A Marine Corps color guard that was recently photographed at former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club in Florida was attending a non-political event that was meant to raise awareness about veterans suicides, a lead spokesman for the Marine Corps said in a statement.

“The event was neither a political fundraiser, nor was the 45th President of the United States in attendance,” Marine Maj. Jim Stenger said on Saturday. The Marines in the photo are reservists from the 4th Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Company, Stenger said, a West Palm Beach-based unit commonly referred to as 4th ANGLICO. 

Rebuffing a wide range of internet-based critiques, a Marine Forces Reserve official told Task & Purpose that the Marines in the Mar-a-Logo photo were in proper uniform, and were at the command of “rest” when the picture was taken before the ceremony began, rather than in a formation for presentation of colors, relieving them of requirements like secured chinstraps.

Task & Purpose has viewed the request from a veterans group for the Marine color guard, which says the event will “honor and showcase the dedication and commitment of our armed forces to our nation’s security and values.”

The picture caused an online stir when it emerged on social media as military members, veterans and commentators speculated on why Marines in uniform and performing the formal duties of a color guard would be at a Mar-a-Lago event, a frequent home for political fundraisers and organizing for Donald Trump’s political campaigns.

The U.S. military has long been fiercely apolitical. American service members are not allowed to speak at political rallies or wear their uniforms at political events to avoid giving the appearance that the Defense Department endorses a particular candidate or cause. Any event sponsored by a political campaign — like a rally or fundraising event — would fall under those rules.

But in the past several years, the U.S. military’s tradition of staying out of partisan politics has become increasingly tested as political divisions within the country have intensified.

The South Carolina Army National Guard investigated a major in 2019 after she was caught on video attending a rally in uniform for then-presidential candidate Joe Biden, during which she told Biden that she prayed he would be elected president.  

Subscribe to Task & Purpose today. Get the latest military news and culture in your inbox daily.

The major’s leadership later “took actions they considered appropriate for the situation,” said a South Carolina Army National Guard spokesperson, who did not elaborate further, citing the Privacy Act’s protection of service members’ records.

A Marine who helped save a baby at Hamid Karzai International Airport in 2021 also came under scrutiny after former President Donald Trump invited him to appear onstage at a 2022 political rally. The Marine was ultimately found to have not violated any Defense Department policies that limit service members’ political activities.

When pictures of the Marine color guard attending the April 11 event at Trump’s private club appeared on social media over the weekend, former Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) questioned whether the Marines had broken the law.

“It’s either illegal per UCMJ, or they aren’t marines which would be weird,” Kinzinger posted on X.

Kinzinger himself caused a kerfuffle in 2019 when he criticized Wisconsin’s governor for withdrawing National Guard troops from the U.S.-Mexico border while Kinzinger was serving as a colonel in the Wisconsin Air National Guard.

Stenger, the Marine Corps spokesman, clarified that the Marine reservists from the 4th Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Company provided a color guard and static display at a community event at the Mar-a-Lago Club hosted by a non-profit group, which had submitted an official request for military support.

“The request was reviewed by Marine Forces Reserve Community Relations and deemed eligible for support,” Stenger said. “The event was open to the public and helped raise awareness about military and veteran suicides.”

Some commenters raised questions on social media about the Marines’ appearance. A picture of the color guard shared on X appears to show that one of the Marines is taller than the others, when Marine Corps regulations require that all members of a color guard should be roughly the same height. The Marines are also not wearing their chin straps and at least two are not standing at parade rest

The Marines were selected for the color guard based on their availability along with their drill and ceremonies proficiency, said Marine Lt. Col. Craig W. Thomas, a spokesman for Marine Forces Reserve and Marine Forces South.

“Please understand, Inspector-Instructor staffs are not large,” Thomas told Task & Purpose on Monday. “In addition to the conduct of Marine Corps daily training and readiness responsibilities, the unit’s staff also supports multiple community relations events and military funeral honors each week.”

The reason why the Marines are not wearing their chin straps is they were not executing a presentation of the colors at the time the picture was taken, so they were not in a formation in a ceremonial capacity, Thomas said.

The Marines were preparing when gala guests approached them and asked for the picture to be taken, Thomas said.

“The photo was impromptu, hence the more approachable posture,” Thomas said. “They were an ‘independent’ unit and were at the command of ‘rest.’ Additionally, several online comments were made concerning the lack of decorations on the color guard uniforms (ribbons, badges, or medals). Decorations were removed for the conduct of the color guard to prevent damage and obstruction during drill. Decorations were again donned upon completion of the detail.”

Cary Reichbach is the founder and president of Grey Team, the veterans group that requested the Marine color team.

Grey Team is a non-partisan non-profit group that focuses on preventing suicides that has no connection to Trump, his reelection campaign, or any other political cause, Cary Reichbach told Task & Purpose on Monday.

“We don’t donate to any political campaign at all,” said Reichbach, an Army veteran. “One hundred percent of our proceeds go toward veterans’ lifesaving programs. “We are a platinum-rated charity. We are 100% transparent.”

It is against Grey Team’s charter to donate money to a political campaign, he added.

The April 11 event was not a fundraiser for Trump, and Grey Team’s goal in having the Marine color guard there was to form a connection between the military and civilians, Reichbach said.

“There is less than 1% serving right now of the U.S. population, and many, many people don’t have any connection whatsoever to the military,” Reichbach said. “So, by inviting the military and having static displays, we tried to create that bridge and at the same time raise awareness with the troops who do come out with us. They sit at tables with the other community leaders and they’re able to break bread and begin an understanding of each other which leads to a lot better awareness and – what we feel – better outcomes.”

Reichbach noted that the very same Marine color guard team had attended another Grey Team event at Boca Raton one week prior to the April 11 event at the Mar-a-Lago Club. The veterans group went through the exact same application process to request the Marine provide a color guard at Mar-a-Lago.

“We have fundraisers at various venues and to us Mar-a-Lago is just a beautiful venue,” Reichbach said. “It’s not a political statement whatsoever.”