Election season reminder: Guidance on political activity and flag display for military members, DoD employees

  • Published
  • By 86th Airlift Wing public affairs
  • 86th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

With election season, service members and civilian personnel are encouraged to review current Department of Defense and federal regulations regarding both participation in political activities and the display of flags on DoD Facilities.

Knowing the Do’s and Don’ts this political season will ensure Service members and DoD civilians carry out the duties of citizenship and exhibit patriotism and pride appropriately.


Political Activities

DoD Directive 1344.10, Political Activities by Members of the Armed Forces, provides detailed regulations as to what actions are permitted and prohibited by service members.

Guidance states, “It is DoD policy to encourage members of the Armed Forces (hereafter referred to as “members”) (including members on active duty, members of the Reserve Components not on active duty, members of the National Guard even when in a non-Federal status, and retired members) to carry out the obligations of citizenship. In keeping with the traditional concept that members on active duty should not engage in partisan political activity, and that members not on active duty should avoid inferences that their political activities imply or appear to imply official sponsorship, approval, or endorsement.”

Service members CAN:

  • Register to vote and actively vote in elections
  • Express a personal opinion about candidates and issues
  • Donate money to a political party, organization or committee
  • Display a political bumper sticker on the member’s private vehicle
  • Attend political rallies as a spectator when off duty and not in uniform, and no inference or appearance of official endorsement can reasonably be drawn

Active duty service members CANNOT:

  • Express a personal opinion as if it is that of the DoD
  • Participate, including speaking, in partisan political events
  • Engage in partisan political fundraising activities (except as a donor)
  • Display political signage in a work area or on-base residence
  • Run for political office without approval

For a thorough list of permissible and prohibited activities, please consult DoD Directive 1344.10.

DoD civilian employees are also encouraged to participate in the political process. The Hatch Act (5 U.S.C. 7321-7326) serves to detail permissible and restricted political activities for the government civilian workforce. Because the application of the rules varies depending on an employee’s position or office, it is extremely important that employees who are engaging in political activity know which rules apply to them.

Further details on actions allowable for DoD civilian employees, please refer to The U.S. Office of Special Counsel’s site on Hatch Act regulations.


Flag Selection and Display on Military Installations

DoD guidance issued in 2020 clarifies the flags that are approved for use on military installations and the acceptable settings under which a flag may be displayed. The American flag is the principal flag on display on military installations. Service members and civilians are encouraged to display the American flag, in its unaltered form, widely.

In addition to the American flag, service members and civilian employees are authorized to display or depict representational flags that promote unity and esprit de corps, including:

  • Flags of U.S. States and Territories and the District of Columbia
  • Military Service flags
  • General Officer flags
  • Presidentially-appointed, Senate-confirmed civilian flags
  • Senior Executive Service (SES) and Military Department-specific SES flags
  • The POW/MIA flag
  • Flags of other countries, for which the United States is an ally or partner, or for official protocol purposes
  • Flags of organizations in which the United States is a member (e.g., NATO)
  • Ceremonial, command, unit, or branch flags or guidons

This guidance applies to public displays or depictions of flags by service members and civilian employees in all Department of Defense workplaces, common access areas, and public areas, to include military family housing.

Please consult the Ramstein Legal Office if you have additional questions. 

For more information, please read:

AF GENADMIN Flag Memo 17 July 2020

DoD Directive 1344.10

The Hatch Act