Soldiers who appeared at Democratic convention won’t be disciplined, but supervisor will

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Two Army Reserve soldiers who appeared in uniform during the Democratic National Convention in August will not be disciplined for politicking in uniform, but their supervisor will.

The unidentified soldiers, from the 9th Mission Support Command based out of Hawaii, were part of a brief presentation by delegates from American Samoa during the convention’s roll call of states.

The soldiers wore camouflage uniforms with specialist rank patches visible as local Democratic party leaders Aliitama Sotoa and Patti Matila voiced their support for former Vice President Joe Biden, the party’s presidential nominee, during the nationally televised event.

The incident drew immediate attention from military advocates for apparent violations of Defense Department rules regarding appearances at political events and rallies while in uniform. Army officials began an investigation of the incident a day later.

On Thursday, officials said they had determined the two soldiers were not at fault for the mistake.

“The investigation found their supervisor violated a Department of Defense directive and an Army regulation that governs soldier political activities,” Lt. Col. Simon Flake, chief of media relations for Army Reserve Strategic Communications, said in a statement.

“The supervisor at fault will receive the appropriate level of disciplinary action for violating the governing standards.”

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Flake did not specify exactly what that discipline will entail or if the supervisor is a member of the military.

Under long-standing Defense Department policy, service members and department civilian employees acting in their official capacity “may not engage in activities that associate the DOD with any partisan political campaign or elections.” That specifically includes appearing in uniform at political campaign events.

After the segment aired, Democratic Party officials said the presentation was designed to “celebrate American Samoa’s legacy of military service” but called the improper inclusion of troops in uniform “an oversight.”

Flake said Reserve leaders “continue to provide all soldiers and civilian employees training and the latest information on DOD Directives and Army Policies pertaining to political activities.”

A week after the American Samoa incident, advocates raised concerns about the appearance of two uniformed Marines who appeared in a similar segment during the Republican National Convention. The pair were shown while on duty at the White House, opening a door for President Donald Trump as he walked through the hallways.

Marine Corps officials at the time said those service members were “at their assigned place of duty” and did not appear to violate any rules regarding political speech or appearances.

Since the start of the year, military leaders have reminded troops about rules regarding participation in political campaigns, emphasizing the importance of the military staying neutral in the democratic process.

Army officials in August reminded all soldiers that they should “avoid the perception of DoD sponsorship, approval or endorsement of any political candidate, campaign or cause.”

About

Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.

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