What's terribly wrong with 'Make Aircrew Great Again' patches

Article Image

President Trump's ban on transgender Americans joining the military is now in effect. We meet a transgender military couple fighting to help transgender soldiers be afforded the same rights given to anyone willing and capable of serving their country.

Posted: Jun 27, 2019 6:00 PM
Updated: Jun 27, 2019 6:00 PM

The latest breach of America's civil-military tradition of political neutrality happened on a presidential visit to a US Navy ship docked in Japan. Some service members were wearing patches affixed to their uniforms featuring President Donald Trump's face, captioned with the words "Make Aircrew Great Again," a play on his "Make America Great Again" campaign slogan. Unit patches like this can be authorized by local command, and they can be irreverent and humorous.

But under DOD Directive 1344.10, Political Activities by Members of the Armed Forces, service members on active duty cannot "act in a manner that could reasonably give rise to the inference or appearance of official sponsorship, approval, or endorsement" of a political party or candidate, whether in or out of uniform.

What's happening today is several levels above the sorts of things specifically prohibited, like putting a political banner on your car or house. Regulation writers likely never imagined a day when presidential visits to military installations would become political rallies, or when service members would want to wear political paraphernalia on their uniforms.

The commander who authorized this might say, "C'mon it's funny, it's not political. We took a slogan and adapted it to our work in aviation. Trump is on the patch because it's his slogan, and he's the commander-in-chief. No one should take this as a literal political endorsement."

But that explanation isn't credible when troops wearing the patches are pleading with media members to help them get Trump autographs. A Navy spokesperson said: "Navy leadership is aware of the incident and reviewing to ensure the patch doesn't violate DoD policy or uniform regulations."

The military has been around this block before with the President. Air Force leaders allowed their people to wave actual "MAGA" campaign caps and hold up a Trump campaign flag, in uniform, when Trump visited Ramstein Air Base in Germany. Not a problem, leaders said, because "There is no rule against airmen bringing personal items to be signed by the president." They know better. Department of Defense regulations completely prohibit partisan political activity while in uniform, and it doesn't excuse the offense because you're using your own political paraphernalia to violate orders.

Troops should be excited and proud to meet the commander-in-chief. But it violates principles of military professionalism when the event turns into campaign spectacle. Imagine what it would feel like to be a military subordinate of these MAGA-hat-waving, MAGA-patch-wearing superiors. They are making quite clear what the "correct" political expression and allegiance of subordinates should be, even if they never directly say so. Their rank and their actions speak strongly enough.

Imagine if you're a military recruiter whose job it is to reach out across America and convince young people that the military is a good path for them, all the while the President is creating the impression that the military is a political institution that welcomes only those with partisan loyalty to Trump as an individual.

And that wasn't all. Trump used the occasion to demand a showing of the troops' political support for one of his uninformed but pet obsessions, whether the Navy should redesign ships to go back to steam-powered catapult systems rather than electric-powered. Trump took a poll of the crowd: "Do you like electric or steam?" On cue, voices went up yelling what they knew was the right, Trump-affirming answer: "Steam!" (Keep in mind that this particular ship doesn't even use a catapult, but let's ask anyway.) Apparently one poor soul responded "Electric," loud enough to be heard, and Trump zeroed right in:

"Who said "electric"? There's one guy back there. (Laughter.)"

Later, Trump again singled out the brave person who spoke up: "He works for the enemy. (Laughter.) He's all right. We'll — ooh, you might be in danger. I better be careful. (Laughter.)"

Is the President joking, half-joking, or not joking at all? It's not funny in the least to suggest that service members might be in danger from colleagues if they fail to provide uninformed answers on demand. But Trump has made clear since his first day in office that he believes members of the military are obligated to give him personal political support. At the Armed Services inaugural ball, Trump reminded service members exactly where they stood: "And I like you for a lot of reasons. Also, I like the fact that you all voted for me, right? You all voted for me."

Joshing? No. This is beyond-the-pale inappropriate behavior, politicizing the military for a president's personal benefit and vanity. Military professionalism depends on strict political neutrality. A president who openly fishes for votes and affirmation from people sworn to obey his orders will destroy that careful constitutional balance.

There are no mere "suggestions" within the military chain of command. This is why in 1976, near the beginning of the all-volunteer force, the Supreme Court held that the military had a constitutional responsibility to avoid "both the reality and the appearance of acting as a handmaiden for partisan political causes or candidates."

