Marine Sergeant Gary Stein is facing discharge because of his “Armed Forces Tea Party” Facebook page that he created. On this page, Stein routinely criticizes President Barack Obama. The Department of Defense has policies in place that prevent enlisted men and women, as well as officers, from being involved in politics. Since the days following the Civil War, the military has maintained an apolitical position. With the advent of social media as a platform from which to pontificate on any subject, it is relatively easy for anyone to voice their political views.
The concept of strong democracy is based upon a neutral military. When soldiers join the military, they swear an oath, not to defend the president or any political ideology, but an oath to defend the Constitution.
When it comes to free speech, the military is unique. As American citizens, enlisted men and women enjoy the same freedoms that civilians do, including freedom of speech; however, members of the Armed Forces must be mindful of their audience. The military preaches situational awareness and this is where Stein went wrong, and continues to do so. It is perfectly fine to discredit his Commander-In-Chief from the comfort of his own home, or with his buddies during a pickup basketball game. But when he does it through social media, it is akin to giving a major political speech in front of millions of people.
Department of Defense Directive Directive 1344.10, ("Political Activities by Members of the Armed Forces on Active Duty"), strictly forbids this activity. In the past, the Supreme Court has weighed-in on political activity by the military. In the 1976 case of Parker vs. Levy, the majority decision read, “While members of the military are not excluded from the protection guaranteed by [the Constitution's free speech provisions in] the First Amendment, the different character of the military community and of the military mission requires a different application of those protections.”
This is not the first time Stein has gotten into trouble over Armed Forces Tea Party. When he initially created the page, he used it to voice his opinions about Obamacare. When he was reprimanded by his superiors about the content of the page, he took it down. Shortly after, however, Stein decided that he had been doing nothing wrong. Stein first stated that he would not follow orders from the president, but then changed his statement to a refusal to follow an order that he believes will violate the constitutional rights of U.S. citizens.
Stein has criticized both Obama and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta on his page, and Stein feels he has done nothing wrong. “I'm completely shocked that this is happening," he says. "If I am guilty of anything it would be that I am American, a freedom loving conservative, hell bent on defending the constitution and preserving America’s greatness."
What Stein does not seem to realize is that there is a time and a place to voice his opinions.
At the very least, Stein’s actions show a lack of situational awareness. In addition, putting personal beliefs above the mission reflects poorly on this Marine. The mission is to defend and protect our national interests. Former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen wrote in 2008, “What the nation expects is that military personnel will, in the execution of the mission assigned to them, put aside their partisan leanings. Political opinions have no place in cockpit or camp or conference room."
Like Admiral Mullen, some of our more highly regarded military leaders in recent memory have worked with presidents from both sides of the aisle. Bob Gates worked with George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush and Barack Obama. David Patraeus has commanded forces under the direction of both George W. Bush and Barack Obama. These men followed orders, regardless of whether or not the commander-in-chief was a Republican or a Democrat. Gary Stein’s actions may seem heroic to some, but he will never be regarded as a great military man.