The video above shows a soldier at the Iowa Caucus in uniform supporting Congressman Ron Paul. He has a tattoo of the Twin Towers on his neck and he provides his opinions to Dana Bash from CNN before the feed goes sour. Later that evening, Congressman Paul invites him onto the stage during a speech. Unfortunately, the soldier agrees to speak.
I'm certainly a fan of military members exercising their rights and expressing their opinions and attempting to strengthen America. God knows we have some serious problems and everybody needs to pitch in for this nation. While I certainly appreciate the passion this particular soldier shows for a man he believes to be a solution to the political problems of America, the soldier was wrong to express that passion while in uniform on a national stage. Not only is such uninformed political action prohibited by military regulation, such action also sends a dangerous message. It's a matter of symbols and messages.
The military uniform is a symbol of sterile and impartial service to elected officials. It's a symbol that garners respect, deserved or not, from civilians in airports and at restaurants. People see the uniform and automatically attribute service and sacrifice. The military uniform in other countries throughout history, however, has been seen as a symbol of oppression and occupation and the violent machinery of the state against the People. Consider the redcoats in the earliest days of America. Uniforms in some countries signify the backing of a politician or King. In some countries in South America, the uniform is a symbol of a rigged election backed by violence.
In America we believe in a civilian controlled military. Our military doesn't back any particular candidate, it doesn't stare down voters in the voting booth and it doesn't seek for any vested interest in the political process. Rather, it stands by impartially to serve the will of representatives elected by the citizenry.
This soldier sent a poor message when he took the stage to back Ron Paul. Imagine if he had been joined by a few of his comrades. Imagine if an entire company showed up to stand in formation behind Ron Paul. What if a candidate showed up to the caucus on top of a tank with a formation marching behind it? What message might that send?
I think this soldier did his candidate's campaign a disservice by not thinking a bit more about the role of the military in civil elections.