Incredible as it may seem, a soldier in uniform does not have the same rights as other citizens to endorse a candidate of his or her choosing and can run amuck of Army Regulations for doing so. One soldier, 28-year old Army Corporal Jesse Thorsen, found that out at a Ron Paul event following the Iowa Caucus earlier this week.
For those of you who didn’t see it, the video is available on You Tube.
Here’s the summary: Ron Paul brought on the young corporal at his victory speech following his third place placement at the Iowa Caucus behind Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum. Thorsen appeared in his Army Combat Uniform and unabashedly endorsed the candidate, something that is strictly forbidden for him to do while wearing that uniform.
“I feel like I’m meeting a Rock Star,” Thorsen said of meeting Paul.
Many in the civilian world would raise their eyebrows in wonder at the prospect of a soldier facing military prosecution for such an act, but that is because of a general ignorance about what the Department of Defense Regulations have to say about the matter.
DoDD 1344.10, dated February 19, 2008 strictly states:
126.96.36.199. A member of the Armed Forces on active duty shall not: Speak before a partisan political gathering, including any gathering that promotes a partisan political party, candidate, or cause.
Soldiers violating regulations can be fined, busted in rank or even incarcerated at hard labor at the discretion of a military commander, under the authority of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Commanders are allowed to do this at their discretion under the auspices of the Article 15 hearing, provided the soldier declines a full out court-martial.
The Directive spells out a number of rights the soldier does have, including the right to vote while overseas and the right to write letters to the editor or contribute funds to political campaigns, as long as it is not evident that the person writing the letter, making the endorsement or contributing funds is a soldier.
Other services have similar prohibitions on active duty and reserve members campaigning for candidates while in uniform. It is not clear if anything will happen to the soldier at this point, but some sort of disciplinary action seems likely.
There is a lot of speculation about why this regulation exists. It is this writer’s opinion that it directly speaks to the point that politicians desire to protect themselves from voting members of the military. Members of Congress are allowed to say all sorts of libelous things about each other on the floor of their respective houses without the risk of a law suits because of the regulations governing them concerning libel and slander, which they themselves have written. But when it comes to the soldier, sailor, airman and Marine, the Honorable Representative or Senator has a thin skin. Outright endorsement of another opposition candidate or the negative commentary about a certain Representative or Senator by a servicemember can’t be tolerated and is hurtful to that politician. Basically the rule protects the politicians and throws the servicemember under the bus.
We can argue all we want about the correctness of the regulations our soldiers serve under, but that by no means changes them. Commanders need to continually warn their troops against making such appearances for the soldiers’ sakes. (Full Bird Colonels make this same mistake as this soldier did. I’ve seen it firsthand.) No one wants to punish a soldier for something as silly as this offense, but then no commander can afford to anger a sitting politician.
For more helpful analysis visit: http://court-martial.com/ucmj-politics/.
 DoDD 1344.10: http://www.dtic.mil/whs/directives/corres/pdf/134410p.pdf