The Navy secretary is urging military personnel to remain apolitical weeks after a controversy in which the White House asked for the USS John McCain to be kept out of President Donald Trump’s sight during his visit to Japan.
In a memo issued last week, Navy Secretary Richard V. Spencer highlighted the importance of not taking sides as the election season gets closer.
“It is appropriate for us to remember that as military professionals, we are an apolitical body and our members cannot participate in activities that could appear to imply sponsorship, approval, or endorsement of a political candidate, campaign or cause,” it says.
“I want our Sailors, Marines and civilian employees to carry out the obligations of citizenship, including permitted political activities. At the same time, I require our service members and civilian employees to be aware of the difference between permitted and prohibited activities.”
It states no employee should engage in a political activity while on duty or in a federal building. “For any questions about what activities are permitted, please contact your local legal office,” the memo says.
Just days earlier, acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan issued two internal memos to employees on June 11 calling on Pentagon leaders to “reinforce the apolitical nature” of the US military.
The memos come after the White House Military Office asked lower-level US Navy officials about keeping the USS John S. McCain out of view during Trump’s visit to Japan in May. The discussion included obscuring the ship or moving it, which was not practical because it was under repairs at the time.
After the news surfaced, Shanahan told reporters that the request was not carried out.
Trump and the 2008 Republican presidential nominee were frequently at odds. Trump’s attacks against him did not stop after the Arizona senator’s death in August. The ship is named after the late senator’s father and grandfather.