Horsham JAG offers advice to Guardsmen during political season
By 1st Lt. Hilary S. Styer, 111th Attack Wing deputy staff judge advocate, 111th Attack Wing staff
/ Published March 11, 2016
HORSHAM AIR GUARD STATION, Pa. -- The Declaration of Independence protested against King George III of England's military occupation of the colonies, as he attempted to make his troops independent and superior to the civilian powers. This led to our country's constitutional tradition of a politically-neutral military, independent of political involvement.
As one can see from the above history lesson, the U.S. historically has had concerns over its military's power and influence on the political process.
These concerns are still relevant today.
More than likely, many of you have your own personal political views that you discuss with your family over dinner. However, as a member of the Pennsylvania Air National Guard, there are certain rules you must follow when engaging in political discourse during this election season.
Three items to keep in mind are: status, endorsement and communication platforms.
First, your military status -- Drill-Status Guardsmen, active-duty Guardsmen (Title 32), active-duty Air Force (Title 10) or technician -- will most likely govern political activities in which you may or may not participate. For example, DSG members are not as restricted in their ability to participate in political activities as federal active-duty members. Here is a brief outline of some permissible political activities you may engage in as a National Guard member:
1. Register as a member of a political party and vote in any election;
2. Express personal political opinions as civilians, but you may not express those opinions as a representative of the military;
3. Attend political gatherings when not in uniform;
4. Display political stickers on private vehicles;
5. Make voluntary campaign contributions to political parties or organizations subject to certain monetary limitations. However, while a military member may contribute to a political party or organization, the member cannot make a donation to political candidates or their organizations directly.
Furthermore, members of the National Guard may not use their positions in the National Guard to help endorse a political candidate. For instance, members cannot solicit votes for a candidate while in uniform or use rank to publicly endorse a political candidate.
ANG members are encouraged to participate and engage in their civic duties; however, be aware of whether you are acting in a civilian capacity or as a military member. There is an important distinction between acting as a private citizen and using one's military status to politically advocate for a candidate or issue. Also, if a National Guard member is called to perform in an active-duty status, there will be additional restrictions on permissible political activities.
Finally, always remain cautious when using social media. Many assume that social media outlets such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+ offer an open platform for political views. While members are allowed to express opinions, the above rules carry over to social networking sites.
If you have any questions about the role a Guardsman can perform in political activities, please contact your local military legal office. For those on the Philadelphia area or for those stationed at the 111th Attack Wing here, the installation's legal office can be reached at, 215-323-7161.