WASHINGTON, April 28, 2008 – If the U.S. military lost its politically neutral footing, the armed forces would surrender the public’s trust, a senior U.S. military officer who explained a new Defense Department directive on troops’ political activity said in an interview. “If we do appear to be influenced by our own views or our own understanding of how things should be, we’re going to lose the public trust,” Army Col. Shawn Shumake, director of legal policy within the Office of the Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, told the Pentagon Channel. “We’re going to lose the confidence that’s so important and that the military has maintained for so many years.”

To reinforce the military’s apolitical position, the Defense Department has renewed its emphasis on the rules limiting what troops may or may not do within the political arena, Shumake said.

The new version of a department-issued directive titled “Political Activities by Members of the Armed Forces” became effective Feb. 19 and replaces the previous version, released in August 2004. It adds two sections that discuss candidacy and campaigning issues pertaining to former military members, retirees and current military reservists running for elected office.

Under certain circumstances, some reserve-component members can run for or hold elective political office, Shumake said in an interview with American Forces Press Service. Yet, there is “a right way and a wrong way to do that,” he stressed, noting the new language describing those issues.

The directive outlines specific rules pertaining to cases of regular, retired and reserve-component servicemembers holding elective or appointed office within the U.S. government, Shumake said, including elected positions with state, territorial, county or municipal governments.

In addition, the revised directive requires military members holding such positions to apply for and secure the approval of their individual service secretaries. Shumake noted that the requirement for service secretarial approval depends on the length of the servicemember’s call or order to active duty.

Active-duty servicemembers are strictly prohibited from campaigning for political office or actively taking part in a political campaign — even behind the scenes — and the revised directive specifies what active-duty members may or may not do regarding political activities, he added.

“The reason behind the limitations on political activities is the military has to be seen as exercising unvarnished military judgment,” Shumake told the Pentagon Channel. “We’ve got to make sure that the people understand that the military is not influenced by the events of the day and what could be considered partisan politics.”

Servicemembers with questions about the rules affecting partisan political activities or participation are encouraged to talk to their commanders for guidance.

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