Breaches of the military's ethic of political neutrality are not only a constitutional problem. They also lead to bad policy. Steam or electric catapults? Just take a poll of the crowd — the president knows that the troops know which answer is the "right" one. Upend transgender service policy and put the careers of 14,700 service members at risk? Just send a few tweets and then commission a group of defense officials to write a report that backfills a justification, even if the reasons aren't credible to military experts.

The President isn't asking for military advice. He's asking for applause, for affirmation, for a pledge of personal loyalty on a decision he has already made in his own mind. Decisions made under those circumstances shouldn't be given the weight that military judgments are normally given. It's also terrifying that the president suggests, even if somehow in jest, that members of the military could retaliate against colleagues who provide candid, professional judgment instead of political allegiance.

It's no wonder that a recent news report quoted an Army NCO (non-commissioned officer) who praised a highly respected transgender colleague ("I wish I had more like her") but also asked not to be identified, "given the uncertain climate."

Breaches of the military ethic of political neutrality are not only unseemly, they are dangerous. They enable bullying and retaliation, they suppress candid advice, and they lead to careless policy. It's not just a patch.

Huntsville
Clear
65° wxIcon
Hi: 81° Lo: 54°
Feels Like: 65°
Florence
Clear
67° wxIcon
Hi: 79° Lo: 57°
Feels Like: 67°
Fayetteville
Clear
59° wxIcon
Hi: 79° Lo: 52°
Feels Like: 59°
Decatur
Clear
62° wxIcon
Hi: 82° Lo: 54°
Feels Like: 62°
Scottsboro
Clear
57° wxIcon
Hi: 83° Lo: 57°
Feels Like: 57°
WAAY Radar
WAAY WAAY-TV Cam
WAAY Temperatures

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 17952

Reported Deaths: 630
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Mobile2239116
Jefferson1837102
Montgomery171040
Tuscaloosa78315
Marshall6939
Franklin5567
Lee54833
Shelby51720
Tallapoosa42765
Butler41118
Chambers35525
Walker3542
Elmore3548
Madison3394
Baldwin2909
Morgan2801
Dallas2723
Etowah25711
DeKalb2483
Lowndes24612
Coffee2361
Sumter2247
Autauga2214
Houston2204
Bullock2095
Pike2030
Colbert1842
Hale1739
Russell1710
Marengo1706
Barbour1671
Lauderdale1642
Calhoun1603
Choctaw1538
Wilcox1487
Clarke1442
Cullman1430
Randolph1277
St. Clair1231
Marion12211
Pickens1164
Dale1150
Talladega1135
Limestone1060
Chilton1011
Greene944
Winston900
Macon824
Henry802
Covington801
Jackson782
Crenshaw753
Bibb751
Washington706
Escambia633
Blount621
Lawrence500
Geneva430
Conecuh411
Coosa401
Monroe402
Perry390
Cherokee373
Clay272
Lamar260
Fayette160
Cleburne151
Unassigned00

Tennessee Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 22566

Reported Deaths: 364
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Davidson504062
Shelby4943111
Trousdale13924
Rutherford119623
Sumner88145
Hamilton79415
Bledsoe6071
Williamson55210
Putnam4795
Robertson4653
Tipton4423
Out of TN4184
Lake4140
Wilson4078
Knox3755
Bedford2834
Montgomery2693
Rhea2100
Hardeman1960
Madison1752
Loudon1430
McMinn14114
Macon1363
Cheatham1230
Bradley1221
Fayette1152
Cumberland1121
Dickson1090
Unassigned920
Blount913
Maury890
Sevier812
Washington750
Coffee730
Wayne640
Gibson631
Monroe622
Sullivan602
Hickman580
Lauderdale561
Franklin531
Greene502
Dyer500
Marion401
Anderson401
DeKalb370
Hamblen362
Smith341
White330
Hawkins332
Lawrence310
Grundy311
Haywood312
Marshall311
Obion301
Henry300
Jefferson280
Carroll271
Overton260
Meigs260
Weakley260
Lincoln250
Warren230
Cannon210
Perry210
Cocke200
Carter191
Campbell181
Morgan170
Jackson170
Crockett162
Roane160
Polk160
Johnson160
Henderson150
Hardin152
Sequatchie150
Humphreys131
Fentress120
McNairy120
Chester120
Giles120
Scott120
Stewart110
Claiborne90
Houston80
Grainger80
Clay70
Benton71
Decatur50
Unicoi40
Union40
Van Buren40
Lewis30
Pickett30
Moore30
Hancock10

 

 

Community Events