Options to Address the Risk from Elected Officials Concurrently in the National Guard or Reserves

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[1].” 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[2][3].

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[4]. 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[5],” 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[6].

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.

Recommendation:  None.


[1] 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 

[2] 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 

[3] 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/ 

[4] 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 

[5] 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   

[6] U.S. Department of the Interior. (n.d.). Eisenhower Military Chronology. National Parks Service. Retrieved January 16, 2022, from https://www.nps.gov/features/eise/jrranger/chronomil1.htm 

Armed Forces Marshall McGurk Option Papers Politicization United States

Assessing the Role of Armed Forces in Activities Below the Threshold of War

Damimola Olawuyi has served as a Geopolitical Analyst for SBM Intelligence. He can be found on Twitter @DAOlawuyi. Dr Paul Jemitola is a lecturer at the Air Force Institute of Technology. He can be reached on LinkedIn at Paul Jemitola. 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.

Title:  Assessing the Role of Armed Forces in Activities Below the Threshold of War

Date Originally Written: September 26, 2020.

Date Originally Published:  December 21, 2020.

Authors and / or Article Point of View:  The return to Great Power competition and the utilization by various rising powers of the current world order of hybrid warfare and destabilizing activities short of war has increased the calls for governments to refocus their priorities to other levers of power. Even as the authors support increased investment in other areas of government to enhance their contributions to national security, it is important to articulate the role that armed forces could play in interactions that would fall short of armed conflict.

Summary:  As the world returns to Great Power competition, militaries will continue to play a role even in activities below the threshold of war. As the Global War on Terror winds down from a period of intensity, policymakers can identify those roles the military must play without needless overlap with the jurisdiction of other government agencies and shape their policy decisions accordingly.

Text:  The rise of new powers willing to upend the current global order has given rise to new flashpoints while rekindling old rivalries[1][2]. While the interconnected nature of the global economy disincentivizes direct conflict between major powers[3][4], the rise of nationalism, especially in the developed world[5], demands that political leaders take strong actions to counter perceived competitors. This demand for action drives countries to find ways to undermine their opponents without engaging in direct conflict[6].

This reality, combined with the mixed records of military interventions in recent times, has caused many to call for governments to shift resources away from the military to fund other means of projecting national power short of sustained armed conflicts[7]. While governments must maintain various options in foreign policy and defence [8][9], the role of the military in maintaining peace, whether against near-peer adversaries or non-state actors, cannot be diminished and will be crucial in the next Cold War as it was in the last[10].

Militaries can continue to serve as instruments of deterrence against hostile activities of competitors[11][12]. The presence of military power and highly visible demonstrations of its capabilities can reinforce messages being passed through diplomatic and political channels. From gunboat diplomacy to freedom of navigation operations, these shows of force are meant to demonstrate the willingness of their governments to challenge actions against their interests while reassuring allies that their interests were also being catered to. A credible deterrence means that adversaries are less likely to engage in costly conventional military actions and will keep their activities confined below war threshold levels[13].

Militaries can provide security for other arms of governments operating in hostile environments[14][15]. Diplomats and politicians visiting or serving in warzones and other adversarial conditions can be protected by military units with experience in Executive Protection. This security support to diplomacy will be keeping in traditions of the United States Marine Corps and especially its Marine Corps Embassy Security Group[16]. In case of emergencies, the military can provide contingency support to reinforcing security or evacuating personnel[17].

Militaries can build relationships with counterparts through exercises, personnel exchange programs, conferences, and intergovernmental military alliance meetings[18]. In many countries, the armed forces continue to serve as independent power bases largely separate from political leaders[19][20]. These military to military engagements require that senior military commanders engage with their opposite numbers and deliver a unified message alongside diplomatic and political overtures. This unified messaging ensures that actions agreed to by political leaders are not disrupted by the militaries of those countries.

Militaries seek to attract the best and brightest of society[21]. Military education programs and professional training also serve as a platform to develop professionals with critical skills needed by other government agencies. Intelligence collectors and analysts, language and cultural experts, and logistics and security specialists are just some of the skills routinely trained and deployed by the military. Government agencies can tap into the existing military structures to train their professionals[22] or hire veterans with training and experience. Militaries can also second their officers to work directly in civil or political organizations as subject matter experts or even leaders/managers[23].

