Political campaigns

Army reserve chief reminds soldiers of political campaign rules

The Army Reserve Chief’s message to reservists considering running for political office is quite simple: “Step away from the uniform.”

In an interview with Task & Purpose on Tuesday, Lt. Gen. Jody Daniels said that while she understands reservists take pride in their military service, they should be aware of regulations about what they can and cannot do in their political campaigns. This includes wearing their uniforms in political advertisements or political events.

“Don’t do that,” she said. “You just can’t – the big deal is you can’t wear your uniform in a political ad or another candidate’s endorsement there. So don’t stand next to someone running , in uniform. You can stand there as a citizen and support them, you can give them money, you can do whatever you want. But the uniform then makes it a military affiliation and that’s not allowed… Step away from the uniform.

The Army Reserve, similar to the National Guard, allows individuals to serve as part-time soldiers while holding civilian jobs. This separation allows reservists, for example, to run for office in a civilian capacity, but it also presents challenges for how reservists can use their military service in their political campaigns or advertisements.

Lt. Gen. Jody Daniels, Chief of Army Reserve and Commanding General of U.S. Army Reserve Command, speaks to the 18th Field Hospital after an animatronic dog surgical demonstration during Global Medic at Fort McCoy, Wis., Aug. 11, 2021. (Cadet Nicholas Nystedt/U.S. Army Reserve)

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According to Department of Defense policy, service members who are not on active duty have slightly more freedom to participate in politics than those who are on active duty. They can participate in political fundraisers or attend rallies as long as they are not in uniform, for example. But reservists running for office always have boundaries they can’t cross when it comes to using their military experience in their campaigns.

DoD policy states that reservists running for office may use photos of themselves in uniform on a campaign website, but they must be included “with other non-military biographical details” and include a disclaimer disclaimer that none of the information or photographs “implies endorsement by the Ministry of Defence. They may not, however, use photos of themselves in uniform” as the primary graphic representation in any campaign media “, states the policy. And they must not represent themselves in uniform “in a manner that does not accurately reflect their actual performance of duty.”

But these regulations have not stopped reservists from crossing the line in the past. Last year, an Army Reserve second lieutenant was investigated by the Army for using photos of himself in uniform for his campaign for Congress and conducting an interview with campaign in uniform. In September, another Army Reserve officer running for political office tweeted a photo of himself in uniform holding a handgun, using it as a way to differentiate himself from his opponent.

Then, again this year, Tulsi Gabbard, an Army Reserve Lt. Col. and former congresswoman who speaks out frequently on political issues, came under fire for posting Russian disinformation about U.S. support for the Ukrainian biolabs. Last year, Gabbard posted a video in uniform in which she warned of the “death and suffering” that could follow “if we allow the mainstream media, the military-industrial complex, the selfish politicians – if we allow them to lead us now into the apocalypse of World War III.

Gabbard said in the video that she was “just selling off” her reserve duty at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

Daniels said Tuesday that reservists need to be aware of the separation between their military and civilian lives. In uniform, she says, soldiers must know their “left and right limits” when it comes to expressing their thoughts and keep in mind the “standard of character” the military expects of them.

On the reserves, Daniels said, commanders frequently speak with soldiers considering running for political office to remind them of what is and is not allowed, such as using their uniform or rank in their campaign. It’s unclear, however, what consequences soldiers may face if the policies are violated.

Troops in formation
U.S. Soldiers and Airmen from National Guard units across the country stand in formation in front of the United States Capitol in Washington DC, 2021. (U.S. Army National Guard Photo/Sgt. Andrew Walker)

“We try to work with anyone who comes to any office to make sure they get advice through the [public affairs] people, through their leadership, through whoever else we need – lawyers – to help them understand what’s acceptable and what’s not under all the different regulations,” Daniels said. She added that they sometimes had to do “follow-ups” to “reinforce some of those messages,” emphasizing the element of reinforcement in a way that insinuated it probably wasn’t a pleasant conversation to have.

There was one reserve lieutenant in particular who needed to be reminded of the rules, she said, without specifying who.

“We had to reinforce several times: “You crossed a line. It’s a uniform. Is there a camouflage and your name on it? Is your rank on it? So you can’t wear it. Even if it’s your solid uniform, it still has your rank on it, you can’t – no, it doesn’t fit in an ad. You can’t do it,” Daniels said. “You’d think it would be quite clear and easy, but people are so proud of their service that they want to show it. It’s like yes, but you can’t do that. Prohibited.”

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