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ELLSWORTH AIR FORCE BASE, S.D. -- Perhaps the most meaningful and profound reason for serving in the U.S. Air Force is to secure the blessings of liberty.

Airmen have the solemn duty of defending a nation whose political values and institutions secure freedom and justice for both its citizens, and others.

Freedom of speech is one of the fundamental, and most cherished, liberties. The right to state an opinion not only allows self expression, but also the exchange of political ideas. It is through such exchanges that democracy remains creative and strong.

All Americans have a role in keeping the union strong. However, Airmen carry additional responsibilities that other Americans don't have. They have taken a solemn vow to support and defend the Constitution; a document which guarantees freedom of speech to all, regardless of their opinions. However, the Constitution itself is neutral as to whose opinion is best. As defenders of the Constitution, servicemembers have a duty to also remain neutral while in uniform, and to always refrain from disparaging those who have been entrusted to lead the institutions of democratic government.

The Air Force uniform is a symbol of the vows taken by all Airmen. Even though servicemembers are extremely important defenders of freedom, and can exercise the rights that freedom stands on, the military uniform places limits on how to exercise those rights. Various rules govern the expression of freedom of speech, while at the same time ensuring Airmen don't betray the neutrality needed to defend the Constitution.

The rules governing political activities by Airmen, including those specifically involving the wearing of the uniform are found in: Department of Defense Instruction 1334.01, Wearing of the Uniform (2005), AFI 36-2903, Dress and Personal Appearance of Air Force Personnel (2006), AFI 51-902, Political Activities by Members of the Air Force (2010), and DoD Directive 1344.10 Political Activities by Members of the Armed Forces (2008).

If Airmen ever have a question about any kind of political activity they are thinking of doing, check with the base Legal Office first, by calling 385-2329. An ounce of prevention can prevent a pound, or more, of something worse. In fact, Airmen who engage in any of the prohibited activities are subject to prosecution under Article 92, Uniform Code of Military Justice, and to any other applicable provision of the UCMJ or Federal law.

A few of the things Airmen may do:

· Vote and express personal opinions on political issues and candidates, but not as representatives of the Air Force or DoD.
· Join a partisan or nonpartisan political club and attend its meetings when not in uniform, but not in any official capacity nor listed as a sponsor. The restriction on wearing the uniform to meetings also applies to retired and reserve component members.
· Wear a political button or t-shirt when not in uniform, performing military duties, or under circumstances that could reasonably give rise to an appearance of official endorsement.

A few of the things Airmen may not do:

· Wear the uniform "during or in connection with furthering political activities."
· Participate, while in uniform, in any activity such as unofficial public speeches, interviews, picket lines, marches, rallies or any public demonstration which may imply Air Force sanction of the cause for which the demonstration or activity is conducted. Authorization to wear the uniform under certain circumstances may be granted in accordance with DoD Instruction 1334.01, Wearing of the Uniform, as implemented by AFPD 36-29, Military Standards, and AFI 36-2903, Dress and Personal Appearance of Air Force Personnel.

Membership in the Air Force does not mean Airmen can't exercise freedom of speech. It does mean, however, that Airmen are responsible for defending that freedom for others. The uniform is a symbol of the oath taken to defend the Constitution. Airmen can read DoDI 1334.01, AFI 36-2903, AFI 51-902, and DoD Directive 1344.10, and consult with the base Legal Office by calling 385-2329 if they have any questions.

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