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IG complaint filed: Army vet wore official uniform in attack ad on GOP Senate candidate for Dem opponent

Retired Army Cpt. Chris Franco wears an Army PT uniform shirt in a campaign ad for Democrat Sen. Patty Murray. (Screenshot)
September 30, 2022

A retired U.S. Army captain recently put on what appears to be an official Army PT shirt to cut a political attack ad for Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) in which he said Murray’s Republican challenger Tiffany Smiley poses a “direct threat to our elections and our democracy.” The incident has prompted a group of fellow veterans to file a complaint with the Department of Defense’s Office of Inspector General over Franco’s appearance in the ad.

DoD Directive 1344.10 states all military members, including retirees, are prohibited from wearing military uniforms at political campaign or election events. The Army PT shirt is an official piece of Army uniform gear. In 2014, the Army swapped out its gray PT shirts for black PT gear but the Army still officially licenses the gray shirts.

Elisa Carlson, the communications director for Smiley’s campaign, told American Military News that Murray’s campaign ad “was a slap in the face to every service member, regardless of political affiliation.”

“The DoD regulations she flaunted are intended to keep our armed services neutral, and her disregard was abhorrent,” Carlson added.

On Sept. 9, Patty Murray’s campaign released their campaign ad, featuring retired Army Cpt. Chris Franco. In the video, Franco can be seen wearing his grey Army physical fitness training shirt as he shares the explicitly political message.

“I proudly served our nation and fought for freedom abroad,” Franco began the campaign ad, with pictures from his time in the Army.

The ad then featured clips of rioters at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

“I never expected to see our temple of democracy ransacked here at home,” Franco said. “It’s so dangerous that ‘MAGA Republicans’ like Mitch Mcconnell’s hand-picked candidate for U.S. Senate, Tiffany Smiley continue to question the 2020 election.”

“Their big lie is a direct threat to our elections and our democracy,” Franco said, ending with, “Join me in defending America. Say no to Tiffany Smiley before it’s too late.”

The target of Franco’s message and Murray’s campaign ad is the wife of retired Army Maj. Scotty Smiley.

Scotty was an infantryman with Ranger and Combat Diver qualifications. In 2005, while on patrol in Iraq, Scotty was nearly killed by an improvised explosive device (IED) and completely lost his eyesight. Despite his injuries, he continued to serve, becoming the U.S. military’s first active duty member to continue his service as a completely blind active duty officer.

“Senator Murray has spent millions painting Tiffany Smiley, who’s husband lost his eyesight in Iraq, as a threat to our democracy,” Carlson told American Military News. “As this incident show, it’s Senator Murray who is willing to ignore safeguards and regulations for political expediency- and that is the true threat!”

After the ad’s release, a group of 12 military veterans filed a complaint with the Department of Defense’s Office of Inspector General, raising issue with Franco’s appearance in his Army physical fitness uniform throughout Murray’s campaign ad.

In a copy of the inspector general complaint obtained by American Military News, the group of veterans accused Franco of “improperly wearing the military uniform in furtherance of political activities,” “using his rank, title, and military service to lend an inference of military support for a partisan political candidate” and “using militaristic language to improperly suggest that the U.S. Army approves or endorses partisan political activity.”

The veterans also sent a letter to Murray, notifying her of Franco’s alleged uniform violation and criticizing her for approving this particular attack ad.

Tiffany Smiley and her husband, Scotty, have sacrificed immensely in the service to our nation. Scotty lost his sight in an IED blast. Attacking her credibility with a single former service member is shameless. We stand with the Smiley family. Their service and sacrifice to our nation should not be maligned for partisan political gain. As veterans of military service, we request that you remove this ad from the air immediately, apologize for your lack of judgement, and stick to policy issues moving forward. Failure to do so is an insult to everyone who has worn the uniform of this great nation.

The Murray campaign ad was published just days after President Joe Biden gave his own politically charged presidential address on Sept. 1, in which he called former President Donald Trump and “MAGA Republicans” a “threat to this country.” Biden’s campaign-style presidential address also sparked controversy about the politicization of the military, as two uniformed U.S. Marines were positioned in the background during Biden’s speech.

Murray’s campaign did not respond to multiple American Military News requests for comment.