battling severe combat injuries gained her access to prestigious events and captivated multiple celebrities, most recently Republican presidential front runner Donald Trump has staff sergeant has made over the last several years about her military service.
Alicia Watkins, who retired from the Air Force in 2008 for undisclosed medical reasons, has since appeared on multiple mainstream news and TV programs, including "The Oprah Winfrey Show" and the TLC reality series "Say Yes to the Dress," to discuss her struggles after frequently often spoken to large audiences, members of the media, — and twice to even talk show host Oprah Winfrey — about sustaining a career-ending back injury from suffering an improvised explosive device attack in Afghanistan.
However, there is nothing in the list of awards and decorations contained in received by Watkins' military personnel file, provided by the Air Force Personnel Center at Air Force Times' request, indicating she was ever involved in an enemy attack. A spokesman for the Air Force Personnel Center in San Antonio, Texas, Mike Dickerson, provided Air Force Times with Watkins' decorations, awards and deployments, as noted on her DD-214 discharge form.
Numerous attempts to speak with Watkins have been unsuccessful. On Friday, after this story was initially published, Watkins reacted on her Facebook page but did not address the discrepancies between her claims and what's included in her official records. Those remarks were subsequently removed from Facebook.
Watkins responded to Air Force Times' reporting via her Facebook page, but later deleted her comments.
Photo Credit: Screen grab from Facebook
She met Trump at a campaign event March 21 in front of the Old Post Office Building in Washington, D.C., where the business mogul is building renovating into a new hotel, on March 21. As TV cameras captured the moment, the two engaged in an impromptu job interview after Watkins first praised Trump's military policies and then asked him whether the Trump's new hotel would hire any military veterans.
The exchange, widely circulated by the mainstream media, soon raised questions among several other veterans dubious of Watkins' background.
Notably, Steven Mayne, an internet sleuth who also served in the Air Force, discovered that in 2010 Watkins was interviewed on camera and in uniform by a Los Angeles blogger during a women's conference in California. The video, which was posted to YouTube and later hidden at some point after the Trump event deactivated after Air Force Times began investigating Watkins' claims, appeared to show Watkins wearing a Purple Heart ribbon, which is reserved for military personnel who are wounded by enemy action.
But the A screenshot from a YouTube video that has now been taken offline shows Watkins wearing her dress blues with a Purple Heart ribbon at the top of her decorations. But the list of decorations and awards recorded on Watkins' DD-214 form does not include any record of her ever receiving a Purple Heart, according to information provided by AFPC spokesman Mike Dickerson, spokesman for Air Force Personnel Command in San Antonio, Texas.
Mayne provided Air Force Times with a screen grab of the video. It's unclear why it was removed from YouTube. The blogger who posted it, Stevie Wilson, did not respond to multiple inquiries.
A screenshot from a video, now taken offline, that appears to show Watkins wearing a Purple Heart ribbon.
Photo Credit: Screenshot from YouTube video
Anthony Anderson, an Army veteran who runs Guardian of Valor, a website dedicated to exposing cases of stolen valor, told Air Force Times that Watkins contacted him after questions were raised about her service following the Trump event. She had sought Anderson's help in clearing her name, he said.
Watkins sent Anderson what appears to be an official Air Force memo, dated Dec. 11, 2014, that purports to certify her enrollment in the Air Force Wounded Warrior Program dating back to 2008. The memo also states that Watkins has injuries resulting from combat, "therefore she is officially designated as a combat-related injured airman in our program." The memo's author is redacted. Anderson shared the memo with Air Force Times.
After Anderson asked Watkins to provide him with proof she received the Purple Heart, Watkins cut off all communication with him, Anderson said.
Air Force Times provided Dickerson with a copy of Watkins' wounded warrior memo. Dickerson said the Air Force could neither confirm nor deny its authenticity, adding that discussing Watkins' medical history would be an invasion of her privacy.
Retired Air Force Staff Sgt. Alicia Watkins, who became the focus of attention at a recent press conference for Republican presidential contender Donald Trump, has often spoken to the media about suffering an improvised explosive device attack in Afghanistan that severely injured her back, nearly paralyzed her, got her medically retired, and started her on a path to becoming a homeless veteran.
And iIn a screenshot from a YouTube video that has now been taken offline, Watkins can be seen wearing her dress blues with a Purple Heart ribbon at the top of her decorations.
But according to decorations and awards information on her DD-214 discharge form, provided by the Air Force Personnel Center at Air Force Times' request, Watkins has never received a Purple Heart.
