Service members should be mindful of political activities

10 Feb 2012 | Lance Cpl. Jackeline M. Perez Rivera

When an Army Reserve soldier recently took the stage wearing his utility uniform at a Ron Paul rally in Ankeny, Iowa and spoke about his support of the candidate for the Republican primary, it raised immediate red flags to service members, the media and many others, drawing the ire of those familiar with regulations.

While active-duty service members are encouraged to exercise their right to vote and participate in the democratic process, they are not permitted to speak in partisan political gatherings in uniform. Service members are allowed to attend political events in the capacity of a private citizen, not in any way that can be construed as a representation of the armed forces.

"Active-duty military members are required to be apolitical as they go about their business serving the nation," said Army Col. Shawn Shumake, director of legal policy within the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness in an Armed Forces Press Service news story.

Although service members can display bumper stickers or be present at political events, they cannot display large political signs on private vehicles or actively participate in a political event.

"Marines and Department of Defense employees need to be mindful of how their actions may be perceived and take extra precautions to avoid any appearance of improper DOD endorsement of a particular political party, candidate, cause or issue," said Gen. James F. Amos, the commandant of the Marine Corps, in a recent memorandum.

Service members should be mindful of how they interact when tackling the subject of politics and avoid distributing campaign materials in a federal workplace through any means including e-mail.

They can take part in the election process in many ways, however, they should consult regulations before partaking, as there are many specific rules. For instance, they can write a letter to the editor of a newspaper about a political candidate as a private citizen if the letter is not part of an organized letter campaign, or vote for or against a candidate. If they identify themselves as a service member, they must clearly state that the views expressed are those of the individual and not those of the DOD.

The rules also affect families who live aboard military housing, including privatized housing developments. They cannot display political signs, banners or posters visible to the public.

It is unclear what consequences the soldier at the Ron Paul rally faced. Service members can avoid similar scrutiny by reading DOD Directive 1344.10, or contacting Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune Base Legal at 451-1903, if they have any questions.