The uniform that we wear is sacrosanct. It is much more than the materials that compose it. We wear it carefully, with the understanding that we are fortunate to wear it, and with the recognition that it carries the weight of the sacrifices of past, present, and future generations. We wear it with the realization that once we don it, we stand for something above and beyond ourselves. Wearing the uniform, we represent a specific set of values and ideals to Americans. The uniform is a symbol of the defense of freedom, of strength, and of the amazing concept of the United States of America.

But sometimes pride in the uniform clashes with another type of pride.

On Saturday, July 21, San Diego held its annual gay pride parade. In past years, military members have marched in the parade wearing civilian clothes or military t-shirts.

This year, the event captured national attention due to the Pentagon-sanctioned participation of active duty military members marching in uniform. Department of Defense regulations prohibit servicemembers from wearing the uniform while participating in political activities, supporting, promoting, or furthering a political cause, or participating in any activity or behavior that might bring discredit upon the military or imply military endorsement. Despite existing regulations, however, DoD made a one-time allowance for the San Diego parade.

DoD officials stated that they allowed military members to wear their uniforms in the parade because “organizers had encouraged military personnel to march in their uniform and the event was getting national attention” (CBS news article, 21 July 2012). Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell has been repealed, and servicemembers can serve openly. But should they be allowed to march in uniform in parades—even if for one day only—to show their pride and support for finally serving openly?

Back in May, two airmen from the Washington National Guard were reprimanded for being photographed while breastfeeding in uniform. A spokesman pointed out that breastfeeding in uniform wasn’t a concern. The problem was that the two airmen purposely posed for pictures in uniform for a breastfeeding support group’s campaign for Breastfeeding Awareness Month, violating the Air Force’s prohibition on using the uniform to “advance the cause of an outside organization” (Air Force Times article, 1 June 2012). From the article: “‘The uniform was misused. That’s against regulations,’ [Captain Keith] Kosik said. ‘I want to be very, very clear about this. Our issue is not, nor has it ever been, about breastfeeding. It has to do with honoring the uniform and making sure it’s not misused. I can’t wear my uniform to a political rally, to try to sell you something or push an ideology. That was our point of contention.’”

And it’s the right point to make. A servicemember’s support of breastfeeding or homosexuality is not the issue. Supporting any of the many noble yet politicized causes that blanket the American landscape is not the issue. Pride in the uniform and all it stands for is the point. No matter what our personal beliefs are on breastfeeding or homosexuality, using the uniform to express an opinion to the greater public about military support (or not) for specific causes is against the rules, and for a very good reason.

We honor the uniform and the many who have proudly worn it before us by recognizing that it stands for much more than any one of us. No matter how strongly we each feel about individual causes, pride in the uniform should trump all.

The military cannot take sides in any political cause, and in the charged environment we operate in today, many causes become highly politicized. These two are no different. When DoD granted an exception for the pride parade, it stepped onto a slippery slope. The military must remain above the fray and above reproach.

Pride in oneself and pride in one’s service is important. But pride in what we all stand for in uniform trumps the rest.

Posted by Jeannette Haynie in Policy

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  • Robert_K

    “The uniform that we wear is sacrosanct.”

    Not really. Think back to the anti-war movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s. Many veterans returned from Vietnam only to join the protests and often wore their uniform to express their political opinion. I’m sure they felt wearing the uniform in protest of the war added to the legitimacy of their views. Same thing occurred after OIF started to tank. So that raises the question, if you did your time, fought your nation’s war, do you have the right to wear your uniform as a political statement? As distasteful and repulsive as it may seem, I would be hard pressed to deny any combat veteran, particularly a conscript, the opportunity to wear his/her uniform at a political event.

    If you want to ban uniforms (as opposed to active duty military in uniform) at controversial events like those you mentioned, wouldn’t you also have to do it for seemingly pro-military events as well, say Rolling Thunder or POW/MIA related events?

    I agree that active duty folks need to stay out of politics but your argument is about the use and symbolism of the uniform not the individual.

  • Robert_K

    Further, if there were a protest today outside the Veterans Administration HQ in DC or any VA treatment facility around the country organized to draw attention to the problems with health care for Veterans, particularly combat veterans, I would fully support a veteran wearing his/her uniform at the political event.

  • YN2(SW) H. Lucien Gauthier III

    What happens when homosexuality is no longer a political issue?

  • Concur! It’s the first time Jeannette, mark it down, lol!

  • Byron

    Odd that while the military was hard on breastfeeding they were completely mute regarding homosexuality. I expect is was that one is relatively boring and the other is a political hot potato.

    Nothing like being consistent, sends great messages to the troops.

  • UltimaRatioReg


    Did you mean when homosexuality is no longer a political, moral, religous, and social issue?