Similarly, Dickerson said the Air Force could not release Watkins' entire DD-214 form, citing similar concerns to Air Force Times, citing privacy concerns. But in an email Tuesday, AFPC spokesman Mike However, he said her official DD-214 records indicate various awards and decorations acknowledging her educational accomplishments and overall good conduct while in the military. Watkins' records list her as receiving she received her as receiving eight awards total: the Air Force Outstanding Unit Award with two oak leaf clusters, the Air Force Organizational Award with one oak leaf cluster, the Air Force Good Conduct Medal with one oak leaf cluster, the National Defense Service Medal, the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, the Air Force Longevity Service Award with one oak leaf cluster, the Air Force Noncommissioned Officer Professional Military Education Graduate Ribbon and the Air Force Training Ribbon.
She several of which she received several of these awards multiple times, which the service designates with an oak leaf device that personnel attach to their ribbons in lieu of wearing the same awards multiple times.
Numerous attempts by Air Force Times to speak with contact Watkins by phone, email and Facebook have been unsuccessful.
The screen Former airman Steven Mayne, who runs the unofficial Air Force amn/nco/snco Facebook page, provided a screenshot of a frame from the video showing Watkins wearing a Purple Heart ribbon. That video was taken at a 2010 conference by a fashion and lifestyle blogger named Stevie Wilson. However, Wilson now seems to have hidden the video. Wilson did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Watkins found herself in the national spotlight last week when she had an impromptu job interview at the March 21 campaign event with presidential candidate Donald Trump, and claimed to be a reporter for a military- and veteran-focused website called Troops Media. Air Force Times contacted two companies named Troop Media, both of which said Watkins had never worked for them, and Air Force Times was unable to locate an organization called Troops Media. After the event, Watkins told reporters she was working as a freelancer.
During her two appearances on "Oprah," once in 2010 and again in 2015, and more recently on "Say Yes to the Dress," Watkins discussed her military history and subsequent experience as a homeless veteran. She has blamed her plight on financial fallout stemming from various combat-connected disabilities, including traumatic brain injury, a spinal cord injury and post traumatic stress.
In 2014, Watkins appeared in a news segment aired by WJLA-TV, Washington's ABC affiliate, touting the therapeutic benefits of riding horses. She repeated the story about having suffered physical and emotional injuries due to combat, telling the WJLA reporter that she served in Afghanistan and Iraq. "I experienced IEDs, suicide bombers," Watkins said in that report.
Watkins deployed to Qatar in 2003 and to Afghanistan in 2006, Dickerson said. There is no record of her deploying to Iraq in the information the Air Force provided.
Watkins The personnel centerAFPC confirmed that Watkins joined the Air Force in on Nov. 19, 1998, and retired May 16, 2008, as a staff sergeant after nine years and six months of service, Dickerson said. She was in the 3A0 information management career field, working as a network engineer.
Watkins served at the Pentagon from October 2000 to July 2004, time that included her deployment to Qatar, Dickerson said. She also served at Los Angeles Air Force Base from July 2004 to her retirement in May 2008, time that included her deployment to Afghanistan.
Watkins also deployed to Qatar in 2003 and to Afghanistan in 2006, Dickerson personnel officials AFPC said.
Over the past decade, Watkins has appeared frequently showed up in the media, — most recently on the TLC reality show "Say Yes to the Dress" — discussing her Air Force history in the Air Force and the plight of veterans. She recorded a video diary documenting her life as a homeless veteran for her first appearance on Oprah Winfrey's show in 2010, in which she discussed her experiences it. During that interview, and a follow-up with Winfrey in 2015, Watkins said she suffered from a traumatic brain injury, a spinal cord injury and post traumatic stress PTSD and had a spinal cord injury.
While speaking with Trump last week, Watkins said also told Trump she served in Iraq as well and Afghanistan — a claim she made as recently as 2014, when she spoke with with WJLA-TV, Washington's has made several times in the past to reporters, such as in a Sept. 22, 2014, news story on horse therapy for veterans on WJLA-TV, the ABC affiliate, for a story about veterans who in Washington, D.C.-area WJLA news station, Watkins said she served in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"I experienced IEDs, suicide bombers," Watkins is quoted as saying in that story.
And in an Aug. 30, 2014 segment on Fox News, also on horse therapy, Watkins again also said she deployed to Iraq.
However, AFPC has no record of Watkins deploying to Iraq, only to Qatar and Afghanistan.
