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Political Activity Restrictions Reminder

ELLSWORTH AIR FORCE BASE, S.D. -- Air Force Chief of Staff General Norton Schwartz's most recent Vector message encouraged all Air Force personnel to exercise their right to participate in the political process. How can they do this?

First and foremost, they have the opportunity to choose their next boss, the Commander in Chief. So make sure you're registered, get informed and exercise your right to vote.

During the election season, military members can express a personal opinion on political candidates and issues, attend political meetings or rallies as a spectator while not in uniform, join a political club, sign a petition and display a small bumper sticker on their vehicle.

However, General Schwartz's message also reminds Air Force personnel to abide by Air Force and Department of Defense regulations concerning political activities. These regulations are designed to prevent the improper appearance of DoD endorsement of a particular political position.

So what are the best methods for military members to prevent legal repercussions stemmed from political involvement?

The first rule of thumb is to avoid any activity which may be viewed as associating the federal government, directly or indirectly, with a partisan political activity. Air Force personnel may not engage in political activity while on duty, in a government office, while in uniform, or while using a government vehicle. It also means they cannot serve as an officer or sponsor of a partisan political group, march or ride in a partisan political parade or display political signs in base housing, including Dakota Ridge.

The penalties for engaging in prohibited political activity can be severe. For federal civilian employees, a Hatch Act violation may be punished by either removal from federal employment or a 30-day suspension without pay. Military members who violate DoD Directive 1344.10 or Air Force Instruction 51-902, Political Activities by Members of the U.S. Air Force, are subject to punishment under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

In short, all federal employees are encouraged to participate in the political process, however they should also be aware of the line and ensure they do not to cross it. Those who have questions or need more information may contact the Ellsworth Legal Office at (605) 385-2329.