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Navy disciplines sailors for wearing ‘Make Aircrew Great Again’ patches during Trump visit

President Donald J. Trump addresses members of USS Wasp Tuesday, May 28, 2019, in Yokosuka, Japan. (Official White House Photo by Andrea Hanks)
February 14, 2020

Several U.S. Navy personnel face disciplinary action for wearing patches that suggested an endorsement of Donald Trump while the president was visiting the USS Wasp last year.

Last May, Navy personnel wore patches featuring a Trump-like character and the slogan “Make Aircrew Great Again,” in an apparent play on Trump’s popular campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again.” The U.S. Pacific Fleet has since determined that those patches violated military rules on engaging in political endorsements while in uniform, CNN reported.

“Though the investigation found the Sailors did not intend to wear the patches as a political statement for or against the President, U.S. Pacific Fleet determined that, because the American public could reasonably view the wearing of the patches on official uniforms as DoD association with President Trump’s 2020 campaign, it was in violation of DoDD 1344.10,” Pacific Fleet spokesperson Rachel McMarr said Thursday.

The DoD policy in question states, “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.”

The policy lists specific political actions its members are permitted to behave in, and though wearing a patch parodying a political slogan is not expressly listed as prohibited behavior, the guidelines do warn that actions not expressly prohibited may still run counter to spirit and intent of the directive.

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In handling the incident, McMarr said the Navy took “appropriate administrative measures” to ensure the personnel involved understand the military guidelines and should, in the future, “give due consideration to the heightened risk that actions by service members in uniform will be perceived as an official DoD position.”

Military personnel have often worn unofficial unit patches containing humorous images and quotes. Unit commanders are typically responsible for ensuring those patches do not violate military rules.

According to the New York Post, other Navy personnel have been spotted wearing the “Make Aircrew Great Again” patches on other occasions.

U.S. Air Force personnel also received negative attention in December 2018 when Trump was seen autographing signature red “Make America Great Again” hats for them during a visit to Ramstein Air Base in Germany. The U.S. Air Force later determined that there had been no violation of the rules regarding political behavior as no personnel wore their signed hats while in uniform.

“There is no rule against airmen bringing personal items to be signed by the president,” U.S. Air Forces Europe said at the time.