U – Ott – 2 – Know
20 Apr 2018
The phrase “playing politics” has negative connotations. In fact the Cambridge English Dictionary defines playing politics as: “to use a situation or the relationships between people for your own advantage”. The Free Dictionary goes even further: “to deal with people in an opportunistic or manipulative way, as for job advancement.” Equally bad is “partisan politics”, which according to Wikipedia is defined as “a committed member of a political party. In multi-party systems, the term is used for politicians who strongly support their party's policies and are reluctant to compromise with their political opponents”.
So how do we, as the Air Force Sergeants Association, engage in legislative advocacy without being accused of being partisan or “playing politics”? It’s actually really easy.
Start by becoming familiar with the current AFSA legislative platform; broken down into seven major focus areas:
Military Benefits & Programs: Sustain military pay comparability with the private sector via full military pay raises IAW current law and protect or enhance related benefits like leave, Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH), bonuses and special pays while protecting funding for commissaries, base exchanges, dependent schools and family support programs.
Military Healthcare: Improve access to earned military health care benefits; enhance existing coverage/services and resist future fee increases.
Veterans/Retiree Benefits: Improve access to VA healthcare thereby ensuring the nation fulfils its obligation to care for those “who shall have borne the battle.” Enhance the disability claims and appeals process; ensure ancillary programs, services, etc., remain fully funded.
Caring for Survivors: Fight to eliminate the VA Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC)/ Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP) offset of annuities for survivors of service members who died of service-connected causes.
Air National Guard & Air Force Reserve: Fix the complex reserve duty status system (e.g., 12304b situation) without reducing compensation value as well as reducing the Guard & Reserve retirement compensation age from 60 to 55.
Education: Support legislation that promotes future success through the use of hard-earned education benefits, like Tuition Assistance, MyCAA, Montgomery or Post 9/11 GI Bill and ensure that these programs remain relevant and fully funded for them or any dependents whom their benefits may have been transferred.
Special Interest Items: Continue to seek increasing eligibility of concurrent receipt for military retirees; protect the voting rights of military service members and their eligible family members; and repeal or further modify the Former Spouse Protection Act.
As you’ve read those seven focus areas and their associated AFSA-approved initiatives you’ve noticed the absence of mentioning any political party, politician, or administration. True legislative advocacy is void of partisanship; instead focusing on the purpose, goal, or cause. The American Heritage Dictionary defines advocacy as “The act of pleading or arguing in favor of something, such as a cause, idea, or policy; active support”. Successful advocacy efforts; whether at the Chapter, Division, or International levels must be a non-partisan activity. Just like when you build (or built) an effective team in the Air Force, we must also build an effective relationship (team) with all the elected representatives (and community leaders) in our areas. City Councils, Mayors, Chambers of Commerce…State Representatives & Senators, State Secretaries of Veterans Affairs, Governors…US Representatives & Senators, Secretary of Defense, Secretary of Veterans Affairs, the Office of the President.
Each and every single person is important not just to AFSA’s mission “to advocate improved quality of life and economic fairness that will support the well-being of the Total Air Force enlisted personnel and their families”; but more importantly to meet AFSA’s objective “to Loyally serve the nation and the US Air Force, and to do all else necessary to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States”.
So how do we, as the AFSA, remain an active political advocacy organization without being viewed as being partisan? Start with a quick review of Air Force Standards (AFI 1-1), specifically paragraph 2.13, here are a few highlights:
“Generally, as an individual, you enjoy the same rights and have the same responsibilities as other citizens. However, because you are a member of the United States Air Force, the manner in which you exercise your rights is limited in some cases. Under our democratic system, the military, as a group, must remain politically neutral and divorced from partisan politics. You have the right and duty as an American citizen to vote and to voice your opinions concerning political matters; however, you must be careful that your personal opinions and activities are not directly, or by implication, represented as those of the Air Force. Enlisted personnel who make derogatory or disrespectful statements about political leaders may violate Article 134, UCMJ, when their military status is associated with the statements (such as making these comments on a social networking site where the member’s employment with the Air Force is also listed). You may not speak before a partisan political event, ride, or march in a partisan political parade, or engage in partisan political fundraising activities, regardless of whether or not you are in uniform. You may support or endorse a particular political candidate, party, cause, or issue through displaying a bumper sticker on your personally owned vehicles. You may not attend or participate in any demonstration or other political activity on a military installation, unless that event has been approved by the installation commander. You may not sign or circulate a petition on a military installation, unless the petition has been approved by the installation commander. Political discussions are generally not appropriate in the Federal workplace. You may not attempt to influence the view, position or vote of any subordinate except to generally encourage participation in the voting process.”
Now, like many of you I too hold the coveted DD-214 in my procession…and as such, I can easily say “all that doesn’t apply to me”…which may be a true statement. BUT, when we look at it from the perspective of being a member of the AFSA…we need to be aware of and understanding of the limitations placed upon our brothers and sisters who are wearing the Air Force Blue. There are four simple things we ALL need to do, whether we answer to Mr, Mrs, Ms, Airman, Sergeant, or Chief:
1: Register to Vote; 2: Contact Your Elected Representatives on Issues Important to You; 3: Vote in Local, State, Federal Elections; 4: Encourage Others to Do the Same
“Coming together is a beginning; Keeping together is progress; Working together is success” - Henry Ford