1st SGT v. 1st Amendment? Facebook not for "volatile" topics


Earlier today, a disgruntled member of an Alabama Army National Guard unit forwarded the e-mail below from a first sergeant outlining the do’s and don’t of social media with the subject line, “Troops 1st Amendment Rights being denied.”

The email cautions troops to steer clear of posts about “gun control, the Democrats, the President, Congress, or personal opinions about STATE or FEDERAL GOVERNMENT matters.”

Racism and sexism somehow don’t get a mention, but the timing is curious. This e-mail from January surfaced as the Marine Corps decided to get all expeditionary on Marines’ “salty” Facebook posts. Female Marines were being sexually harassed online, and the Corps decided to take a stand.

Last month, Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., sent a letter to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Jim Amos and Principal Deputy Inspector General Lynn Halbrooks to express her disgust with posts implying that female Marines were sleeping with superiors to get promoted and photo memes joking about domestic violence and telling women to “get back in the kitchen.” Speier demanded that Amos respond with a plan of action by May 31.

Facebook in the meantime has begun cracking down on pages promoting misogyny and violence against women, and several Marine humor pages were among those purged.

Will the Army try to put the heat on beloved military-focused but politically incorrect Facebook pages and the folks who post there?  Can they do so legally?

Our Alabama first sergeant asserts, “This is not an infringement on anyone’s right to free speech or personal freedoms. We must abide by a higher standard, while serving in the Army National Guard and the United States Army.”

UPDATE: From the Army Social Media Handbook 2013:  “Soldiers using social media must abide by the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) at all times. Commenting, posting or linking to material that violates the UCMJ or basic rules of Soldier conduct is prohibited. Social media provides the opportunity for Soldiers to speak freely about their activities and interests. However, Soldiers are subject to UCMJ even when off duty, so talking negatively about supervisors or releasing sensitive information is punishable under the UCMJ. It is important that all Soldiers know that once they log on to a social media platform, they still represent the Army.”

UPDATE 2:  The Alabama Guard released the following statement:

“The letter in question was written in the context of prior social media briefings and conversations in the unit, some of which were routine and some of which were initiated because of some violations in policy and the use of poor judgment in social media usage.  Standing alone, the letter seems to restrict Soldiers more than Army policy does.  However, it was written in the context of briefings and discussion about Soldiers’ conduct in uniform as representatives of the military.

“It would be inappropriate for a Soldier in uniform to endorse certain political candidates or agendas in a public forum, as this could be construed as official endorsement of that candidate or agenda.  It is appropriate, however, for individual Soldiers, while on their own time and in civilian attire, to discuss political situations and campaign for their chosen political candidates and/or positions.

“It was with this previously discussed understanding that the letter was written.  The letter was also to reinforce the previously given encouragement to be careful what one posts from a personal standpoint in order to protect a Soldier and his or her reputation.  Alabama National Guard leaders constantly work to develop their subordinates, personally and professionally.  In this context, it was appropriate for the first sergeant to remind his troops to be careful and cautious with what they put in a public forum in order to protect themselves and their reputations as individuals and Soldiers.  We will continue to educate all of our personnel concerning the proper use of social media, while striving to convey and instill a sense of free expression within prescribed policy.



Sent: Thursday, January 24, 2013 4:44 PM


Classification: UNCLASSIFIED

Caveats: NONE


[UNIT REDACTED] conducted a social network brief during the JAN IDT. The ideas, do’s and don’t’s, what can and cannot be posted, were explained in a what I believe was a very elementary level. When asked if anyone had any questions, comments or complaints, no one raised their hands. I made the assumption that there was a clear and concise understanding concerning everyone’s actions and responsibilities. Apparently I made a miscalculation in my assumption. Here it is again, for the last time.


Update personal status, ie “at the mall”

Comment on friends status, ie “happy birthday”


Comment or add posts concerning gun control, the Democrats, the President, Congress, or personal opinions about STATE or FEDERAL GOVERNMENT matters.

What you do on face book, twitter, or anything else that is available to the public is a direct reflection on this unit and you as a soldier. If you have a question about a post, give me a call and I will let you know if it violates anything. This also includes “likes” post on other friends pages. I do not care or want to hear about someone from another unit outside the [UNIT REDACTED]. My concern is with members of [UNIT REDACTED] and [UNIT REDACTED].


