An Army National Guard major at a town hall for 2020 Democrat candidate Joe Biden in South Carolina prompted controversy online after she presented the former vice president with a coin and said she hoped that he would become the next president while in her uniform.
The moment was framed as endearing by CBS News and other news outlets that witnessed it in person, but it also raised questions as to whether the woman, who identified herself as Maj. Ginger Tate, was violating the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which prohibits political activities while in uniform.
Tate stood and introduced herself before a crowd of roughly 400 to 500 people at Limestone College in Gaffney, South Carolina, and said that when she deployed to Afghanistan in 2013, her first sergeant had coins made listing all the cities they visited on deployment.
She said to Biden, tearing up at one moment:
I’ve been saving these coins for six years to meet you and President Obama so if that I ever met you, I would give it to you … and when I saw on the news that you were coming, I just had to be here. Thank you so much for your guidance … I’m so honored to have served under your administration and your leadership and I hope and pray that you will be our next president.
Biden reciprocated with a coin he was carrying from Afghanistan. The two exchanged hugs amidst applause.
“A really powerful moment on the campaign trail, as Major Ginger Tate gives @JoeBiden a coin from her unit when she was deployed in Afghanistan,” tweeted a CBS News journalist who was there.
A really powerful moment on the campaign trail, as Major Ginger Tate gives @JoeBiden a coin from her unit when she was deployed in Afghanistan. She said she had been waiting for years to meet him and give it in person. He gave her his VP coin in return. pic.twitter.com/SPx6Vx5MoN
— Caitlin Huey-Burns (@CHueyBurns) August 28, 2019
Many on social media pointed out that Tate was violating the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which prohibits participating in partisan political activities while in uniform.
In addition, Department of Defense guidelines say, “active duty personnel may not engage in partisan political activities and all military personnel should avoid the inference that their political activities imply or appear to imply DoD sponsorship, approval, or endorsement of a political candidate, campaign, or cause.”
Tate, if a currently serving member of the military, is also going against a call by the current Defense Secretary Mark Esper to keep politics out of the military.
However, as of Wednesday night, there was no major mainstream media backlash to Tate’s comments, as when U.S. airmen were spotted waving MAGA hats and carrying a banner to greet President Trump when he landed in Germany in December.
— CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) December 27, 2018
Troops who have been spotted holding MAGA hats or expressing support for the president have been criticized for politicizing the military.
Just last week, Defense Secretary Mark Esper was asked in an interview by Fox News whether he would “ban the wearing of MAGA hats,” and he was asked about it twice on Wednesday by CNN and other outlets during a press conference.
The Army National Guard Bureau said they were aware of the situation with Tate.
April Cunningham, a National Guard Bureau spokesperson, said in a statement: “The National Guard is an apolitical organization. Personnel may not engage in partisan political activities and should avoid the inference that imply or appear to imply approval or endorsement of a political candidate, campaign or cause while in uniform.”
Army Capt. Jessica Donnelly, a South Carolina National Guard spokesperson, said in a statement: “The Department of Defense provides guidelines for military personnel that states service members are not to engage in political activities that imply or appear to imply sponsorship, approval, or endorsement of a political candidate, while in uniform.”
Donnelly added that Tate’s chain of command and leadership are aware of the incident, but due to the Privacy Act’s protection of the records of individuals, the South Carolina National Guard was not able to release specific personnel actions being taken.