MARINE CORPS LOGISTICS BASE BARSTOW, Calif. -- With the upcoming federal elections, politically affiliated functions and protests will be on the rise, as parties try to gain support for their cause to gain the majority in either the House of Representatives or the Senate and get the ball rolling for the 2008 presidential elections.
Perhaps one of the biggest issues being debated is the Global War on Terrorism, making the presence of service members and retirees a highly sought after asset at a political function. Political parties might disguise one of their events as a military appreciation night so service members will attend in their uniform, said Capt. Meredith Booker, staff judge advocate, MCLB Barstow.
"Then the next thing you know, there's a picture of service members sitting under a [political] sign. These are the kinds of things we would like to avoid."
Though military members are encouraged to take advantage of their right to vote and be politically active, showing up to any one of these functions in uniform could mean facing steep consequences from the Department of Defense.
"The secretary of defense prohibits all military personnel, including National Guard and reserve forces from wearing military uniforms at political campaign or election events," according to DoD Instruction 1334.1.
Because appearances mean everything, the directive goes on to say, "the rules of reason and common sense apply - the military must avoid the direct or indirect association with partisan political activity."
"Basically, when we are wearing a uniform we are non-partisan citizens," said Booker. "We don't use the uniform to give the impression that the military comes down one way or another."
This rule doesn't only apply to political functions though, but can also be applied to anti-war, abortion and immigration protests, she said.
Though no rule banning members from attending any of these events exists, people should be aware that making an announcement that they are a military member, could also bring punishment.
"Let's say you go to an anti-abortion rally in civilian clothes," said Booker. "It's fine for you to be there, but you cannot stand up there and say 'Hi, I am a corporal in the United States Marine Corps and this is where I stand.'"
Service members are not restricted on their ability to support, donate money and such, as long as the impression is not given that the military is taking a side on a political issue.
The large retiree population in Barstow, makes this area a prime target for local political organizations' requests for support, she said. Retirees should keep in mind that these rules apply to them also, Booker said. This is because, even though retired, they are still bound by the same rules as active duty members.
So, before attending any event while in uniform, keep in mind, "we are non-partisan individuals [in uniform], we're not here to make laws, we're not here to judge the laws, we're just here to protect the country and the laws are going to be enforced as they are."
To stay away from being tricked into attending one of these events in a military uniform under the guise that the event is for military appreciation or if you are invited to attend any kind of political event, contact your local Office of the Staff Judge Advocate prior to attending the event.
It is also a good idea to contact the Public Affairs Office, where information on what to say or not say if certain situations occur, said Booker.