I bet you’re glad to see Kaepernick out of the league.”
“Can you believe Trump gave that Navy Seal his rank back?”
“I bet it was weird having Obama as your commander, being that he’s a Muslim and all.”
I’ve been wearing the uniform since 2004 as both an Air Force officer and enlisted member, serving on active duty and in the Reserve. Each year, more and more of these “gems” come my way from people who seem to have a theory about what someone in the military does or doesn’t believe.
The first theory: “That boy is wearing a uniform, so he must be conservative and love guns and giant pickup trucks.”
Another theory: “He’s a military officer so he must hate how Trump is running the military with no regard for chain of command.”
As you can see, these “theories,” are presumptive generalizations and come from both sides of the aisle. Both are opinions formed without any input from me. Both are opinions based on the individual seeing the uniform I wear, and probably a few other factors (white, male, officer). These are just two of probably 2,000 theories I’ve heard over the last 15 years.
I can’t tell if it’s ignorance or if they have awareness that I have my own opinions, yet still they throw out bait on a fishing hook to see how I will react. I hope it’s more the former than the latter.
Airmen, Marines, soldiers and seaman can have opinions. We can even express them. Surprising, I know! The Army, however, struggles with any unique thoughts. Field manuals don’t allow them. That’s a joke by the way. I’m sure the Chair Force hate mail will come. Yes, we are spoiled. That stereotype is true!
To clarify, military members can express personal political opinions and even donate to political campaigns. The catch is we can’t use our rank or status in the military to influence others. In other words, I can’t say “I’m Capt. Gallimore, look at my uniform, please vote for Johnny Bananas, he’s the best choice for the military.”
There is a reason for this. The military is not a Republican. The military is not a Democrat. The military is a diverse organization that is focused on the defense of our nation. We raise our right hands to support and defend the Constitution of the United States, and while the oath of enlistment does state “we will obey the orders of the President of the United States,” presidents come in all shapes, sizes, colors and political parties (You may think just two, but some of the old guys were Federalists, Whigs, or unaffiliated like the original bossman George “I’m too cool for the party” Washington).
On top of that, we are only to follow “lawful” orders. You may believe that “lawful” is black and white, but it’s not. It’s very gray. The classic response from military lawyers is, “it depends.” Again, lots of gray, lots of blurred lines.
As a military officer, I go through training (ad nauseum) on how to handle these “gray areas,” and how to navigate this polarized political landscape. Many people forget how diverse and dynamic our force is.
I have worked with people of multiple races, ethnicities, religions, sexual orientations, genders and many other differentiating factors. Certainly, I’ve worked for military commanders that were Democrats or Republicans, and I’ve led troops that fall all over the political spectrum. It’s our ability to put those differences aside and use our diversity as a strength to defend this great nation.
The point is that military members are very diverse, and we all don’t agree on everything (except that we will defend freedom and this country). We can’t use our military status to influence others politically, but we all hold and can share personal opinions and beliefs, so the next time you throw out a hasty generalization about what we do or don’t believe, don’t be surprised if we punch you in the face (figuratively, of course!).