The 2020 presidential election is in full swing, prompting the Defense Department to send out its regular reminder about do’s and don’ts for service members looking to get politically active.
Those include not making any political statements or supporting candidates while representing the military, per a Wednesday memo from Defense Secretary Mark Esper.
“As citizens, we exercise our right to vote and participate in government,” he wrote. “However, as public servants who have taken an oath to defend these principles, we uphold DoD’s longstanding tradition of remaining apolitical as we carry out our official responsibilities.”
While service members are free to make campaign contributions, attend rallies or volunteer on behalf of a candidate, they are not allowed to do so in uniform, and have to keep their support to their off-duty time.
Social media blurs those lines somewhat, but as long as a service member is using their personal accounts, political discussions are good to go.
Veterans and reservists are also discouraged from using their uniforms or official service imagery in campaign materials, should they choose to run for election themselves. One workaround is to include a disclaimer, as Air Force veteran Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., did during his 2015 bid for the Republican presidential nomination.
“Leaders will review the rules governing participation by DoD personnel in political activities and direct widest dissemination of the guidance in this memorandum to their teams,” Esper wrote.
Service members undergo annual ethics training that covers political involvement.
While President Donald Trump’s favorability rating among troops has slid since his 2016 election, rumors have swirled that some of the veterans he has thrown his support behind will return the favor in 2020.
“He would. Because obviously, the president stood by him," Tim Parlatore, attorney for retired Chief Special Warfare Operator Eddie Gallagher, told Military Times when asked if the former SEAL would go out on the campaign trail.
In November, Trump granted Clemency to Gallagher, former Army 1st Lt. Clint Lorance and Army Maj. Mat Golsteyn in their war crimes cases.
Lorance and Golsteyn appeared at a Trump fundraiser in December.
Meghann Myers is the Pentagon bureau chief at Military Times. She covers operations, policy, personnel, leadership and other issues affecting service members.