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Understanding the Marines' role in politics

The Marine Corps’ motto is Semper Fidelis (Always Faithful), and Marines understand that unwavering loyalty, up and down the chain of command, is crucial for keeping good order and discipline.

That loyalty is sometimes tested when decisions made by political leaders conflict with an individual Marine’s personal political preferences.

As tax payers and functioning members of society, Marines are always encouraged to fully exercise their democratic rights. However, it is important to fully understand the unique guidelines service members must follow as defenders of the nation.

All military personnel are subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice; and Article 88 specifically prohibits commissioned officers from speaking out publicly about political leadership.

The article states that any commissioned officer who uses contemptuous words against the president, the vice president, Congress, the Secretary of Defense, the secretary of a military department, the Secretary of Transportation, or the governor or legislature of any state, territory, commonwealth, or possession in which he is on duty or present shall be punished as a court-martial may direct.

Article 88 is specific to officers, but according to Headquarters Marine Corps Public Affairs “In the Black” letter for guidance on political activity, released April 15, all Marines and sailors should be properly respectful of the President, members of Congress, and other elected officials.

In addition to Article 88, Department of Defense Directive 1344.10, a punitive general order, exclusively conveys guidelines for participation in political activities.

According to the directive, both officers and enlisted personnel can express a personal opinion on political candidates and issues, join a partisan or nonpartisan political club and attend its meetings, go to fundraising activities, rallies, debates, or conventions as a spectator and private citizen only. When at any political event, service members cannot be in uniform or appear to endorse the affair in anyway as a representative of the Armed Forces.

“If a Marine disobeys this directive, it is a violation of a lawful general order,” said Maj. Danielle Fitz, head, civil law, Staff Judge Advocate Office, Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton. “That falls under Article 92 of the UCMJ, failure to obey an order or regulation.”

With the increase in popularity of social networking websites, both within the civilian and military sectors, DOD Instruction 1325.06 addresses the use of online networking, blogs and the like as it pertains to dissident and protest activities among members of the Armed Forces.

“The military wants to preserve freedom of expression,” said Fitz. “However, as service members, we will be held accountable for any publicly expressed anti-government or political partisan endorsement.”

The key message of HQMC Public Affairs guidance is to encourage Marines and sailors to participate in the political process and voice their views. However, they must be aware of the rules and regulations related to political activity that govern the conduct of all service members.

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