Use discretion in political activites
January 12, 2012
FORT JACKSON, S.C. -- As a public affairs practitioner, I sat in horror last week as I watched coverage of the Iowa caucuses and saw a Soldier in uniform show up on national television at a candidate's election night celebration. Not only was the Soldier in the crowd, he then proceeded to get on stage and voice why he supported this particular candidate.
I knew such actions would not go unnoticed and would cause quite a headache for some public affairs officer.
In Henry IV, Part 1, Shakespeare wrote, "The better part of valor is discretion, in the which better part I have saved my life." That Soldier did not show discretion, and now he is under investigation and faces possible Uniform Code of Military Justice actions.
All federal employees, whether military or civilian, are subject to rules and regulations which prevent us from engaging in political activities in a way that might imply the government's backing of any particular candidate or cause.
DoD Directive 1344.10, "Political Activities by Members of the Armed Forces on Active Duty" governs those in uniform, while the Hatch Act covers federal civilian employees.
These regulations do not prohibit us from participating in the political process, rather they govern how we can participate. Everyone is encouraged to research candidates, to vote and encourage others to vote.
For those in uniform and those of us who are federal employees, showing discretion when getting involved in the political process takes on more meaning as all eyes are now focused on the Palmetto State as the next battleground in the run for the White House.
So what is and is not allowed? Here are a few examples:
Service members and government civilians may attend political events such as meetings and rallies, but military members must only be spectators and may not wear their uniforms.
Service members are not permitted to make public political speeches (including interviews), serve in any official capacity within political groups, or take part in partisan political campaigns or conventions. Government civilians can be active in and speak before political gatherings, but only as concerned citizens, not as representatives of the government.
Service members and federal civilians can never engage in political activity on the job, in a government vehicle, or while wearing an official uniform.
There are quite a few other do's and don'ts when it comes to participating in the democratic process. As a general rule of thumb, don't do anything when in uniform, or in a way that could be interpreted as representing the military. When in doubt, call the Staff Judge Advocate's office at 751- 7657.
Vote, get involved, but above all, use discretion.