    Well, that will be when anyone who does not believe in the Gospel according to Mullen has been unceremoniously extirpated from the ranks of our military, irrespective of value or service, whose ranks then will be filled with the sociopolitical automatons whose deepest moral and religious beliefs will be dictated to them by FOGOs and 0-6s whose only credential is seniority in rank. That way political reliability is assured.

    Fighting and winning wars? Not so much. But it IS “transformational”.

  • Jeff

    The author was making a point about servicemembers in uniform, not veterans.
    Shall I decide now that my soapbox of pro-life be important enough that I can protest outside an abortion mill with my dress whites on? Will we suddenly see a different allowance for parades when a different person heads up the Navy?
    It’s an insult to the millions who have served in the military to see allowances like this, whether or not they agree with what is being supported. The military that cannot separate itself from publicly endorsing certain political views will be a weaker one.

  • James-the one true james…

    Anyone ever seen these things? I’ve seen the pics you dont in the main stream…..nothing like naked 60 yr old men walking around with painted junk while “socialy aware” parents make their 5yr olds watch.


  • RickWilmes

    The Marine Corps Band is going to participate in the Macy’s parade, in uniform.

    If gay service members want to participate in a gay pride parade, in uniform. I say so what???

  • Jay

    I fully expect to see uniformed contingents marching in future Pride celebrations annually, all across the U.S. — just as you see in the U.K. This will become a good recruiting tool. It will also become mainstream (even boring…) as time goes on.

  • Robert_K

    @James-the one true james,

    I had to laugh reading your post. I think back in the day, I had to pay a few dollars to see a performer put her “painted junk” on parade. I guess the trashiness of painted junk is always in the eye of the beholder. Come to think of it, when most of these entertainers preformed on base, they usually incorporated some uniform article into their routine.

    Jeannette, I recall a certain civilian bartender at the O’club at 29 Palms who regularly wore a full flight suit (- the name tag of the guy who gave it to her) – not sure any officer ever complained about misusing this sacrosanct item. It seems that the political topic is really the issue, not necessarily the involvement of the uniform.

  • W.M. Truesdell

    Her point is that the DOD sanctioned it for ACTIVE DUTY not Vets. It was political and furthered the position of those currently in power. The problem is fairly simple: if one group in power can do this then so can another. Pick the issue.

    Plus, it does send a very bad vibe to those who know what kind of in-your-face stuff goes on at those parades. Nice image to associate with the Armed Forces. I am sure Mothers and Fathers will want to send their kids into that kind of organization after seeing the kind of stuff in the Parade that most gays do not sanction. But those who supported the parade have no concern about either recruitment or retention, only their personal issues.

  • Robert_K

    That may be her point but unfortunately she started out by using a false premise (and you know what happens to the conclusion) – if a military uniform is indeed sacrosanct for one it, it is sacrosanct for all – that would imply for active, former and retirees.

    If Jeannette’s thesis was that military personnel in uniform shouldn’t be involved in unsavory political issues, then the argument could have been clearer.

  • UltimaRatioReg

    Robert K, you are obfuscating.

    Major Haynie’s point is spot-on. When on active duty, or in a duty status of any kind, the uniform IS sacrosanct. It is a symbol of one’s office. Like a judge’s robes, or a policeman’s badge. Wearing of a uniform for such an event as the Gay Pride parade sullies the uniform. Worse, it implies, rather accurately, military endorsement of a political movement.

    The question unasked in this post is “why?” Will anyone be allowed to wear a uniform at a Tea Party event, or to the NRA meeting? Absolutely not. What’s good for the goose is not at all good for the gander. The continued push for a single authorized personal opinion.

  • Jeff

    If they allow this again, maybe I’ll wear my uniform and protest the parade…

    Nope, wouldn’t do that. I respect the traditions of the Navy too much to use my uniform like that.

  • Robert_K

    URR, I must disagree with you. Either the uniform is sacrosanct or it is not – if it were, you wouldn’t have to put conditions on it – such as “when on active duty”.

    Are you ok with a vet wearing this same uniform (the status of the person wearing it has changed but the uniform did not) to protest a war they fought in, or not?

    Personally, I feel the same way you do regarding the gay pride event – no argument from me on that.

    I haven’t seen any ire raised from attending other events in uniform. Is it ok to wear a uniform to the St Patty’s day parade in NYC? Doing so demonstrates support for a religious figure and a segment of society. Isn’t gay pride to show support for an element of society as well? Again not my cup of joe and you won’t find me in attendance, but being gay is legal and gay folks make up a component of US society. I’m no expert on this topic but what was the political issue behind the event, was it to support a new policy or simply to recognize a group? Can you separate the political goals of the NRA from legal gun owners? Is it wrong to support the latter while in uniform?