The military may continue to provide relevant military intelligence on the military capabilities of allies, competitors, and adversaries to political leaders to support policy making[24]. By compiling and presenting information on how capable militaries and other state and non-state actors in the area of interest are, the military can help policymakers determine how much to depend on military power and how much to rely on other means of influencing the situation.

The military can provide support to civil government agencies seeking to leverage military capabilities to achieve civilian goals[25][26]. From logistical support in disaster relief, crisis management during unplanned contingencies, cybersecurity, or even the regular movement of daily items for diplomats and civilian government workers deployed abroad, the military can use its already established logistics networks to support the missions of agencies who do not need to establish duplicating functions in their agencies.

The military can also play a niche role in grey-zone or paramilitary operations usually the preserve of intelligence agencies[27]. As the Global War on Terror and the new competition between states continue to evolve, the military may continue to provide the personnel to carry out the planning and execution phase of clandestine operations previously left to the paramilitary forces of intelligence agencies.

The military can play a critical role in the protection of critical infrastructure[28], especially in cyberspace. In the age of information / political warfare[29], cyber-attacks[30], and election interference[31], the ability to identify, classify, and defeat external threats in real-time depends on military forces and intelligence agencies facing outwards as much as security services and law enforcement agencies looking inwards. The ability to deliver a proportionate response beyond the domain attacked adds additional credibility to deterrence [32]. By its nature, warfare in cyberspace will not be limited to a single service or agency but will require the entire society to build resilience and respond appropriately. The military will necessarily be a part of any response to such threats, either to the Defense Industrial Base Sector or to the wider society.

As the dawn of a new era in international relations begins, leaders will need to rely on every available lever of power to achieve favourable outcomes as they compete for a favourable place on the global stage. While many events will occur outside the realm of armed conflict, it will not diminish the role the armed forces plays to ensure successful outcomes. Thus as governments take critical decisions on the means of expressing their nation’s will and safeguarding its interests, they can embrace neither neglecting their militaries nor limit their contribution to simply to the waging of its wars.


[1] Mullan, T. (2019, June 25). The World Order is Dead. Long Live the New World Order. Retrieved August 8, 2020, from https://www.cfr.org/blog/world-order-dead-long-live-world-order

[2] Friedman, U. (2019, August 6). The New Concept Everyone in Washington Is Talking About. Retrieved August 8, 2020, from https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2019/08/what-genesis-great-power-competition/595405

[3] Adorney, G. (2013, October 15). Want Peace, Promote Free Trade. Retrieved September 15, 2020, from https://fee.org/articles/want-peace-promote-free-trade

[4] Mooney, L. (2014, May 28). Matthew O. Jackson: Can Trade Prevent? Retrieved September 15, 2020, from https://www.gsb.stanford.edu/insights/matthew-o-jackson-can-trade-prevent-war

[5] Ulansky, E and Witenberg. W. (2016, May 31). Is Nationalism on the Rise Globally? Retrieved September 15, 2020, from https://www.huffpost.com/entry/is-nationalism-on-the-ris_b_10224712

[6] Barno, D. (2014, July 28). The Shadow Wars of the 21st Century. Retrieved September 26, 2020, from https://warontherocks.com/2014/07/the-shadow-wars-of-the-21st-century

[7] Hick, K. (2020, March/April). Getting to Less: The Truth About Defense Spending. Retrieved September 26, 2020, from https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/2020-02-10/getting-less

[8] Schweitzer, C. (2004, December 1). Building an alternative to military intervention. Retrieved September 26, 2020, from https://peacenews.info/node/3634/building-alternative-military-intervention

[9] (2007, November). Alternatives to military intervention: What is done by the military that could be done better by civilians? Retrieved September 26, 2020, from http://www.irenees.net/bdf_fiche-analyse-707_en.html

[10] Kaplan, R. (2019, January 7). A New Cold War has Begun. Retrieved September 26, 2020, from https://foreignpolicy.com/2019/01/07/a-new-cold-war-has-begun

[11] Flournoy, M. (2020, August 18). How to Prevent a War in Asia. Retrieved September 26, 2020, from https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/united-states/2020-06-18/how-prevent-war-asia

[12] Mauroni, A. (2019, October 8). Deterrence: I Don’t Think It Means What You Think It Means. Retrieved September 26, 2020, from https://mwi.usma.edu/deterrence-dont-think-means-think-means

[13] Walter, P. (2016, August 15). National Security Adaptations to Below Established Threshold Activities. Retrieved September 26, 2020, from https://www.lawfareblog.com/national-security-adaptations-below-established-threshold-activities

