New Directive Contains Political Activity Rules for Servicemembers
By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Mar. 5, 2008 A revised Defense Department directive provides sharper definition of what servicemembers may and may not do within the political realm, particularly running for political office, a senior U.S. military officer said here yesterday.
The new version of Directive 1344.10, titled, “Political Activities by Members of the Armed Forces,” became effective Feb. 19 and replaces the previous version issued in August 2004, said Army Col. Shawn Shumake, director of legal policy within the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness. It was formulated with input from all the military services, he said.
The upcoming 2008 U.S. general elections will feature a bevy of former military members, retirees and current military reservists running for elected office, Shumake explained. In fact, the revised directive contains two sections that discuss candidacy and campaigning issues pertaining to members of that group, he added.
Active-duty servicemembers are strictly prohibited from campaigning for political office or actively taking part in a political campaign — even behind the scenes — Shumake said. The revised directive also specifies what active duty members may or may not do regarding political activities, he said.
“Active-duty military members are required to be apolitical as they go about their business serving the nation,” Shumake explained. The restrictions for servicemembers on active duty are extremely tough, he added.
In addition, military chiefs are expected to provide unvarnished advice, without political slant or motive, to senior civilian government leaders, he added.
“It’s a fundamental tenet that we don’t engage in partisan political activity,” Shumake emphasized. “You can’t have credibility as military experts if people are going to question your motives, that maybe there’s something here other than what is in the best interests of the country.”
However, under certain circumstances, some reserve-component members can run for or hold elective political office, Shumake said. Yet, there is “a right way and a wrong way to do that,” he emphasized, noting two new sections within the revised directive address political candidacy and campaigning issues.
The directive outlines specific rules pertaining to cases of regular, retired and reserve-component servicemembers holding elective or appointed office within the U.S. government, Shumake said, including elected positions with state, territorial, county or municipal governments.
In addition, the revised directive requires military members holding such positions to apply for and secure the approval of their individual service secretaries. Shumake noted that the requirement for service secretarial approval depends on the length of the servicemember’s call or order to active duty. He encouraged servicemembers with questions about the rules affecting partisan political activities or participation to talk to their commanders for guidance.