Skip to main content
Please enter a legal issue and/or a location
Begin typing to search, use arrow keys to navigate, use enter to select

Find a Lawyer

More Options

Note to Military Members: Don't Appear in Uniform at Political Rallies

A Marine stands in his dress blue uniform
By Andrew Leonatti on August 21, 2020

The latest dose of viral cuteness comes from this week's virtual Democratic National Convention.

In the video, delegates from every state and territory happily and awkwardly make a pitch for their state and cast their state's nominating votes "for our next president," Joe Biden. The video was a great showcase of people from all walks of life.

It'd be easy to miss among some more, uh, corny, videos from other states, but the American Samoa delegation's video segment is now attracting the wrong kind of scrutiny.

Using the Uniform Is Unsatisfactory

In the segment for American Samoa, two delegates give bland thanks to Biden for supporting development efforts on the Pacific island territory.

But they also note how Joe Biden "honors our service," as they point to two masked, uniformed U.S. Army soldiers standing in the background.

And now those two soldiers are in hot water. An Army spokesman acknowledged that the two soldiers, part of the U.S. Army Reserve's 9th Mission Support Command, are under investigation.

“Wearing a uniform to a partisan political event like this is prohibited," said Lt. Col. Emanuel Ortiz. “The Army follows the Department of Defense's long-standing ... policy regarding political campaigns and elections to avoid the perception of DoD sponsorship, approval or endorsement of any political candidate, campaign, or cause."

Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, set a bad example earlier this summer when he appeared in uniform with President Trump during his now-infamous photo op across the street from the White House as the area was cleared of protesters. In his apology, Milley noted that his appearance "in that moment, and in that environment, created the perception of the military involved in domestic politics."

Leave the Uniform at Home

On its website, the Defense Department notes that the agency "encourages all military and civilian personnel and their eligible family members to register and vote." In fact, according to Defense Department Directive 1344.10, issued in 2008, active duty military members may:

  • Express their opinions on their preferred candidates
  • Sign petitions
  • Write letters to the editor, while noting that they do not speak for the military
  • Contribute to candidates and campaigns
  • Display bumper stickers on their cars supporting candidates and causes

But the list of what active duty soldiers cannot do is much longer:

  • Make speeches on behalf of candidates
  • Serve as an election judge in uniform
  • Participate in political party activities in uniform
  • Appear in advertisements on behalf of candidates and causes
  • Work on behalf of a campaign
  • March in parades on behalf of a party, candidate, or cause while in uniform
  • Offer to transport voters to the polls on behalf of a candidate or party

Basically, if you want to support a candidate, that's fine. But if you do, you better be in your street clothes, and you better not give the impression that you speak on behalf of the military. (That means no stupid skits about how Donald Trump or Joe Biden "can't handle the truth!" or anything like that.)

The Army has not provided any information about potential punishments for the two soldiers. So while we wait for that, we all get to fight about "The Calamari Comeback State" instead. (Hey, haters, it's delicious, and you're wrong.)

Related Resources:

You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help

Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.

Or contact an attorney near you:
Copied to clipboard