[14] Roper, G. (2010, February 17). Soldiers train to protect VIPs. Retrieved September 26, 2020, from https://www.army.mil/article/34558/soldiers_train_to_protect_vips

[15] Elite UK ForcesSAS – Close Protection. Retrieved September 26, 2020, from https://www.eliteukforces.info/special-air-service/close-protection

[16] Martinez, L. (2019, May 1). An inside look at the training for Marines who protect US embassies. Retrieved September 26, 2020, from https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/inside-training-marines-protect-us-embassies/story?id=62736016

[17] Atlamazoglou, S. (2020, March 4). Exclusive: Army Special Forces Command Disbands Elite Unit. Retrieved September 26, 2020, from https://sofrep.com/news/exclusive-army-special-forces-command-disbands-elite-units

[18] Myers, D. (2018, August 17). The Importance of Educating Foreign Military Officers. Retrieved September 26, 2020, from https://smallwarsjournal.com/jrnl/art/importance-educating-foreign-military-officers

[19] Feldberg, R. (1970, Spring). Political System and the Role of the Military. The Sociological Quarterly, 11(2), 206-218. Retrieved September 26, 2020, from https://www.jstor.org/stable/4105402

[20] Gutteridge, W. (1982). The military in African politics — Success or failure?, Journal of Contemporary African Studies, 1:2, 241-252, Retrieved September 26, 2020, from https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/02589008208729384

[21] Barno, D. and Benshael, N. (2015, November 5). Can the U.S. Military Halt Its Brain Drain? Retrieved September 26, 2020, from https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/11/us-military-tries-halt-brain-drain/413965

[22] National Defense University. Attending National War College. Retrieved September 26, 2020, from https://nwc.ndu.edu/Students/Attending-NWC

[23] UN Secretary-General. (2016, July 29). Seconded active-duty military and police personnel: Report of the Secretary-General. Retrieved September 26, 2020, from https://digitallibrary.un.org/record/837050/files/A_71_257-EN.pdf

[24] Katz, B. (2018, November 14). Intelligence and You: A Guide for Policymakers. . Retrieved September 26, 2020, from https://warontherocks.com/2018/11/intelligence-and-you-a-guide-for-policymakers

[25] Buchalter, A. (2007, February). Military Support to Civil Authorities: The Role of the Department of Defence in Support of Homeland Defense. Retrieved September 26, 2020, from https://www.loc.gov/rr/frd/pdf-files/CNGR_Milit-Support-Civil-Authorities.pdf

[26] US Government. (2018, October 29). Defence Support of Civil Authorities. Retrieved September 26, 2020, from https://www.jcs.mil/Portals/36/Documents/Doctrine/pubs/jp3_28.pdf

[27] Livermore, D. (2019, September 10). Passing the paramilitary touch from the CIA to the Special Operations Command. Retrieved September 26, 2020, from https://www.militarytimes.com/opinion/commentary/2019/09/10/passing-the-paramilitary-torch-from-the-cia-to-special-operations-command

[28] Vergun, D. (2019, September 6). Cyber Strategy Protects Critical U.S. Infrastructure. Retrieved September 27, 2020, from https://www.defense.gov/Explore/News/Article/Article/1954009/cyber-strategy-protects-critical-us-infrastructure

[29] Robinson, L. Helmus, T. Cohen, R. Nader, A. Radin, A. Magnuson, M. and Migacheva, K. (2018). Modern Political Warfare: Current Practices and Possible Responses. Retrieved September 27, 2020, from, https://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/research_reports/RR1700/RR1772/RAND_RR1772.pdf

[30] Wallace, I. (2013, December 16). The Military Role in National Cybersecurity Governance. Retrieved September 27, 2020, from, https://www.brookings.edu/opinions/the-military-role-in-national-cybersecurity-governance

[31] U.S. Cyber Command. (2020, February 10). DOD Has Enduring Role in Election Defense. Retrieved September 27, 2020, from, https://www.defense.gov/Explore/News/Article/Article/2078716/dod-has-enduring-role-in-election-defense

[32] Monaghan, S. Cullen, P. and Wegge N. (2019, March). MCDC Countering Hybrid Warfare Project: Countering Hybrid Warfare. Retrieved September 27, 2020, from, https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/784299/concepts_mcdc_countering_hybrid_warfare.pdf

Armed Forces Below Established Threshold Activities (BETA) Damimola Olawuyi Dr. Paul Jemitola