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Lt. Col. Brown's Address

Saturday, March 5, 2005; Page A18

DEPARTMENT OF Defense Directive No. 1344.10, a torturously detailed regulation that runs to 12 pages of references, responsibilities, requirements, definitions and examples, is the Pentagon's last word on the subject of "Political Activities by Members of the Armed Forces on Active Duty." To summarize and condense: They are prohibited. Anthony G. Brown, an Army reservist serving in Iraq, recently ran afoul of the directive when he recorded a speech to be delivered in the Maryland House of Delegates, where, in his civilian life, Lt. Col. Brown serves as a delegate from Prince George's County and as the Democratic whip. The speech was about George Washington and was originally meant to be played at the State House in Annapolis on Presidents' Day. The Army, once it got word of the plan, vetoed it.

The merits of the directive, which is intended mainly to safeguard the military's political neutrality, are plain enough. But that neutrality would not have been much compromised by Lt. Col. Brown's elegant tribute to the nation's first president, who, like Lt. Col. Brown himself, was a citizen-soldier who turned to politics. Paraphrasing Washington's own words from 1775, upon his arrival in New York during the Revolutionary War, the draft of Lt. Col. Brown's address spoke for plenty of today's men and women in uniform: "When the war is over, soldiers return home; they return to a place that is far better than where they fought; but they fought to make better not only those places far from home, but home itself."

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Lt. Col. Brown's own experiences as a reservist in Baghdad, recently described by the Post's Cameron W. Barr, have been marked by frustration, danger and determination. As a lawyer working to help displaced Iraqis, he has had to lower his expectations and draw out his projected timeline for success; he estimates it will take five years to establish the mechanisms of a functioning government and bureaucracy. Halfway through his year-long deployment, Lt. Col. Brown stands as a reminder to his stateside colleagues and constituents of the sacrifice that reservists and other American citizen-soldiers make in wartime. For now, Lt. Col. Brown has lost his voice in the Maryland House of Delegates. But his stature is undiminished.

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