Airmen have the right … just not in uniform

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Rob Mims
  • 319th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
"That is my personal opinion and does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the United States Air Force or the Department of Defense."

This is usually said in jest; however, in this day and age, it reflects the mantra Air Force members might want to say before they voice their opinion.

According to Air Force Instruction 51- 902, Air Force members are allowed to sign a petition for specific legislative action or a petition to place a candidate's name on an official election ballot, if the signing does not obligate the member to engage in partisan political activity and is done as a private citizen and not as a representative of the armed forces.

The legal interpretation of the above referenced section forbids Air Force members from signing a petition against the current war while on duty or in uniform.

If members wish to sign such a petition, they must do so in their civilian capacity only. Furthermore, if members sign such a petition in their civilian capacity, they may not use their military rank or title.

In laymen's terms, it means not berating Air Force or DOD policies while in uniform. It also means Airmen can't use their rank or affiliation with the military while expressing their opinion online or otherwise in writing.

Recently a high-ranking Air Force member who is scheduled to deploy to Iraq next year, signed an anti-war petition online and used his rank. He subsequently told a reporter that his high rank was one reason he had signed the appeal.

He obviously knew his actions were wrong because he also told the reporter that by signing the petition it "shows just how much we are willing to risk."

Airmen who don the uniform or use their rank have the legal obligation to follow Air Force policies.

The bottom line is that a member is allowed to sign a petition as part of their freedom of speech, but it should be done in their civilian capacity. No one is trying to curb anyone's ability to speak out, but there are specific prohibitions listed in AFI 51-902.