Watkins told Fox that, in Afghanistan, she suffered "huge injuries that they retired me off of." Watkins said she was on a medical hold for five years before , and "they wrote me off," and she became homeless.
According to a May 30, 2011, transcript, Watkins appeared on CNN after Osama bin Laden was killed and again discussed being blown up by an alleged IED.
"I think I kind of fell through the cracks," Watkins told CNN. "And my care was not seen throughout its fruition, and there were things that were happening, like I was not getting paid, and there was no way to stop it. And so that is how I ended up homeless on the streets, because I was active duty at the time, was told that I was — you know, never was going to use my back or walk or anything else again, and I was in this limbo."
Last fall, Other aspects of Watkins' story have raised questions in social media. On Nov. 11, 2015, Watkins appeared at Spelman College in Georgia as part of a Veterans Day event. The webpage for that event says Watkins is a "is also a certified docent for the 9/11 Memorial Tribute Center in New York."
Kristine Pottinger, a spokeswoman for of the 9/11 Tribute Center told Air Force Times that disputed that claim. In an email, Pottinger said "Alicia Watkins registered [to be a docent] there with the 9/11 Tribute Center and attended one of our training session. However, "we were unable to verify her connection to 9/11," Pottinger said. "She is not active in the program."
In a follow-up email, Pottinger said Watkins said on her application and in interviews with the center's staff that she was a network engineer at the Pentagon, survived the events of that day, and suffers from PTSD. "She did not provide any further details," Pottinger said.
Joe Gangemi, a retired staff sergeant who was stationed at nearby Bolling Air Force Base at the time of the Pentagon attack and knew Watkins, said in an interview that he recalled her being at the Pentagon on 9/11, and that she was relocated to Bolling not long after the attack.
The Spelman College page also says Watkins founded a group called the N.E.E.D. Foundation, or Nine Eleven Empowerment Drive. However, that page is the only reference online Air Force Times could locate, and no group by that name is listed in the IRS' online list of tax-exempt organization.
After the Trump rally in Washington, as questions Anthony Anderson, an Army veteran who runs the Guardian of Valor, a website dedicated to exposing that outs cases of stolen valor, told Air Force Times that Watkins contacted him after the Trump event and asked for help last week, asking for help clearing her name. Anderson said Watkins sent him a memo, dated Dec. 11, 2014, that certified she had been actively enrolled in the Air Force Wounded Warrior Program since 2008. The memo also stated that said Watkins had injuries that were the direct result of combat, "therefore she is officially designated as a combat-related injured airman in our program." But the author's name in the copy of the memo she provided to Anderson, and which he The author of that memo, which Anderson provided to Air Force Times, had has been redacted.
But Anderson said that After Anderson he asked Watkins to provide proof she had received the Purple Heart, she stopped speaking with him, he said. Watkins has not returned his phone calls, and blocked his Stolen Valor Facebook page, Anderson said.
Watkins appears to have also may have told conflicting stories about her location on 9/11, and its effect on her military service. In According to an official April 2007 Air Force news release from 2007, from Los Angeles Air Force Base, Watkins was described as an "an impromptu speaker" at a homecoming celebration for airmen who had just returned from Afghanistan. According to that document the Air Force's release, Watkins said that day she was inspired to join the Air Force because she was in New York City on of after 9/11, and her friend was killed in the attacks. But Watkins' official military records indicate she had already — when in fact, she had already been in the service for nearly three years when the terror attack occurred.
"Sergeant Watkins was outside her office building in New York when the terrorists attacked and her best friend lost her life," the Air Force release said.
After the Trump rally, the Washington Post asked Watkins about this discrepancy. She denied saying was in New York on 9/11 and said the Air Force's news release misrepresented her remarks, adding that she did not try to get the mistakes corrected "because she has 'no faith in the media to fix the mistakes.' " despite the fact that the Air Force itself, and not a media organization, posted the story.
In an Aug. 30, 2014 interview on Fox News, Watkins also said she had worked at the Pentagon for six years before 9/11. But Air Force records indicate that assignment began less than one year before the attacks about According to AFPC's records, she had been assigned to the Pentagon for about 11 months when it was attacked. One of the show's hosts asked her about being in the Pentagon during that event.
"You got hurt?" he asked.
Watkins replied "Yes." The show's And in that interview, Watkins said "Yes" when a host asked her about being in the Pentagon on 9/11, and said "Yes" again, when he asked, "You got hurt?"
All military personnel in the Pentagon who were injured on 9/11 were However, if had Watkins had been injured in the Pentagon attack, she would have been eligible to receive the Purple Heart.