Election Year: Ethics & Etiquette
By Staff Sgt. David Offut, 102nd Intelligence Wing Legal Office
/ Published January 11, 2012
OTIS AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Mass. -- During election season Airmen should understand what political activities they can and cannot engage in. Air Force policy encourages Airmen to execute their citizenship obligations fully, which includes the right to vote and the right to endorse candidates of their choice. We must, however, be vigilant and remember that we are not permitted to endorse candidates or attend political meetings in uniform or identify ourselves as members of the Air National Guard or United States Air Force when doing so.
For example, the Army is currently investigating and considering disciplinary action against a Reservist who, while in uniform, recently attended a rally where he expressed his endorsement of a particular candidate for President. Though the soldier may not have intended any harm, one consequence of his behavior was to inspire public skepticism of the impartiality of Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and Airmen.
In a nutshell, Airmen need to remember to: (1) avoid partisan activities while in uniform, (2) refrain from attending any political events or rallies in uniform, (3) express only personal opinions (do not mention your affiliation with the military when doing so), (4) steer clear of any conduct that implies official endorsement or representation, and (5) refrain from displaying a large political sign, banner, or poster on a private vehicle or any residence on a military installation. Airmen are, however, permitted to display standard size bumper stickers on their private vehicles.
Even with these guidelines, Airmen still have a great deal of flexibility in how they participate in our democratic process. They can vote and express personal opinions on political candidates and issues. In most cases, they can sign petitions, write letters to the editor as a private citizen, and contribute to political organizations or committees favoring a particular candidate or slate of candidates. They can also attend political meetings or rallies as a spectator or join associations and attend meetings when not in uniform. Members are also allowed to wear a political button or t-shirt so long as they are not in uniform, performing military duties, or under any other circumstances that could reasonably give rise to an appearance of an official endorsement.
If you have a question about how involved you can become in political events or activities, you may contact the 102 IW/JA for assistance or consult AFI 51-902, Political Activities by Members of the US Air Force, November 2010.