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thedrifter
03-29-06, 10:10 AM
Article published Mar 28, 2006
Uniform flap splits Marines,Pentagon
Two entities seem to differ on soldiers at political events
By ROBERT MOORE
RobertMoore@coloradoan.com
and NIKOLAUS OLSEN
NikOlsen@coloradoan.com

The Marine Corps and the Defense Department appear to be at odds about whether uniformed service members can accept honors at partisan political events such as last month's Republican Lincoln Day Dinner in Fort Collins.

A memorandum prepared for the No. 2 official at the Pentagon, reported Monday by the Web site Americablog.com, said such appearances are forbidden by military regulation.

"Members of the armed forces may not attend partisan political events in uniform, even if only as 'honorees.' A sharply limited exception is made to provide armed forces color guards for national-level political conventions," said the March 14 memo to Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England from David C.S. Chu, the undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness.

A Marine Corps spokesman disagreed Monday, saying it was within regulations for two uniformed Marines to attend a Lincoln Day Dinner sponsored by the Larimer County Republican Party last month. The Marines' presence at the Republican fundraiser was criticized on several liberal blogs and was covered by Army Times and other national publications.

"The Marines were in attendance because they were asked to attend to be honored for their service and not as attendees at a political event," Marine spokesman Maj. Doug Powell said. "There is nothing wrong with Marines being asked to appear in public and being honored for their service."

Lt. Col. Ellen Krenke, a Defense Department spokeswoman, wouldn't discuss what prompted Chu to write the March 14 memo. "We don't comment on internal communications," she said.

She said the memo explained policy that has been in place since August 2004. When asked if uniformed service members are prohibited from attending partisan political events as honorees, Krenke said: "According to the regulation, yes."

When asked to explain the differing view coming from the Marine Corps, Krenke said: "You will have to ask them."

Powell didn't offer an explanation on the divergent viewpoints but said the two Marines were not aware that the Larimer County GOP dinner was a political event. He didn't respond to a follow-up e-mail seeking clarification.

Rep. Marilyn Musgrave, R-Colo., didn't know about the agenda of the Lincoln Day dinner held in Fort Collins where she served as emcee, said Guy Short, her chief of staff.

"The congresswoman is not looking to the military for credentialing of the Republican Party," Short said Monday. " ... It would be her hope that it would be clear the Marine Corps is not supporting a political party."

Nancy Hunter, chairwoman for the Larimer County Republicans, could not be reached for comment Monday.

Angie Paccione, a Democratic state representative from Fort Collins who is challenging Musgrave for Colorado's 4th Congressional District, called the debate of uniformed active military personnel at political rallies a distraction.

"I want debates, not distractions," Paccione said. "But at the same time, I hope they learned a lesson."

Ellie