Opinion

Did These Servicemen Really Break the Law to Honor Trump on Memorial Day?

This Memorial Day was chock full of cringeworthy moments, courtesy of President Donald Trump. First, Trump visited Japanese military forces aboard the J.S. Kaga, and wished them a “happy Memorial Day,” which seems a little awkward, especially standing alongside the Japanese Prime Minister. Then, Trump met with service members aboard the USS Wasp in Yokosuka, where he criticized the ship’s design.

Undeterred by their commander-in-chief’s awkwardness, several airmen posed for a photo taken by Wall Street Journal reporter Vivian Salama.

There’s just one problem –the photo shows the airmen wearing patches displaying Trump’s face, along with the slogan, “Make Aircrew Great Again.”  It’s against the rules.

Navy spokesman Samuel Boyle told CBS News, “Navy leadership is currently reviewing this instance to ensure that the wearing of the patch does not violate DoD policy or regulations.”

Allow me to help Mr. Boyle out: it does violate those regulations. The Pentagon has strict rules prohibiting soldiers from public display of political preferences.  Here’s the relevant portion of the directive:

In keeping with the traditional concept that members on active duty should not engage in partisan political activity, and that members not on active duty should avoid inferences that their political activities imply or appear to imply official sponsorship, approval, or endorsement, the following policy shall apply…

Service members can, of course, still vote, speak freely, sign petitions, write editorials, contribute to campaigns, display bumper stickers, and all that – as long as those things are done in their personal capacity. Federal guidelines aren’t in place to stop military personnel from participating in politics in government – they’re there to ensure that the U.S. armed forces themselves remain non-partisan. After all, servicemen and women are obligated to obey the commander-in-chief regardless of the individual or political party occupying the office.

The distinction that matters is one of public v. private action.  Those on “active duty” represent our military in an official capacity. Those who are employed full-time by the military, onboard a military ship, in military uniform are definitely on “active duty.” The play on Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan is, just as clearly, a partisan political statement.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen these Trump patches on service personnel, either.  In September 2017, the Department of Defense posted a picture of an airman, also in official military clothing, sporting the “Make Aircrew Great Again” Trump patch. We’ll have to wait and see whether any official reprimand will be issued over the patches. Meanwhile, one Twitter user had a suggestion for those violating D0D policy:

[screenshot viaWhiteHouse.gov]

This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.

Elura is a columnist and trial analyst for Law & Crime. Elura is also a former civil prosecutor for NYC's Administration for Children's Services, the CEO of Lawyer Up, and the author of How To Talk To Your Lawyer and the Legalese-to-English series. She is a frequent media contributor, and is Of Counsel to Smedley & Lis, in Woodbury, New Jersey. Follow Elura on Twitter @elurananos

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