McCain Rally Features On-Duty Soldiers

Several uniformed troops spoke at a John McCain “No Surrender Tour” rally in apparent violation of military regulations.

Seven on-duty Army personnel participated in a campaign event for Senator John McCain earlier this month in Londonderry, N.H., in an apparent violation of a Pentagon directive against partisan political activity, two military officials confirmed this week. The Sept. 14 rally at an American Legion hall was part of McCain’s “No Surrender” tour of early-primary states, a martial pageant designed to draw attention to the Arizona Republican’s continued support for the war in Iraq.

Seven personnel from a Manchester, N.H., recruiting station appeared in uniform and briefly addressed the crowd.

McCain Rally Features On-Duty Soldiers

A Department of Defense directive signed in August 2004 by Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz prohibits on-duty members of the armed forces from “speak[ing] before a partisan political gathering, including any gathering that promotes a partisan political party, candidate, or cause.” In addition, on-duty military personnel are forbidden from attending any political event in uniform except the national party conventions.

Under the headline “Politicizing The Military,” Andrew Sullivan calls this, “A black eye for the McCain campaign.” That’s a little harsh, I think.

In a brief interview after the event, Sergeant First Class Chad Kozdra, the commanding officer at the recruiting station [Editor’s note: It’s highly unlikely that a senior NCO is the CO; there’s almost surely a captain in charge.], said he had been approached days earlier about participating in the event by the McCain campaign. He said he supported McCain and had done so in 2000. “What they were told is that this was a support-the-troops barbecue,” not a campaign appearance, said Paul Boyce, a US Army public affairs officer.

[…]

“They weren’t there to support a political campaign,” said McCain spokeswoman Crystal Benton. “We don’t believe anyone intended an infraction of DoD policy. Nor do we believe soldiers should be prevented from showing their support for fellow soldiers.”

Now, I agree that this is obviously a campaign event and that uniformed soldiers shouldn’t have been involved. Sully’s right that using soldiers as props in political campaigns is a bad idea. Wolfowitz’ dictat was merely a clarification of longstanding policy and a good one.

At the same time, it’s understandable that the troops and McCain would have thought it permissible to have soldiers at a “support-the-troops barbecue” advocating victory in an ongoing war. The name given to the event and its message made it seem something other than a “partisan political event,” for which there’s a bright line.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2008, Military Affairs, , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Dale says:

    [Editor’s note: It’s highly unlikely that a senior NCO is the CO; there’s almost surely a captain in charge.]

    The NCO is most likely the NCOIC (Non-Commissioned Officer in Charge) of that particular recruiting office. In the Marine Corps we have several recruiting offices that make up a Recruiting Station. An NCO is in charge of each office which recruits enlisted personnel and then a Lieutenant Colonel commands the Recruiting Station. Captains serve in various posts within the station (Operations Officer, recruiters of officers (OSO), etc.). The Army is probably similarly organized.

    In any event there should not be uniformed, on (or off) duty service members appearing in a political ad. The uniform is not a campaign tool.

    This appears to be more of a hit on the McCain campaign than the soldiers. The troops went for a bar-b-que and ended up in a political ad. The question that needs to be asked and answered is why did the McCain campaign use footage from this cookout in a political ad. In fact why shoot video at all? What is the point of doing that unless you intend to use the footage for something later?

    A Department of Defense directive signed in August 2004 by Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz prohibits on-duty members of the armed forces from “speak[ing] before a partisan political gathering, including any gathering that promotes a partisan political party, candidate, or cause.” In addition, on-duty military personnel are forbidden from attending any political event in uniform except the national party conventions.

    This policy actually goes back a lot farther than August 2004. I remember being told of this prohibition when I went to bootcamp in 1989.

  2. anjin-san says:

    A Republican exploiting the troops for political gain? Imagine that…

  3. Tano says:

    Sorry, but I cannot believe for one minute, that someone as well-educated and knowledgable about the government as you James, even if you are (barely) outside the beltway (at least in the evenings), can really believe that McCain believed that his own event, in the midst of his own presidential campaign, was anything other than a political event.

    Maybe the soldiers bought the barbecue line, but there is zero excuse for McCain.

    And, of course, releasing the video makes it a political event even if it wasn’t planned that way.

  4. Jan says:

    I agree. Big hit on McCain’s campaign — disingenuous, in fact. The troops are guilty of being invited to a Barbeque — NOT a violation of the UCMJ.

  5. Bil Burton says:

    Military regs (way back when I was in) clearly prohibited doing anything of a political nature in uniform. Myself- way back when- thought it was odd that servicemen and women were sworn to protect the constitution but prohibited from expressing an opinion… unless, of course, it was the opinion the military wanted to put out.

    I say let all political candidates trot out whoever they feel like trotting out. Let’s not pretend it wasn’t a stunt, however, and let’s make sure we don’t selectively enforce the expression of any opinion.

    Of course- this will never fly.

  6. tom p says:

    It is ALL politics…

    Let’s see, I am going to a “Support the Troops” barbecue where there is going to be only ONE presidential candidate and he is going to be speaking???

    C’mon… Are they really that naive?

  7. Triumph says:

    At least McCain made up for his apparent dishonesty by claiming the other day in a that the “Constitution established the USA as a Christian nation.”

    As a self-proclaimed Baptist, McCain surely wouldn’t pander to a key Republican voting block during the run up to the primary season.

  8. sarah says:

    As all recruiters are enlisted, it’s actually highly probable that a senior NCO is the CO of a particular recruiting post.