The Navy has punished sailors who were seen wearing patches that said “Make Aircrew Great Again” with an image of President Trump during a visit by the president to the USS Wasp last May, according to a report.
The Navy found in a review that sailors who wore those patches on their uniform sleeve violated Pentagon rules, CNN reported Thursday.
The U.S. Navy’s Pacific Fleet said in a statement to the outlet:
Though the investigation found the Sailors did not intend to wear the patches as a political statement for or against the President, U.S. Pacific Fleet determined that, because the American public could reasonably view the wearing of the patches on official uniforms as DoD association with President Trump’s 2020 campaign, it was in violation of [Department of Defense Directive] 1344.10.
DoDD 1344.10 states “members not on active duty should avoid inferences that their political activities imply or appear to imply official sponsorship, approval, or endorsement.”
A Pacific Fleet spokesperson, Rachel McMarr, said the Navy has taken “appropriate administrative measures” to ensure the leaders and sailors involved understand the requirements outlined in by the Defense Department and “give due consideration to the heightened risk that actions by service members in uniform will be perceived as an official DoD position.”
Military personnel often wear unofficial unit patches, sometimes imbued with humorous images, as part of an effort to build unit cohesion and morale.
However, service members are prohibited from exhibiting political messages while in uniform.
Unit commanders are usually responsible for ensuring that the unofficial patches do not violate military regulations.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper said last August in an interview with Fox News, “We don’t politicize the force whether it’s buttons or hats or whatever the case may be. Political items should not be worn on a military uniform ever.”
Troops who have expressed support for the president have come under attack by those who claim they are politicizing the military. In one prominent example, during a surprise trip to Iraq in Christmas 2018, Trump stopped over in Germany and was greeted by airmen who were holding — not even wearing — Make America Great Again (MAGA) hats and banners.
However, some media pundits and Trump critics argued that the airmen holding MAGA hats and banners violated military rules that prohibit taking part in partisan political activities while in uniform and called for them to be punished. Geraldo Rivera called the media criticism “petty.”
Rules are rules but my friends at #CNN & co. whining about GI’s-in contravention of some obscure regulation-asking @realDonaldTrump & @FLOTUS to sign their #maga hats seems particularly petty. It has a slimy coating that indicates deeper hatred.
— Geraldo Rivera (@GeraldoRivera) December 28, 2018
U.S. Air Forces Europe later said in a statement, “There is no rule against Airmen bringing personal items to be signed by the president.”
There did not appear to be the same media uproar when candidate Barack Obama stopped in Kuwait and signed magazine covers and other memorabilia for troops in uniform, or when a National Guard member wore her uniform to an event for presidential candidate Joe Biden and endorsed him.
One reporter called the National Guard soldier endorsing Biden a “really powerful moment”:
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