Former Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Michael Mullen this week added his voice to a growing chorus of retired Pentagon leaders concerned about military involvement in this year's presidential election.

In a statement provided to the Washington Post, Mullen said that former military leaders taking prominent roles in political campaigns "is a violation of the ethos and professionalism of apolitical military service." He said the move calls into question the independence and reliability of the military chain of command.

"This is not about the right to speak out, it is about the disappointing lack of judgment in doing so for crass partisan purposes," he told the newspaper. "This is made worse by using hyperbolic language all the while leveraging the respected title of 'general.'"

Earlier this month, in a letter to the Post, retired Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, who also served as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, argued that retired Marine Gen. John Allen and retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn crossed the line by speaking at the Democratic and Republican conventions, respectively.

"As generals, they have an obligation to uphold our apolitical traditions," Dempsey wrote. "They have just made the task of their successors — who continue to serve in uniform and are accountable for our security — more complicated. It was a mistake for them to participate as they did. It was a mistake for our presidential candidates to ask them to do so."

Dempsey also criticized the candidates for using retired military leaders as "a political prize" on the campaign trail.

A number of other military leaders have also voiced unease with the involvement of retired defense leaders in the campaign, but that hasn't stopped numerous veterans from stepping forward in recent weeks, particularly in support of Clinton and opposed to Trump.

Both Allen and Flynn have publicly defended their decisions to speak on behalf of their preferred candidates, framing their remarks as a defense of national security.

None of their retired colleagues have suggested the men violated the law by speaking out, only that they ignored the expected norms for senior military officials. Defense Department rules prohibit politicking while in the active-duty force. 

Leo Shane III covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He can be reached at

Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.

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