Marshall McGurk serves in the United States Army and has deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan, and Lebanon. He presently works at the Joint Readiness Training Center as a Special Operations Forces Observer-Coach/Trainer. He can be found on Twitter @MarshallMcGurk and writes for the Havok Journal website. Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.
National Security Situation: Elected Officials who concurrently serve in the National Guard or Reserves politicize the U.S. Armed Forces.
Date Originally Written: January 13, 2022.
Date Originally Published: January 31, 2022.
Author and / or Article Point of View: The author is an active duty U.S. Army Officer. The author believes in the responsibilities and duties of military service. The article is written from the point of view that boundaries must be made or enforced to prevent politicization within the Armed Forces.
Background: Currently, there are 14 members of the 117th Congress still serving in the Armed Forces of the United States. “Six House Members and one Senator are still serving in the reserves, and seven House Members are still serving in the National Guard.” Veteran candidates for political office and those serving while elected find themselves under increased scrutiny. This scrutiny comes from a public with different opinions regarding the January 6, 2021 attempted insurrection at the U.S. Capitol Building in response to the 2020 election, a nation no longer at war in Iraq or Afghanistan, and a crippling global pandemic that has threatened the U.S. economy and national security. Due to these events, numerous retired military officers from O-5 to General Officer/Flag Officer rank have publicly expressed their concerns for or against previous or current U.S. Presidents.
None of the options outlined hereafter prohibit non-partisan elected or appointed service allowed by Department of Defense Directive (DoDD) 1344.10, “Political Activities by Members of the Armed Forces.”
Significance: In light of the background and the increasing airing of grievances, having elected officials serving concurrently in the military is a national security concern. The use of military uniforms, rank-based trappings, and influence in the electoral process is ripe for exploitation by foreign intelligence services. This situation sows seeds of division among military members, could negatively affect the trust that civilians and military members place in their elected officials, and could create undue influence of rank upon military members when the ballot is cast.
There is also a waning of civilian trust in the U.S. military. A November 2021 Reagan Foundation survey found only 45% of those surveyed had a great deal of confidence in the military institution. Civilian trust in the military institution is vital for national defense. Serving while in elected office may lead to conflicts of interest while developing response options to foreign interference in U.S. elections.
Option #1: DoD Requires Elected Military Members to Enter the Individual Ready Reserve
The Department of Defense could create regulations that place elected military members or those appointed to partisan national positions in the Individual Ready Reserve, without pay, benefits, or activation, for the duration of their elected service. The strictures of DoDD 1344.10 remain in place, allowing the elected official to state their military affiliation, while also confirming the primacy of their elected position.
Risk: Elected officials maintaining military affiliation through the little-known Individual Ready Reserve may lead to confusion within the electorate about roles and responsibilities of their elected officials. This may also trigger conflict of interest concerns if language in the legislation does not prohibit activation of concurrently serving officials for overseas or Defense Support of Civil Authorities missions.
Gain: Option #1 would allow for a possible win-win-win for military members seeking elected office, for the Legislative Branch, and for the Department of Defense. Elected officials could maintain affiliation to a trusted and respected institution, and the Legislative Branch and electorate would not endure their Representatives and Senators deploying to dangerous missions outside of their legislative duties.
Option #2: DoD Prohibits Military Members from Seeking Elected Office
Another option is for the Department of Defense to modify DoDD 1344.10, “Political Activities by Members of the Armed Forces,” so military members are prohibited from seeking elected office entirely. Those seeking state or national elected office would have to agree to an honorable discharges or retirement from military service before declaring candidacy. This option includes all services, components, military occupational specialties, and functional areas.
Risk: Option #2 would remove a historical precedent of concurrent service in the Legislative and Executive Branches of government going back to the founding of the United States and the Continental Congress. An adjustment to this precedent would spark debate in the Department of Defense, the greater Executive Branch, the Legislative branches, as well as debate in the public sphere by those wishing to maintain the status quo.
Gain: Option #2 reinforces the non-partisan nature of the United States Armed Forces in accordance with the spirit and intent of DoDD 1344.10.
Option #3: Congress Bars Members from Reserve or National Guard Membership
One option is for Congress to pass legislation barring national elected officials or those appointed to partisan national positions from serving in the Reserve or National Guard. The newly elected or appointed official must resign or retire from their military position prior to their inauguration. There is historical precedent for this option as President Dwight D. Eisenhower resigned his military commission in 1952 prior to his presidency.
Risk: This change in legislation would only affect those elected to national office. This means states would have to make their own choices about whether or not to change their legislation. Human Resource departments within the Armed Forces may not be prepared to process resignations or retirements of elected officials currently serving.
Gain: The gain from option #3 is a removal of risk, a removal of misinformation and disinformation opportunities, and a clear delineation of military and civil responsibilities.
Other Comments: All three options would require DoDD 1344.10 to be re-written, coordinated, adjudicated, and its new version approved by the Secretary of Defense.
 Congress.gov. (2022, January 3). Membership of the 117 Congress: A profile. Congressional Research Service. Retrieved January 15, 2022 from https://crsreports.congress.gov/product/pdf/R/R46705
 Open letter from retired generals and admirals. Flag Officers 4 America. (2021, May). Retrieved January 15, 2022, from https://img1.wsimg.com/blobby/go/fb7c7bd8-097d-4e2f-8f12-3442d151b57d/downloads/2021%20Open%20Letter%20from%20Retired%20Generals%20and%20Adm.pdf?ver=1620643005025
 Eaton, P. D., Taguba, A. M., & Anderson, S. M. (2022, January 6). Opinion | 3 retired generals: The military must prepare now for a 2024 insurrection. The Washington Post. Retrieved January 15, 2022, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2021/12/17/eaton-taguba-anderson-generals-military/
 Beacon Research (2021, November) U.S. National Survey Of Defense Attitudes On Behalf Of The Ronald Reagan Foundation Final Topline Results Retrieved January 15, 2022 from https://s.wsj.net/public/resources/documents/Reagan%20Foundation%20-%20November%202021%20Survey%20-%20Topline%20Results.pdf
 FVAP.gov (2008, February 19) Department of Defense Directive Number 1344.10. Department of Defense. Retrieved January 15, 2022 from https://www.esd.whs.mil/Portals/54/Documents/DD/issuances/dodd/134410p.pdf
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