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Acting SECDEF Shanahan Reminds Pentagon to Stay Apolitical Following ‘McCain Situation’

Acting U.S. Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan, meets Col. William Betts, 51st Fighter Wing commander, at Osan Air Base, Republic of Korea, June 2, 2019. US Air Force Photo

The acting head of the Pentagon reminded active duty military and Defense Department civilians of the “apolitical nature of military service and professionalism,” according to two memos reviewed by USNI News.

“DoD has a long-standing policy of encouraging military personnel to carry out the obligations of citizenship, which includes permitting certain political activities,” read the memo.
”However, our policy and tradition also clearly limit active duty members from engaging in partisan political activities or actions that could appear to imply DoD sponsorship, approval, or endorsement of a political candidate, campaign, or cause.”

The Wall Street Journal first reported the existence of the memos on Tuesday.

The pair of one-page memos from Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan were sent following reports the White House Military Office had asked that the Navy obscure the view of the Japan-based guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain (DDG-56) from the view of USS Wasp (LHD-1) during a May address by President Donald Trump.

Moves to obscure the ship for the visit were ultimately stopped by U.S. 7th Fleet commander Vice Adm. Phillip Sawyer, according to press reports. McCain was in “normal configuration,” during the president’s visit to the Yokosuka, Japan waterfront, a U.S. Pacific Fleet spokesman told USNI News.

News of the request from the White House military office sparked a global debate over how elected officials related to the military and prompted Shanahan to tell the White House the military was an apolitical part of the government.

The Tuesday memos were the reminders for the military and Pentagon employees, he said.

“What I wanted to do is — after the McCain situation — remind everyone that we’re not going to politicize the military. So it’s just a good healthy reminder – think of all the travel that is going to come up; think of the season that we’re entering into,” Shanahan told reporters at the Pentagon on Tuesday. “There’s nothing wrong with having a reminder.”

The following are the complete June 11, 2019 memos.

MEMORANDUM FOR ALL DOD PERSONNEL

SUBJECT: Political Activities

All DoD personnel, Service members, and civilian employees alike, swear an oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. Those of us privileged to serve our Nation, in and out of uniform, in the DoD must be the epitome of American values and ethics. Our mission, to protect and defend the Nation, is apolitical.

DoD has a long-standing policy of encouraging its personnel to carry out the obligations of citizenship, which includes permitting certain political activities. However, our policy and tradition also limit active partisan political activities or actions that could appear to imply DoD sponsorship, approval, or endorsement of a political candidate, campaign, or cause. All Service members should familiarize themselves with our policy in DoD Directive 1344.10. While many civilian DOD employees may take an active part in certain political activities, the extent and nature of their participation is limited by the Hatch Act and DoD policy. Regardless of whether civilian employees may engage in political activity, they may never engage in such activity while on-duty or in a Federal building.

I call on leaders at all levels in the Department to reinforce the apolitical nature of military and civilian service and professionalism, while ensuring all personnel remain free to exercise the responsibilities of citizenship as laws and regulations allow.

[signed]
Patrick M. Shanahan

MEMORANDUM FOR CHIEF MANAGEMENT OFFICER OF THE DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE
SECRETARIES OF THE MILITARY DEPARTMENTS
CHAIRMAN OF THE JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF
UNDER SECRETARIES OF DEFENSE
CHIEF OF THE NATIONAL GUARD BUREAU
GENERAL COUNSEL OF THE DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE
DIRECTOR OF COST ASSESSMENT AND PROGRAM EVALUATION
INSPECTOR GENERAL OF THE DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE
DIRECTOR OF OPERATIONAL TEST AND EVALUATION
CHIEF INFORMATION OFFICER OF THE DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE
ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF DEFENSE FOR LEGISLATIVE AFFAIRS
ASSISTANT TO THE SECRETARY OF DEFENSE FOR PUBLIC AFFAIRS
DIRECTOR OF NET ASSESSMENT
DIRECTORS OF DEFENSE AGENCIES
DIRECTORS OF DOD FIELD ACTIVITIES

SUBJECT: Political Activities of Service Members

All DoD personnel, Service members, and civilian employees alike, swear an oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. Those of us privileged to serve our Nation, in and out of uniform, in the DoD must be the epitome of American values and ethics. Our mission and our ethos as military professionals are apolitical.

DoD has a long-standing policy of encouraging military personnel to carry out the obligations of citizenship, which includes permitting certain political activities. However, our policy and tradition also clearly limit active duty members from engaging at partisan political activities or actions that could appear to imply DoD sponsorship, approval, or endorsement of a political candidate, campaign, or cause. Political activity by members of the Armed Forces continues to be governed by DoD Directive 1344. 10, which specifically lays out this policy.

I expect you to remind leaders at all levels in the Department to reinforce the apolitical nature of military service and professionalism, while ensuring all Service members remain free to exercise the responsibilities of citizenship as laws and regulations allow.

[signed]
Patrick M. Shanahan