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U.S. Air Forces Europe (USAFE), responding to social media and TV reports that claimed troops who brought “Make America Great Again” hats for President Trump to sign were doing something wrong, issued a blunt statement on Thursday:
“There is no rule against Airmen bringing personal items to be signed by the president,” adding, “Any time the commander in chief offers the opportunity to meet with Airmen, such as this official holiday visit by the President and First Lady, Airmen are welcome to participate. No policy violations have been brought to our attention at this time.”
As Military.com reported, “USAFE said troops held the hats for signing, but did not wear them while in uniform.”
On Wednesday, Trump visited hundreds of U.S. troops in Al Asad Air Base in Iraq and Ramstein Air Base in Germany, some of whom brought “Make America Great Again” hats, and one Air Force captain who carried a Trump banner.
Some people connected to the military had criticized the troops; retired Army Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling tweeted, “There are myriad reasons for both a Department of Defense and an Army Regulation against military personnel participating in or showing allegiance to ANY political party while in uniform. Good commanders enforce; good NCOs jerk a knot in the (expletive) of those who violate.”
Pam Keith, a former Navy judge advocate general who ran for Congress as a Democrat, echoed on Twitter, “As a former Navy JAG, I can tell you that engaging in partisan political activity such as flying a Trump flag or wearing a MAGA hat, while in uniform is a violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice and its implementing regs.”
They were countered by Patrick J. Hughes, a former active duty Air Force JAG, who stated, “I think it remains debatable and no certainty that any laws or regulations were violated here, and I think at most some informal counseling on the above perception issue is warranted. … The purpose of the event was to greet the Airmen while his plane refueled. This is why I believe the question as to whether these airmen have done anything prohibited by law or regulation is less certain.”
CNN had run a segment criticizing the troops for having Trump sign their hats or their embroidered patches reading “Trump 2020.” CNN hosted retired Rear Adm. John Kirby, a former Obama administration spokesperson, who told CNN’s Jim Acosta, “It is in fact a campaign slogan, that is a campaign item, and it is completely inappropriate for the troops to do this.”
CNN also wrote on their website, “… troops’ requests for the autographs could brush up against Department of Defense guidelines for political activities.” CNN then quoted Department of Defense guidelines stating, “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.”
But CNN left out this nugget from the guidelines: “Active duty members may, however, express their personal opinions on political candidates and issues, make monetary contributions to a political campaign or organization, and attend political events as a spectator when not in uniform.”