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Marine cleared of wrongdoing over Trump rally appearance

Lance Cpl. Hunter Clark appears on stage next to former President Donald Trump during a rally in Georgia on Sept. 25, 2021. (YouTube screenshot)
November 12, 2021

The U.S. Marine Corps will not punish a Marine for any alleged wrongdoing after former President Donald Trump called him up to a stage and recognized him during a September campaign-style rally, a new report revealed last week.

In September, Capt. Kelton J Cochran, a spokesman for the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) told American Military News that the service was investigating Lance Cpl. Hunter Clark after he joined Trump on a rally stage in Perry, Ga. In an updated statement provided to the Washington Examiner last week, the inspector general II Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF) at Camp Lejeune, N.C., cleared Clark of any wrongdoing for the rally appearance. Clark was punished for traveling outside the distance allowed under his unit’s weekend liberty conditions.

During the September incident, Trump had called on Clark from out of the crowd and described him as a Marine who helped rescue a baby by pulling it over the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan during the U.S.-led civilian evacuation from Afghanistan in August.

Once on the stage, Clark — who was dressed in civilian clothes — briefly addressed the crowd, stating, “Hey, my name is Lance Corporal Hunter Clark, and I’m here from Warner Robins, Georgia. I am the guy that pulled the baby over the wall, and it’s definitely probably one of the greatest things I’ve done in my entire life. I just want to thank all the support from you all. It really means a lot and I’m glad to be home now.”

After his brief comments, Clark shook hands with Trump and then walked off the stage.

Clark did not specify when he pulled a baby over the Kabul airport wall, though in an additional communication, Cochran told American Military News that Clark was not the particular Marine who appeared in a video that began circulating on August 19. Cochran separately told Task & Purpose the 24th MEU cannot confirm if Clark is one of the other Marines in that video. Cochran also noted there were several cases in which Afghans handed their children to U.S. troops during the evacuations from Kabul.

Department of Defense regulations set specific parameters for the kinds of political speech U.S. military service members can make.

“Active duty personnel may not engage in partisan political activities and all military personnel should avoid the inference that their political activities imply or appear to imply DoD sponsorship, approval, or endorsement of a
political candidate, campaign, or cause,” the DoD said in a 2020 statement offering guidance on political activity. “Members on active duty may not campaign for a partisan candidate, engage in partisan fundraising activities, serve as an officer of a partisan club, or speak before a partisan gathering. Active duty members may, however, express their personal
opinions on political candidates and issues, make monetary contributions to a political campaign or organization, and attend political events, in their personal capacity, as a spectator when not in uniform.”

After the Marine Corps announced it would investigate Clark’s behavior during the September rally, Rep. Mike Waltz (R-FL), a former Green Beret, came to Clark’s defense. The Washington Examiner reported Waltz inquired about the investigation in a letter to Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger last month.

In its response to Waltz, shared with the Washington Examiner, the Marine Corps said, it “determined that the evidence did not establish, by a preponderance, that Lance Corporal Clark knew he was attending a political event. It did establish that his mother and a friend planned for him to meet some ‘important’ people and that he was not sure who he would meet.”

“Further, while Lance Corporal Clark identified himself at the prompting of former President Trump, and in doing so did speak at a political event, he did not do so in a manner which violates applicable guidelines, orders or directives,” the Marine Corps added. “The Commanding Officer will not be proceeding with any disciplinary/legal action concerning Lance Corporal Clark based on the results of the inquiry. However, Lance Corporal Clark did receive an administrative counseling for traveling further than authorized while in a liberty status.”

Clark’s appearance at the Trump rally is not the only time a service member’s actions have raised questions about the politicization of the military. During the 2020 Democratic National Convention, two uniformed U.S. Army Reserve soldiers stood alongside American Samoa’s Democratic Party leaders as they endorsed then-Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden for office. Those soldiers ultimately saw no disciplinary action, but their supervisor did receive an unspecified reprimand.