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Military service restricts political participation

Posted 9/13/2012   Updated 9/13/2012 Email story   Print story


9/13/2012 - DOVER AIR FORCE BASE, Del. -- As the country nears a presidential election this fall, reservists should review Air Force policies that apply to their participation in the political process even when they are in non-duty status, said the 512th Airlift Wing's staff judge advocate.

Of particular concern this campaign to Lt. Col. Christopher W. Dentel, the wing's top legal expert, is Airmen sharing political positions via social media.

"In general, the Air Force views personal social media sites positively and respects the rights of our
service members as Americans to use them to express themselves," he said. "However, by the nature of our profession, we are always on the record and must represent our core values."

Air Force policy is that Airmen engaging in social media should not bring discredit upon themselves or the service.

"They are to use their best judgment because their writings can have serious consequences up to and including prosecution under the Uniform Code of Military Justice," said Dentel.

The Air Force has an instruction of which Airmen should be aware to help keep them from crossing the line when it comes to political activities, said Capt. Jeremy Mooney of the 28th Bomb Wing Judge Advocate staff, Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D.
"Voting is a constitutional right. While it is important to exercise our constitutional rights, it is also important to remember that military members are servants to the Constitution," Mooney wrote in a commentary distributed this week via the official Air Force website, www.af.mil. "It provides for a military that is directly controlled by civilian authorities and there are rules that military members must follow."

Air Force Instruction 51-902, Political Activities by Members of the U.S. Air Force, outlines what political activities service members can undertake. It is a punitive instruction, meaning members of the armed forces can be court-martialed or offered nonjudicial punishment such as an Article 15 for violating the provisions outlined in it.
Some guidelines and restrictions arise from these regulations, directives and instructions.

Military members should:
· Become informed of the issues and the positions of the candidates.
· Register to vote, and then vote.

Military members may:
· Express personal political opinions. There can be no indication, however, that such opinion represents that of the Air Force.
· Attend political meetings or rallies while not in uniform.
· Display small political stickers on private vehicles.
· Wear political buttons while not in uniform and not on duty.
· Make monetary contributions to a political organization or political committee favoring a particular candidate.

Military members may not:
· Make a campaign contribution to, or receive or solicit (on one's own behalf) a campaign contribution from, any other member of the armed forces on active duty, or an officer or employee of the federal government, for promoting a political objective or cause.
· Participate in partisan political management, campaigns and conventions or make public speeches in the course of such activity.
· Serve in an official capacity for partisan political organizations.
· Speak before a partisan political gathering of any kind or promoting a partisan political party or candidate.
· March or ride in a partisan political parade.
· Display a partisan political sign, poster, banner or similar device visible to the public at one's residence on a military installation, even if one's residence is part of a privatized housing development.
· Display a large political sign, banner or poster (as distinguished from a bumper sticker) on a private vehicle.
· Participate in an organized partisan effort to provide voters with transportation to the polls.
· Use any kind of official authority or influence to interfere with an election, to affect its course or outcome, to solicit votes for a particular candidate or issue, or to require or solicit political contributions from others.

Airmen may contact their unit leadership or staff judge advocate staff for guidance. Members of the 512th Airlift Wing may reach their legal staff at (302) 677-4431.

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