By all means have fun with the networking, but stay away from volatile subjects. DON’T BE THAT GUY.

This is not an infringement on anyone’s right to free speech or personal freedoms. We must abide by a higher standard, while serving in the Army National Guard and the United States Army.






Classification: UNCLASSIFIED

Caveats: NONE



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  1. Shelly Goode on

    FB is a private company, not a public space, not the street. FB Pages that promote the rape, abuse, and demeaning of female service members have rightly been taken down by FB, not the Marine Corps; they knew about these sites for three years and did nothing. Would our Army allow soldiers to post disgusting memes and make comments that promoted the violence and demeaning of black soldiers? Rightly we would not; why are women different?

  2. Kelly Kafir on

    Gee, thank you 1st SGT for being available to censor my posts! I guess we are here to enforce democracy not practice it… Soldiers can die for American rights, they just can’t have them themselves. Welcome to Nazy Germany… Goebells would be so proud. Wonder when the enlistment oath is going to change from, “I will support and defend the Constitution…” to “I will support and defend Heir Obama?” Sidkening!

  3. Kelly Kafir on

    oops – Nazi Germany and SICKENING… regardless of my public school education, I do know how to spell.

  4. Damn right Kelly, the military is not and never will be a democracy. We defend democracy, by not practicing it. In addition, we service members have all Constitutional rights, and yes I do mean *all* of them. We just have a few “strings” attached, that’s all.

    How on this godforsaken mudball cold Earth can this basic concept of military life fail to register with you? You sound like some snotty-nosed E-1 who just barely escaped high school, although the vast majority of E-1s and other junior enlisted are far more professional than you seem to be.

  5. Too F!@#$ing bad!! My fellow Americans, we have become a sissified Nation. Stop being a bunch of whiners and grow some balls, you cannot please everybody. Pretty much all of that this 1SG cautions against is jacked up already: “gun control, the Democrats, the President, Congress, or personal opinions about STATE or FEDERAL GOVERNMENT matters.” Whether your a Soldier or not, as long as you are not directly disrespecting an individual my opinion is that you are free to express whatever you feel. I will proudly express my opinion for that is the problem with this Nation to begin with, all this sissies say what they want and get their way, but the people that fight for this country or who are productive in society have to shut their mouths. Sexism is another thing that is overrated. Feminists, if you think females should serve alongside men in combat MOSs, be prepared to take some shrapnel. For men operate together much differently than any coed unit. Instead of whining about it, try to prove to us differently. GET OVER IT.

  6. Top’s wayyy outta’ line, here.

    One, unless the Alabama ARNG is all activated and on Title X, they are Title XXXII and the UCMJ does not apply.
    Two, if the state of Alabama has a state code of military justice that is legal, then Soldiers would probably be held accountable if OPSEC, PHYSEC, or unit mission was compromised.
    Three, reserve component servicemembers (or any other servicemembers) do not lose their rights simply because they are in the military services. Period. There are some things we suspend for the issue of “military necessity.” Example: active duty officers with bumper stickers openly mocking elected officials by name in violation of the UCMJ (Article 88). That is pretty darned predjudicial to “good order and discipline.”
    Four, if this was directed at an AGR staff, then there’s some serious potential of an IG complaint if blanket prohibition of topics is applied to all servicemembers.
    Five, in my 27 years of Army of all components and two company commands, I’ve seen servicemembers who are actually elected officials. One deceased Senator from SC who rode a glider into Normandy and later a BG in the Army Reserve and a current Senator from the same state in the USAFR come to mind. How do you plan to enforce an unlawful directive, 1SG? I’d love to be the commander and courtmartialling officer in your brigade!

  7. Both sites linked in this article are humor sites that, unlike the Marine sites/pages referenced, do not promote misogyny, rape, or domestic violence. What you failed to mention is that USAWTFM actually assists with many causes and uses the page to promote that; has raised funds to provide relief to soldiers working extra details on various Army posts across the country and most recently, to the Moore, OK victims. They assist veterans with finding employment and boost the signal for military members who are deployed and whose families are in need of assistance.

