At a time of increasing concern about politicization of the military, the airman in charge of the official Twitter account for RAF Mildenhall in the United Kingdom has been counseled for “liking” a series of highly partisan tweets from or in support of President Trump.
In a message to Air Force Times, Col. Troy Pananon, commander of the 100th Air Refueling Wing at the base, said the social media activity was inappropriate and that the base took immediate corrective action.
“This behavior is not representative of RAF Mildenhall, the U.S. Air Force, or the standards to which we hold our airmen,” Pananon said in a message to Air Force Times. “We have counseled the member responsible, and have provided remedial training to ensure no further missteps occur in the future.”
The unusual Twitter activity began in the new year, and included liking:
* A Jan. 4 tweet from Trump’s personal account disparaging the impeachment proceedings as “this ridiculous Impeachment Lite Hoax.”
* A Jan. 12 tweet from Trump calling presidential candidate Bernie Sanders “Crazy Bernie Sanders” and referring to the Democratic Party as the “Do Nothing Party.”
* A Jan. 1 tweet from the official White House account referring to efforts to bolster the U.S. embassy in Baghdad as “The Anti-Benghazi!”
* Two Feb. 4 tweets from Trump’s son Eric Trump, as well as State of the Union-related tweets from Trump, First Lady Melania Trump and Vice President Mike Pence.
* A Feb. 3 tweet from @TeamTrump, the Trump reelection campaign’s official Twitter account, celebrating Trump’s victory in the Iowa Republican caucus and saying “The Republican Party Has Never Been More United!”
After media inquiries Thursday afternoon, Mildenhall unliked all the posts, except for an official Air Force tweet about Tuskegee Airman Charles McGee’s promotion to brigadier general and another non-political tweet about an aircraft.
The Twitter activity came to light at a time in which partisan temperatures are heightened across the nation, with the conclusion of a bruising impeachment battle and at the beginning of a presidential campaign year.
Some have expressed fears that the military has become increasingly politicized under the Trump administration. For example, last summer, after the White House asked the Navy to keep the USS John S. McCain “out of sight” during a presidential visit to South Korea, former acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan told the White House not to politicize the military.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper on Wednesday sent a memo to service members reminding them to stay apolitical while in uniform. Service members are free to make campaign contributions, attend rallies, or volunteer on behalf of a candidate, Esper said, but they are not allowed to do so in uniform and must limit those activities to off-duty time.
Pananon reiterated those values in his message to Air Force Times.
“We expect all of our airmen, both military and civilian, to comply with the longstanding [Defense Department] policy, which directs all DoD personnel to refrain from engaging in partisan political activities and to avoid any inference that their political activities imply or appear to imply DoD sponsorship, approval, or endorsement of a political candidate, campaign or cause,” Pananon said. “It is our intent to uphold this policy and represent the United States Air Force honorably.”
Stephen Losey is the air warfare reporter for Defense News. He previously covered leadership and personnel issues at Air Force Times, and the Pentagon, special operations and air warfare at Military.com. He has traveled to the Middle East to cover U.S. Air Force operations.