Marines seek guidance on social media after anti-Obama posts
Maj. Gen. Vaughn Ary, staff judge advocate to the commandant, is asking the Pentagon to incorporate social-media guidelines into its policy covering political activity in uniform.
Ary's call for review was spelled out in a letter he sent to Rep. Duncan D. Hunter, R-Calif. The congressman's spokesman provided the letter to Marine Corps Times.
The letter stated that Marine Corps staff was being instructed to contact the Defense Department to recommend an update to "provide service members with additional guidance on how to use social media in a responsible manner."
This came in response to a letter Hunter sent Tuesday urging the Corps to withdraw discharge proceedings against Sgt. Gary Stein and update the directive. Hunter spoke out in Stein's defense last week, stating that the Corps would lose the majority of its force if it kicked everyone out based on political speech.
DoD directive 1344.10 is the one Ary is suggesting be changed. It addresses appropriate political activities for service members. Stein was told he violated Article 92 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice by failing to adhere to that directive after criticizing President Barack Obama on Facebook.
Ary does not advocate for Stein in the letter.
"I am confident that the leadership at (Marine Corps Recruit Depot) San Diego will make the very best decision in Sgt. Stein's case in accordance with time-honored and well-known Marine Corps standards," the letter states.
Stein faced a Marine Corps administrative separation board Thursday after his commander recommended he be discharged from the Corps. After a daylong hearing, the three-person board -- made up of a lieutenant colonel, a major and a sergeant major -- recommended that Stein receive an other-than-honorable discharge.
This could cause Stein to lose his Veterans Affairs benefits and never find another government job again.
Social media sites are posing new challenges to military leadership. Stein is not the only Marine to vent his disdain for a commander in chief on Facebook. But with more than 27,000 followers on his Facebook page, Armed Forces Tea Party, Stein's message is being heard.
Philip Cave, a retired Navy judge advocate who practices military law as a civilian, said Stein got himself into real trouble by running the Facebook page.
"Armed Forces Tea Party conveys a message that he's holding a political group just like the Tea Party of Virginia or Tea Party of Texas," Cave said.
Brig. Gen. Daniel Woo, Stein's commanding general, now will decide whether to uphold the board's other-than-honorable discharge recommendation. In the meantime, Stein continues to work, but the Corps has taken away his computer privileges.
Stein said other Marines should realize that what they say on Facebook can be held against them.
"Marines need to know, whether it be a status update or anything, that they're being watched like Big Brother," he said. "They need to watch what they say."