Political activity do's and don'ts for Airmen

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Kristen Pittman
  • 403rd Wing Public Affairs

Another presidential election cycle is here, and with the prevalence of demonstrations and online discourse, it’s important for Reserve Citizen Airmen to understand their rights when it comes to political activities.

Just like any other American, Airmen enjoy the same rights and responsibilities to vote and support their favored candidates, but there are limitations for public servants when it comes to exercising those rights.

For Airmen, Air Force Instruction 1-1 Air Force Culture is introduced as soon as their initial training begins. It provides guidance on standards of conduct, performance, and discipline instilling a foundation for the professional standards Airmen will be held to throughout their career on and off duty including through any electronic mediums.

Regarding political activities and social media, AFI 1-1 is a good starting point for Airmen who want to understand what is out of bounds.

According to AFI 1-1 Paragraph 2.19 Political Activities, Airmen may attend partisan political events when not in uniform, not on duty, and when solely acting as a spectator. Airmen may also make monetary contributions to a political organization, party, or committee favoring a candidate or slate of candidates when not on duty.

“Generally, you don’t want to create the perception that the Air Force is adopting views of certain ideologies whether that is political views or religious views,” said Capt. Matthew Ludowig, 403rd Wing Staff Judge Advocate. “We want the Air Force to remain separate from personal views.”

Ludowig emphasized that the Air Force encourages its members to participate in their civic duty of voting and being engaged in the democratic process of the United States, but that views and ideas expressed should be purveyed as solely those of the individual.

“The biggest problem we see is when military members participate in activities while on duty or in uniform,” said Ludowig. “Speaking at or attending events supporting a certain candidate or party in uniform gives the impression that that member is speaking in an official capacity and therefore reflecting the views of their entire branch of service.”

On base, members are allowed to display a single, standard sized bumper sticker supporting a candidate, party, or cause on their personally owned vehicles, but large flags and other displays are not allowed. Displaying signs, banners and posters are also prohibited from workspaces on base.

“For uniformed members and federal employees alike, the workplace is not an appropriate place for political discussion,” said Ludowig. “Also, Airmen may not attempt to influence views, positions, or votes of subordinates.

Keeping the limitations set by federal law, the Joint Ethics Regulation, AFI, and the Uniform Code of Military Justice in mind, Airmen must also hold themselves accountable online.

In the same vein of being unable to attend events in uniform, when expressing views online, Airmen should be sure to separate their views from their military service.

“An example would be if someone made a video expressing their views, but maybe it was in their home office where they have an Air Force flag or medals on their desk,” said Ludowig. “That could be misconstrued as representing the Air Force rather than solely personal views and could potentially lead to reprimand.”

Ludowig stressed the importance of just being responsible when expressing views and opinions and exercising caution when posting online. For more information on this topic from senior DoD leadership, check out this memo and quick guide and do not hesitate to contact 403d Wing Legal Office at 403WG.JA2@us.af.mil.