Army Investigating Reservists Who Appeared in Uniform at Democratic National Convention

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Aliitama Sotoa and Petti Matila of American Samoa Democratic National Convention
In this image from video, Aliitama Sotoa and Petti Matila of American Samoa speak during the state roll call vote on the second night of the Democratic National Convention on Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2020. (Democratic National Convention via AP)

The U.S. Army is launching an investigation to find out why two uniformed soldiers stood at attention behind Democratic delegates from American Samoa on Tuesday evening during the Democratic National Convention's virtual roll call.

The two Army specialists, who were dressed in the Operational Camouflage Pattern uniform, are assigned to Army Reserve Command.

"The Army is investigating two soldiers from the 9th Mission Support Command who appeared in uniform during the Democratic National Convention on Aug.18," Lt. Col. Emanuel Ortiz, an Army spokesman, said in a prepared statement. "Wearing a uniform to a partisan political event like this is prohibited. The Army follows the Department of Defense's longstanding and well-defined policy regarding political campaigns and elections to avoid the perception of DoD sponsorship, approval or endorsement of any political candidate, campaign or cause."

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The image of the two soldiers at the political event sent a small tremor across Twitter and other social media platforms.

Jeremy Teigen, a professor in the Political Science department and an elections scholar at Ramapo College of New Jersey, told Military.com he saw a tweet about it Wednesday morning.

"If you called me and I didn't see this tweet and you asked me to guess where this happened, I would put Samoa in the top five," he said. "They are among the highest recruiting in the U.S. for the U.S. armed forces. Because of the geography and the military presence there and their tiny population, they are very civically oriented and very pro to the military in general."

Teigen said he considers the incident "fairly benign" but acknowledged that "it's against the [Uniform Code of Military Justice] to play politics. You are allowed to vote, you are allowed to have opinions, but you can't use the uniform in electioneering efforts."

"Other than their presence, there wasn't an overt political act, just their visual was a poor legal decision," he said. "Military uniforms and military members being paraded in the civic space is quite common ... but this is a unique stage, and a line got crossed."

Jim Golby, a retired Army officer and senior fellow at the Clements Center for National Security, tweeted, "It is just 2 soldiers in a picture. What's the big deal?

"On its own, it's not. But the more we see images/endorsements/stories that intentionally blur these lines, the more they seep into our consciousness," he continued. "And the easier it gets for us to ignore the things that are a big deal."

-- Matthew Cox can be reached at matthew.cox@military.com.

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