The Navy has punished a group of sailors over the wearing of patches that said “Make Aircrew Great Again” during a 2019 speech by President Trump on the USS Wasp.
Gina Harkins of Military.com obtained a copy of the investigation into the sailors' conduct, which found that although the sailors were not trying to make a political statement, the wear of the patches — which bore Trump's likeness — went against military rules against partisan political activity.
Known as Department of Defense Directive 1344.10, the rules allow service members to vote, express their opinions on politics, or even take part in political rallies so long as they not be “reasonably viewed as directly or indirectly associating the Department of Defense … with a partisan political activity,” which can be the case when they are in military uniform.
Nine sailors assigned to Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 25 were seen during the speech wearing the patches on their flight suits, according to Military.com, which reported an undisclosed number of sailors and leaders involved in the incident received nonjudicial punishment. Although NJP may result in a loss of pay, rank, or being placed on restriction, it was not clear what nature of punishment the sailors ultimately received.
The Navy opened a probe into the incident in May 2019 after crewmen sported the patches as Trump made a stop aboard the Wasp during a four-day visit to Japan. During that same trip, further controversy erupted after it was learned that the White House had requested the Navy keep the USS John McCain “out of sight” during the president's visit, a plan that was later scrapped.
The Navy is not alone in trying to tamp down on partisan activity while in uniform. An Army major in the South Carolina Army National Guard came under scrutiny in August 2019 after she wore her military uniform while attending a political rally for former Vice President Joe Biden.
Earlier this month, Defense Secretary Mark Esper wrote a department wide memo urging service members to steer clear of politics and abide by the apolitical tradition of the U.S. military. “Maintaining the hard-earned trust and confidence of the American people requires us to avoid any action that could imply endorsement of a political party, political candidate or campaign by any element of the Department,” Esper wrote.