Soldier Reprimanded For Ron Paul Endorsement
A Reserve Specialist who endorsed Ron Paul’s presidential candidacy in uniform will only be reprimanded, not court martialed.
Stars and Stripes (“Army reservist who endorsed Ron Paul receives reprimand“):
An Army reservist who gave a public endorsement of presidential candidate Ron Paul during a televised rally in January will receive only a letter of reprimand for violating military politicking rules.
Spc. Jesse Thorsen, who also appeared on CNN speaking on Paul’s behalf that night, was not on duty but was in uniform at the time of the incident. Army reserve officials said Thorsen’s actions clearly violated Defense Department rules, and that the reprimand has been placed in his personnel file.
On Thursday, hours after receiving word from his command about the punishment, Thorsen appeared on an online radio show run by the group Combat Veterans for Ron Paul titled “Language of Liberty,” defending his actions but also saying he cooperated with the Army’s investigation.
“The Army works for Congress,” he said during the show. “If a Congressman invites you up on stage, doesn’t he have the right to do that?
“Why can’t a combat veteran go up on stage and support a presidential candidate in his best suit, which is his American uniform?”
Because, as Andrew Exum puts it, doing so is “a violation of the pact between the American soldier and his state.” Members of the armed forces have been barred since time immemorial from engaging in partisan speech. Because soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines are required to take orders from civilian authority, they can’t give the impression that the institution they serve has any opinion about who it is that’s in charge.
The Uniform Code of Military Justice, the federal law that governs the conduct of members of the armed forces, has all manner of restrictions on the free speech rights of those who have taken the military oath. They can be punished for Contempt toward officials (Article 88), Disrespect toward superior commissioned officer (Art. 89), Insubordinate conduct toward warrant officer, noncommissioned officer, or petty officer (Art. 91), Conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman (Art. 133), or anything that is deemed “to the prejudice of good order and discipline in the armed forces, all conduct of a nature to bring discredit upon the armed forces” (Art. 134). Additionally, there are all manner of service regulations and orders, going back decades, banning political speeches, electioneering, and other activities while in uniform or otherwise giving the impression of acting within one’s official capacity.
Thorsen got off with what amounts to a warning not because his superiors secretly love Ron Paul just as much as he does but because the military, quite reasonably, grants more leeway to junior personnel that to those with more seasoning. A Major or even a Staff Sergeant doing this would likely have faced nonjudicial punishment, which would likely be a career stopper. A general officer would likely have been relieved of duty and allowed to retire, possibly at a reduced grade. But a Specialist, especially a Reservist, is expected to do some damn fool things from time to time and a good ass-chewing and a counseling statement is the right punishment here. The thinking is that this will serve as a wake-up call and Thorsen will know better from here on out and conduct himself in the best traditions of the service. If not, it’ll be more than a letter next time.
UPDATE: As Chris Lawrence notes in the comments, Ron Paul should have known better. Not only is he a long-time Member of Congress but he’s a former Air Force officer. Indeed, I’d argue he had a duty to not only not use a soldier in this manner but to take him aside and counsel him on the propriety of the situation.
I’m guessing the young corporal will get a stern ass chewing and very little in the way of punishment. Damned boneheaded thing to do but not necessarily something that we emphasize in training very young soldiers.