If you’re in the Army and you support a political candidate, the service is fine with that.
If you’re in the Army and you stand up at a podium, in uniform, and hail a political candidate’s foreign policy positions before a national television audience, the service might be less fine with that.
The Army said Wednesday that it was examining whether a 28-year-old Army reservist breached military protocol when he spoke at a Ron Paul rally in Iowa on the night of the caucuses.
The soldier, Cpl. Jesse Thorsen, was brought on stage as a military supporter by the Texas Republican, and appeared thrilled to be participating. Standing beside the candidate, he compared the experience to “meeting a rock star.”
“If there’s any man out there that’s had a vision out there, it’s definitely him,” Thorsen said. “His foreign policy is by far, hands down better than any other candidate’s out there, and I’m sure you all know that. We don’t need to be picking fights overseas and I think everybody else knows that, too.”
Thorsen, in a separate interview with CNN at the Tuesday event, described himself as a 10-year veteran, saying he had served two tours in Afghanistan and was due to head back for a third.
“I’ve been serving for 10 years now, and all 10 years of those have been during wartime,” said Thorsen, a member of the 372nd Engineer Brigade. “I’d like to see a little peacetime Army, and I think [Paul] has the right idea.”
Paul has vowed to pull troops out of Afghanistan if elected.
The military has a detailed set of regulations on service members and political activity. Under a Defense Department directive, troops on active duty are expected to “avoid inferences that their political activities imply or appear to imply official sponsorship, approval, or endorsement.”
Generally speaking, the policy does not prevent troops from participating in partisan activities. But officials tend to draw the line when service members do so while wearing a uniform or acting in an official capacity.
“It’s not in keeping with the spirit of the letter of the DoD directive,” said an Army spokesman, George Wright, without directly addressing the issue of Thorsen’s appearance.
Maj. Angel Wallace, a spokeswoman for the Army Reserve command, said Thorsen was not on active duty as of October, according to the available records. Still, she said, his commanders are in the process of determining which regulations, if any, were violated, and what the penalty might be.
His chain of command, Wallace said, is “determining the next steps.”
Thorsen could not be reached for comment.
Staff researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.