    I fail to see how a page that also hosts amusing pictures of abuse of the uniform, ridiculous vehicles, silly signs, and head scratching moments involving equipment/vehicles/the inability to park could be lumped in with promotion of rape and domestic violence.

    I suggest that this blogger find more worthy pages to snipe at when discussing military misogyny rather than smear good people and their use of social media to reach out and assist wherever possible and entertain while doing so.

    And if you’re wondering, I am both a Female Veteran and a Victim of Domestic Violence

  8. Nothing that the 1SG says is a change to any Soldier’s rights or the regulations. Servicemembers are free to post whatever they want on social media. however, the standard of judgement is that since it is open, it’s the same as saying it in formation. Talking about you chain of command is inadvisable, posting comments about the president can result in UCMJ, some posts could result in EO complaints.
    Just ask yourself if you would say the same thing in your 1SG’s/PSG’s presence. If not, be man/woman enough to know that you shouldn’t post it then.

  9. @ Scott: glad somebody here understands that reserve and NG Soldiers don’t fall under the UCMJ when they are not activated.

    One point I’d like to bring up though is that enlisted Soldiers always maintain the right to criticize civilian elected officials, which is why article 88 only applies to “Commissioned Officers”.

  10. So I guess the 1SG is OK with comments & posts about conservatives & Republicans (not necessarily the same thing) since they aren’t mentioned in his tirade.

  11. While the 1SG is correct on some points, Soldiers are free to express their opinions on gun issues and on political and government issues. They are not allowed to publicly promote a political party or candidate nor criticize the chain of command including President as well as certain other government officials. The rules are laid out in AR 600-20 (especially appendix B) and DODDIR 1344.10.

  12. There is one thing wrong with this. Reservists and National Guard members when they are not in a pay status (performing duty like a drill weekend, annual training orders, etc) are not subject to the UCMJ. National Guard only being subject to it when on a federal pay status as state duty is subject to that state’s code of military justice.

    When not in a pay status Reservists and National Guard members are technically civilians. They can be administratively separated for actions committed while off duty, but punitive measures can not be used as they fall under the criminal justice system of the military.

    The 1SG, or any superior, can no more order the off status Reservists as they could anyone walking down the street. While in a pay status the game changes and their facebook posts made while on a pay status can be grounds for punitive action.

  13. Freedom Of Expression
    The right of all citizens to express their feelings freely and openly has only those limitations necessary to protect the rights of society. Soldiers have the same basic rights. These rights must, however, be consistent with good order and discipline and national security.

    Soldiers may write or petition any member of Congress about a complaint. You should not interfere with or try to dissuade a soldier from exercising this right. UCMJ, Article 138 (Chapter 13), protects a soldier’s right to complain and request correction of a grievance against his commander.

    Generally, soldiers may not write on the following topics without submitting their writing for prior review and approval by the appropriate headquarters:

    National government operations.
    Military matters.
    Foreign policy.
    They may write letters to editors and similar articles that constitute personal opinion or knowledge without having them reviewed and approved, even if the topic involves military matters or foreign policy. (See AR 360-5, Chapter 4.) Soldiers may not do personal writing during duty hours or use Army facilities, personnel, or property. (See paragraph 2-4.)

    Writing for underground newspapers is not illegal, but it is subject to the same restrictions as other forms of writing. Soldiers may publish these newspapers off post, on their own time, and with their own money. However, soldiers are subject to discipline if the newspaper contains material or words for which the soldier can be prosecuted under federal law.

    Soldiers may participate in demonstrations if they do not-

    Do so during duty hours.
    Soldiers participating during duty hours may be considered AWOL.
    Do so while in uniform.
    Soldiers in uniform can give the appearance that the Army sponsors or approves of the demonstration.
    Do so while on post.
    Do so while in a foreign country.
    Create a breach of law and order such as blocking traffic or assaulting police.
    Do so when violence is likely to result. (See AR 600-20, paragraph 5-3.)
    Soldiers who demonstrate in a manner prohibited by AR 600-20 may be subject to disciplinary action.

    Soldiers do not lose the right to express opinions on all political subjects and candidates. Soldiers may not, however, use “official authority or influence for the purpose of interfering with an election or affecting the course of its outcome” (DOD Directive 1344.10). Therefore, as a commander, you may not campaign among your subordinates for any political party or candidate or distribute any literature published by one.