  • UltimaRatioReg

    Robert K,

    It is immaterial what I am “okay” with. Wearing of a uniform by someone who has been honorably discharged is a First Amendment right, whether I agree with their judgment in exercising it or not. The same is NOT true for those on active duty, where the uniform is a symbol of office.

    With regards to the NRA, political agenda can no more be separated from them than it can from homosexual activists who sponsor such events as the Gay Pride parade. The point is one was permitted, even encouraged. The other, strictly VERBOTEN.

  • Robert_K

    Thanks for clarifying the uniform issue – it is not the uniform but rather the actions of the active duty military member while in uniform that matters. Two completely different things and if the first paragraph were omitted from the original post, I would have remained silent on this topic.

    The NRA does not represent the entire population of legal gun owners. If the legal gun owners, not part of the NRA, formed an event simply to demonstrate that they are law abiding citizens, with no political agenda, proud of their right to bear arms, would it be ok for military in uniform to support this event? I think history says yes. You can put on your Alpha’s and attend a 4th of July celebration without causing a stir.

    If the gay pride event was held to celebrate a legitimate, albeit unpopular with many, decision of the US government, is it wrong to support it?

    Again, I’m with you on the gay pride event but if you and Jeannette were to apply your reasoning to other less controversial issues, supported by the majority of uniformed personnel, would you come to the same conclusion?

  • UltimaRatioReg

    You are splitting hairs you have already split.

    Her point is correct. Service men and women in uniform have always been told to avoid situations where their presence might be interpreted as political endorsement.

    And, yet, political endorsement was precisely what DoD encouraged with this, and will abjectly forbid elsewhere.

  • Jeannette Haynie

    Apologies for not being clearer in my premise. I used “wear” vs “worn” implying currently serving, and referenced regulations applying to active duty and reserve members because those apply to the events I referenced (and cover those currently serving).

    The point is not the parade itself, or the breastfeeding example (which is probably the least controversial one I could imagine, by the way–but I still think supporting breastfeeding by being photographed in uniform crosses the line, and I fully support breastfeeding). Wearing the uniform, as a serving member of the military, we stand for more than the individual, and we’re taught that early on.

    Which contradicts the DoD exception for the parade. Anything that remotely smells of political causes, or divisive topics, should be avoided by currently serving members in uniform. We can write letters, as long as we make it clear that we don’t speak for the military as a whole. We can attend and participate in events as long as we do it in our own clothing. Just not in uniform, while currently serving.

    YN2, good question, but if I had to guess I’d say we won’t have to ponder that question for decades, by which time we may be facing an entirely different landscape, military, and world. What do you think?

    Short answer: although it would be nice to imagine a day where politics isn’t everywhere, look at how ugly discussing race or gender gets. Or even budget cuts. Farm subsidies. As idealistic as I may be, I can’t go that far.

  • YN2(SW) H. Lucien Gauthier III

    I think that it will not be a political issue for many decades. Certainly within our lifetimes.

    DOD did that to show they are no longer kicking out people for being gay. If this was a one-off, then I’m fine with it.

    Coming into MEPS I had to sign that form that says I’m not gay. I’m not, so it wasn’t a big deal. But, still it made me pause, signing that made it seem more real that I was actually joining the military.

    Regardless of how it made me feel, how do you think it made the (probably) thousands of gay people who joined anyway and lied on that form.

    What’s more important, not being a liar in uniform, or marching in a gay pride parade in uniform?

  • Diogenes of NJ

    How about we all show our pride, go down to the parade and dress up those uniforma with Silver Stars, Navy Crosses and top it off with a MoH – no law against that:

    Proverbs 16:18

    Play nice now kiddies.

    – Kyon

  • UltimaRatioReg

    What’s more important? DoD not choosing sides and enforcing personal and political beliefs. There is no such thing as a “one-off” for the government. It becomes precedent. One political rally is permissible, the other(s) forbidden. I am not fine with that.

  • Jeannette Haynie

    I’m sure it felt pretty horrible having to lie to join. Many of us have friends who had to lie or cover up who they are due to DADT, and I am glad it’s repealed.

    BUT, the problem is that it is still a political issue. No matter how we personally feel about it. And granting a one-time exception, no matter how worthy the cause may seem, still opens the military up to the next hot-button issue. The military has no business taking political sides.

    I have to disagree that it will stop being political in our lifetimes. I wish, but I simply don’t see it. Especially since so many things can be manipulated politically today. But good discussion, and I appreciate all of the comments.

  • YN2(SW) H. Lucien Gauthier III

    Well, you’re right in that ‘if it’s right for one, it must be right for all.’ You can’t pick-and-chose when the UCMJ is clear… Though, I’d love to see the document that granted permission, just to see how it was done.

