National Guard officials are insisting that a march on a controversial congresswoman’s office by a large group of uniformed members wasn’t a political statement but instead an effort to raise awareness about their operations.
But the stunt is once again raising questions about the politicization of military members by advocates and elected officials, at a time when tensions over the military’s continued role on Capitol Hill remain high.
On Monday, more than 20 National Guard troops from Guam accompanied Rep. Michael San Nicolas, D-Guam, on an unannounced visit to the Washington, D.C., office of Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga.
The impetus for the visit stemmed from last month, when Greene appeared to refer to Guam as a foreign country during an address at the Conservative Political Action Conference.
“We believe our hard-earned tax dollars should just go for America, not for what? China, Russia, the Middle East, Guam, whatever, wherever,” she said at the event.
A video of Monday’s event with the guardsmen posted by San Nicolas’ staff notes that “Guam is a U.S. territory with troops fighting and dying alongside fellow Americans while not having voting representation in the Congress or Electoral College representation to elect a commander-in-chief.”
San Nicolas can be seen carrying local foods and books from Guam to the office while the guardsmen wait outside. Greene was not in her office at the time of the visit, but staffers promised to relay the information to her.
In a tweet Tuesday morning, Greene called the visit a political stunt.
“It’s time for our great men and women of the National Guard to go home and be with their families,” she wrote. “The Democrats need to stop using them as political theatre and drama on Capitol Hill. Shame on Democrats for disrespecting our military.”
In a statement Tuesday, Maj. Gen. Esther J.C. Aguigui, adjutant general of the Guam National Guard, said the force remains a “non-partisan entity” despite the event.
“We appreciate Congressman San Nicolas’ efforts to represent our culture of Inafa’ Maolek, or bringing harmony, practiced here in Guam,” she said in a statement. “We also thank Congresswoman Greene for ultimately helping raise awareness of Guamanians as citizens of the United States, and our rich tradition of service and sacrifice to our nation.”
Guard officials did not answer questions about who organized the event and whether it constituted using uniformed troops as political props, which is in violation of Defense Department regulations.
In a separate video, the troops also met with Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C. and the third-ranking Democrat in the House, and said they were in town on assignment “protecting you guys.”
That visit — a friendlier one, to thank Clyburn for his role in securing more pandemic relief funding for Guam — also included delivery of local foods and books, and posing for pictures with the congressman in the Capitol building.
Under long-standing Defense Department policy, service members and department civilian employees acting in their official capacity “may not engage in activities that associate the DOD with any partisan political campaign or elections.” That specifically includes appearing in uniform at political campaign events.
In recent years, however, troops and political leaders have come under extra scrutiny for such activity.
Last fall, a supervisor with the Army Reserve faced unspecified disciplinary action after signing off on a pair of reserve soldiers from American Samoa appearing in uniform during the Democratic National Convention to promote the island’s military heritage.
A week later, after a pair of uniformed Marines were featured in a clip at the Republican National Convention, service officials dismissed complaints of similar politicking while in uniform, saying the troops in question were performing their normal duties as White House security.
Last July, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley apologized for taking part in a photo-op with former President Donald Trump after protesters were violently cleared from streets outside the White House. Milley at the time said his presence “created a perception of the military involved in domestic politics.”
Defense Department officials and retired leaders in recent years have warned that the mixing of politics and military matters could lessen public faith in troops’ ability to serve in a non-partisan manner and respect civilian control of the armed forces.
About 5,000 Guard troops are currently deployed to Capitol Hill as part of an ongoing security mission which began after the Jan. 6 attacks on Congress by pro-Trump rioters. The troops are expected to remain until late May, a timeline that has drawn criticism from a growing number of lawmakers.
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.