The South Carolina National Guard is reviewing whether an officer will face any sort of punishment after she was filmed attending a political rally and endorsing former Vice President Joe Biden in his race for the Democratic presidential nomination.
During a rally Wednesday in Gaffney, South Carolina, Army Maj. Ginger Tate presented Biden with a challenge coin she had made after a 2013 deployment to Afghanistan inscribed with the names of each city the soldiers under her command were posted to in country.
“I’ve been saving these coins for six years to meet you and President [Barack] Obama, so that if I ever met you, I could give this to you," Tate said in a video posted by a CBS reporter. “And when I saw on the news that you were coming, I just had to be here.”
“I’m so honored to have served under your administration and your leadership, and I hope and pray that you will be our next president of the United States," Tate added.
South Carolina Guard officials confirmed that Tate’s unit, the 228th Signal Brigade, was not in attendance at the rally.
“There are specific guidelines for military personnel when it comes to participation in political events and the South Carolina National Guard follows these guidelines," Army Capt. Jessica Donnelly, a South Carolina Guard spokeswoman, said in an emailed statement to Army Times. "These guidelines state that service members are not to engage in political activities that imply or appear to imply sponsorship, approval, or endorsement of a political candidate, while in uniform.”
Tate could not be reached for comment and command officials could not provide her contact information. Officials said the issue has been referred to her chain of command.
“I can’t speculate on what her chain of command is going to do and how they’re going to take it,” Staff Sgt. Brad Mincey, another South Carolina Guard spokesman, elaborated over the phone. “Just right now, they’re the ones who will look into the incident. ... It’s really up to her chain of command on what they’re going to do and how serious they’re going to take this.”
Those leaders will be the ones who would make any decisions regarding whether a punishment should be meted out.
“Her chain of command and leadership are aware of the incident," Donnelly said. "However, due to The Privacy Act’s protection of the records of individuals, the South Carolina National Guard is not able to release the specific personnel actions that are being taken.”
All military members, including National Guard and Reserve forces, are prohibited from wearing military uniforms at political campaign events, according to Pentagon directives.
The event comes at a time of increasing political partisanship in the country, and the military is not immune to those divisions.
More than 75 percent of service members responding to a 2018 Military Times poll of active-duty troops believe the military has become more politically polarized in recent years. The poll was done in collaboration with the Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University.
U.S. service members have been chided for publicly supporting politicians on both sides of the aisle.
In May, the Navy said it was reviewing whether service members photographed wearing a uniform patch with a rendition of President Donald Trump’s campaign slogan — styled as “Make Aircrews Great Again” — violated dress codes and regulations against partisan political acts while in uniform.
There was also controversy when the president signed red “Make America Great Again” hats during a visit to troops in Iraq and Germany in December 2018.
However, after airmen had their MAGA hats signed, Air Forces Europe told Stars and Stripes that there are no rules against troops bringing personal items to be signed by the president.