Air Force Major General Corey Martin sent an email to his subordinate commanders on December 8 which outlined a Senator’s attempts to have an Airman join that Senator at a press conference involving vaccine mandates and potential repeal. Maj. Gen. Martin advised the commanders that participation of this type is prohibited both in and out of uniform.
The email claims that AFI 51-508, which covers political activities, free speech and freedom of assembly of Air Force personnel, prohibits participation both in an out of uniform; however, this isn’t true. According to AFI 51-508 section 2.4, generally only partisan political events of a specific nature are prohibited. If a press conference of a non-partisan nature (meaning both Democrats and Republicans are invited and the event doesn’t run afoul of the list in AFI 51-508), then the action would be legal and fall within the realm of permitted activities for Airmen.
A Major General issuing this kind of blanket guidance to prohibit any form of participation with an elected official sends a false message to these subordinate commanders, and the pressure they would put on servicemembers to comply would likely be substantial due to the senior rank of the individual issuing the guidance. This particular incident is a policy issue, which means First Amendment rights protect a servicemember’s participation. Maj. Gen. Martin should be encouraging involvement rather than stating it’s against regulations.
We’ve seen a staggering amount of this kind of messaging and pressure from senior ranking members of the military over the last year in an effort to obfuscate and prevent servicemembers from speaking out.
In March of 2022, Dr. Theresa Long, an active duty Lieutenant Colonel in the Army, was testifying in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida in Tampa when she was asked about the data in the Defense Military Epidemiological Database. Dr. Long said she had been “ordered not to answer that question.” When the judge asked her who ordered her, Long replied that the order came from high-level command. Of course this is simply one incident of this kind of behavior, but a pattern of this conduct has been established across all branches for quite some time now.
Servicemembers often don’t know their left and right limits. They rely on their chains of command and the resources available to those commands, such as JAG (Judge Advocate General), to guide and lead them with correct, lawful guidance. Congress is supposed to provide oversight in the manner in which the military conducts itself, but much of that oversight involves little more than sending an inquiry to a General Officer, very similar to Major General Martin in this case, who often reply with generic “all is well” statements. The DOD and its dwindling ability to recruit personnel will continue to suffer as long as the law is cherry picked and arbitrarily disregarded.