Face of Defense: Con Man's Son Serves Honorably
By Army Staff Sgt. Mark Burrell
210th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment
KUNAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan, Jan. 5, 2011 For 10 years he sat behind a desk as an investment banker and managed more than $100 million in assets.
Army Pfc. Bruce S. Simms provides security from his fighting position on a mountainside overlooking Afghanistan’s Ganjgal Valley, Dec. 11, 2010. U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Mark Burrell
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
He also dreamed of getting out from behind that desk.
"I thought about it every day honestly," said Army Pfc. Bruce S. Simms, a 34-year-old rifleman. "At the bank, I would sit behind the desk and think about wanting to be [in the Army] every day for 10 years."
Simms shrugged off the shackles of the investment-banking world and the generous pay that goes with it to become an infantryman assigned to the 101st Airborne Division’s Company B, 2nd Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment, Task Force No Slack, 1st Brigade Combat Team.
He now lives on a small, spartan combat outpost in eastern Afghanistan's Kunar province.
"I'm just a common American who loves his country and wants to see great things come from our country," Simms said while resting a bruised leg in his room at Combat Outpost Fortress. He had just returned from a two-day mission in the mountains bordering Pakistan where he slipped and injured his leg. But that didn't stop him from completing the operation with his unit.
"My dad taught me as a kid that you can do whatever it is you want to do," Simms said. "Whenever an obstacle presents itself, take a step back, change your direction of battle, regroup and go back and attack the target again."
Simms readjusted the ice pack on his ankle and continued.
"Growing up, my dad was kind of a hero to me, so I wanted to follow in his footsteps and avoid some of the mistakes that he made," he said.
He laughed nervously when asked for elaboration.
"That would be getting into a whole different story,” he said. “You have no idea of what you're digging up right now. The Army knows all about him."
He hefted his wounded leg out of bed and motioned for his visitor to follow him outside to a bunker to explain who his father was.
Simms said he actually had eight different fathers as he grew up. Their names were Wayne Simms, Kenny Tyler, Thomas Michael Lamar, Brandon Lee Bailey, David Auni, Michael Simms, Robert Simms and Paul Robert Ritter. He now knows him as one man -- David Michael Pecard.
"My dad was a very dishonorable man, but a very honorable man at the same time. It's very weird," Simms said. "The guy, for lack of a better word, was a crook."
Simms' father had a plethora of jobs from police officer to emergency room technician to soldier. In fact, his father enlisted in the Army at the age of 14 to fight in Vietnam. After fellow soldiers discovered his real age, Simms' father was sent back home. Within a few months, he rejoined the Army. In 1974, he married Susan Kwon and took her to America, but disappeared when their second child was 6 days old. Simms' said his father drifted back into his life occasionally throughout his childhood, but never stayed for long. He had other families to visit.
"He's had like eight different wives across different countries," the soldier explained with a laugh.
"David Pecard is probably one of the biggest con men in the United States," Simms said. "Actually, he went on record as probably being the biggest one, unfortunately."
Not only did Pecard fraudulently join the military at 14, then again at 17 with different aliases, but joined it five more times for a total of seven different identities.
Pecard described himself as the Robin Hood of con men. For example, he helped to put criminals behind bars when he worked as a fake military attache to the Maricopa County Police Department in Arizona.
"In my opinion, although he did serve his country, it was a dishonorable thing to defraud his government like that," said Simms, adding that he wanted to try to bring honor to his family with his own enlistment.
"I know it's a cliché that the family name doesn't mean much to some, but to me it does. Maybe I'm a little old fashioned that way," Simms said. "I didn't join the military [for] money for college. I've been to college. I joined not because I needed a better salary. I took probably about a 60 percent pay cut to serve. I joined because I wanted to serve my country honorably."
But the process to serve honorably wasn't easy, he added.
"When I was younger, being like dad, I made a stupid mistake," he acknowledged. "I stole some money from a job I had, and fortunately, got arrested for it."
Though Simms later had his misdemeanor expunged, sealed and erased by the court, the Army Recruiting Command saw things differently. Because the amount stolen was more than $500, the Uniform Code of Military Justice viewed it as a felony.
Though Simms had managed more than $100 million as an investment banker and had graduated from Newburgh Theological Seminary and College of the Bible to become a pastor, his credibility was under question, he said.
"So I went back to Chicago, had the case reopened and had the case changed from guilty to not guilty," he said. "After several months, I still didn't hear an answer and wanted to know who I needed to talk to.
Simms was told that the recruiting command’s commanding general had denied his request to enlist. Simms said he then submitted a packet directly to the general, who a few weeks later flew into town to meet with him and his wife over dinner.
"The [general] wanted to know why I wanted to serve so badly and why I didn't give up and why I didn't quit," Simms said. "I told him, 'The same amount of effort I put into wanting to join the military is the same amount I'll put into being a good soldier.'
"And that's really what I wanted to do," he continued. "Not just come in and be a soldier, but be a good soldier and contribute to our country and our war effort here in Afghanistan."
The next day, Simms got a call from his recruiter to sign a contract.
"I wanted to come in and serve, and it didn't matter how," Simms said. "If the Army needed someone to come in and clean toilets, then guess what, I would have come in and cleaned toilets just so I can serve our country in a time of war. And that's really the honest-to-God reason why I'm here."
Simms shuffled his weight off his injured leg inside the tiny bunker and laughed again. He smiled and then stared off into the distance at a pile of sandbags.
"As a kid, I'd run all the time," he finally said. "Constantly, all the time, I'd run. I was running probably a good 20 miles a week, sometimes 30 miles a week. There's no question when I came to basic training at 34 years old, I was running circles around these guys, because I kept running. I even ran the Los Angeles Marathon."
Running is in his blood, he explained.
"When I was a kid, [my father would] come around and we'd run," Simms said.
But no matter how far or how fast his father ran, the law and the Army eventually caught up to him. In 1996, he was sent to prison. After a couple of years, he filed a motion to dismiss his case, helped in his own representation, and won.
"When I say it's been an incredible journey, it's been an incredible journey," Simms said.