    Soldiers retain the right to vote in local and national elections. They may register to vote at their legal or permanent residence. (See AR 600-20.) Some soldiers change their legal residence to the state where they are stationed. (However, by registering to vote where stationed, soldiers might incur local taxes. Any soldier considering registering in the local community should visit a legal assistance officer to discuss possible problems.) When duty requires them to be away, soldiers may vote by absentee ballot. The forms needed to get absentee ballots and other election materials are generally available in the legal assistance office or from the unit voting officer.

    When not in uniform, soldiers may attend both partisan and nonpartisan political meetings or rallies as spectators. While soldiers may go to these rallies, they may not speak before a partisan political gathering of any kind to promote a partisan political party or candidate. The limitations on soldiers participating in public demonstrations also apply to participating in political meetings. That is, soldiers cannot do so when on duty, while in uniform, while on post, and so forth. Furthermore, soldiers may not attend partisan political events as representatives of the Army, even though they do not actively participate. (See AR 600-20, Appendix B.)

    Soldiers may also join political clubs and attend meetings when not in uniform. However, they may not serve in any official capacity (for instance, as officers) or be sponsors of a partisan political club.

    Legal Assistance

  14. Ron,

    Re: your post below

    You went off half cocked. YOU sound like a stuffed-shirt who is full of himself who has his nose permanently corkscrewed in his superior’s posterior.

    I will have you know that Ms. Kafir served a complete and honorable military career, complete with accolades. She is entitled to an opinion, and you, actually, have NO say. How’s THEM apples?

    She is simply foolish enough to point out that Airmen, Soldiers, Sailors and Marines, do, in fact, have Constitutional rights. That’s like catnip to buttkissing trolls like you.

    Ron said
    How on this godforsaken mudball cold Earth can this basic concept of military life fail to register with you? You sound like some snotty-nosed E-1 who just barely escaped high school, although the vast majority of E-1s and other junior enlisted are far more professional than you seem to be.

  15. The fact that soldiers must be told not to put sensitive information on facebook is a great example of the worthless trash that populates the US Army. The Army is composed almost entirely of people who are incapable of contributing anything of any value to society unless janitors, drug dealers, and prostitutes are assets. They join the army because their welfare is getting cut off. They stay because it pays better than welfare and they have to work even less.

  16. 1st SGT? seriously? the author should at the least know rank abbreviations before posting on anything military.


  17. @Joe: Please Sir, since you know so much more than those actually serving, I emplore you to put on a uniform and pick up a weapon with those that secure your right to be such an idiot!!We stay in a low paying career because service is a calling more than a career. I have been in 17 years and have yet to get ANY welfare benefits. We serve something higher than ourselves for a mostly ungrateful and unknowing set of beneficiaries such as yourself. And so far as abbreviations are concerned: Don’t you have more important things to worry about than stupid stuff such as that? The abbreviations are written as such so that non-military readers can understand. It is also written on “MILITARY Times” Not specifically ARMY Times. I have served as a Senior NCO in a Multi-Branch, Multi-Nation Command, not everyone abbreviates their rank the same.

  18. Those who are enlisted and complain about our Commander in Chief are not held to the same standard as those who received a commission to be an officer in the U.S. military. That is what you get when you receive the power a commission entails, but enlisting gives no such requirement. I believe that is why since I first joined and my fellow enlisted members were well within our rights to discuss the whys and hows of our feelings negative or positive about our CinC…..that being said I have never shirked my duties because I hated a POTUS.

    AR 600-20 Appendix B–3.k.
    Use contemptuous words against the officeholders described in Section 888, Title 10, United States Code (10
    USC 888).
    USCODE-2011-title10-subtitleA-partII-chap47-subchapX-sec 888. Art. 88.
    Contempt toward officials applies to commissioned officers
    Any commissioned officer who uses contemptuous
    words against the President, the Vice
    President, Congress, the Secretary of Defense,
    the Secretary of a military department, the Secretary
    of Homeland Security, or the Governor or
    legislature of any State, Commonwealth, or possession
    in which he is on duty or present shall be
    punished as a court-martial may direct.

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