    Though, I additionally don’t think it is fair to only say this is a political issue. As you say, many things can be manipulated politically. In this, it’s really an issue of culture at it’s essence, and then it becomes a political issue. Fixing the politics is one thing, fixing the cultural issues is quite another.

  • UltimaRatioReg


    Your assertion of “fixing” someone else’s beliefs is a bit of a problem, unless you take the Mullen tack and tell me that your values should be my values, or else I lack “integrity”.

    The issue transcends religious, social, and cultural mores. It is far more than political. Endorsement of one side, as Mullen did, and DoD inevitably did, is horribly divisive and wildly inappropriate. I mentioned at the time the dangers of Mullen’s lack of judgment and deliberate disregard of traditional constraints in expressing his personal opinions unsolicited, while wearing that uniform.

  • Jay

    URR — Pls present some facts for “horribly divisive” (other than “I, URR, disagree with CJCS…” – because that is what you are saying, as far as I can tell…). Repeal was met with a collective yawn in the services (as expected). Haven’t seen any of the negative predictions of the repeal opponents — impact to recruiting, retention, etc.

    Let’s review some of ADM Mullen’s testimony as CJCS before the Senate, Dec 2010: “As I said back in February, this is about integrity. Our people sacrifice a lot for their country, including their lives. None of them should have to sacrifice their integrity as well.

    It is true there are no – is no Constitutional right to serve in the armed forces. But the military serves all the people of this country, no matter who they are or what they believe. And every one of those people, should they be fit and able, ought to be given the opportunity to defend it.

    You do not have to agree with me on this issue. But don’t think for one moment that I haven’t carefully considered the impact of the advice I give on those who will have to live with the decisions that that advice informs. I would not recommend repeal of this law if I did not believe in my soul that it was the right thing to do for our military, for our nation and for our collective honor. Thank you.”

    Inspiring words — and great leadership from CJCS!

  • Jeannette Haynie

    I’d love to see the document, too.

    You’re right about culture, but our culture and politics are woven tightly together. There will always be those in power who see political value out of cultural clashes, and they will continue to use those clashes to gain political advantage.

  • RickWilmes

    Has anyone seen the July 19 policy memo???

    “Was there a waiver?

    No. DOD’s decision to approve uniform wear in the parade wasn’t based on an exception to policy and it didn’t use the term “waiver.”
    In a July 19 policy memo explaining the DOD’s decision, Rene Bardorf, deputy assistant secretary of defense for community and public outreach, summarized policies that prohibit wearing the uniform while participating in political or commercial activities, or activities that discredit the military.
    Essentially, the Pentagon decided the San Diego parade fell under none of those categories — a conclusion hotly disputed by Inhofe — and declared that existing policy allowed servicemembers to march in uniform.”

  • UltimaRatioReg


    Okay, I admit it, I am the only one who disagrees with the policy. The DoD survey showed that it was 1,787,955 to 1.

    As for your characterization of Mullen’s testimony, you are not just mistaken but are intentionally misleading. His expression of personal opinion unsolicited was egregiously wrong. His assertion that those who didn’t believe personally as he did lacked “integrity” was unconscionable.

    But like so many on the far left, since you agree with his opinion, Jay, you think everything is fine. The ends justify the means.

    You would be apoplectic with indignation to see active duty uniforms at a Tea Party rally or an NRA event. I don’t care to see them there either. For the same reason they are wildly inappropriate for a Gay Pride parade. What you can’t seem to find any indignation for, is for DoD to have chosen sides in a political debate and become the activists/advocates that you assured me here countless times that they would not be.

  • Jay

    URR – I think we all know by now, that you disagreed with CJCS. I happened to have agreed with him. Regardless, you’d do well, at least on this blog, to remember your military courtesy – CJCS or ADM Mullen are appropriate. “Apoplectic with Indignation”? Lol…hardly my style. I save my ire for those who promote discrimination, no matter their feeble reasons for justifying their stance. I shook my head when that young (poorly led?) Army or National Guardsman spoke at a Ron Paul rally in uniform earlier this year. DoD granted an exception (or one time waiver) in this case, I think. Was it a one-time only event, or was it a test case, and will Prides with uniformed contingents become a normal routine? We’ll know more next year. I think this could be a great recruiting tool. You seem to view a Pride parade as a partisan political event. Prides may have started out that way a few decades ago, but they have evolved to annual celebratory events, not much different than other civic parades or festivals – the Washington DC event seems to have more Church groups and sports teams in it than anything else.

  • FoilHatWearer

    So people get to wear their uniforms for this but the guy who was partially ejected from the A-6 was barred from wearing his uniform on the Discovery Channel documentary on the mishap that he miraculously survived. That’s just frickin’ great.