Sacrificing a little to defend freedom

By Pfc. Leah R. Burton
28th Public Affairs Detachment

LOGISTICS SUPPORT AREA ANACONDA, Balad, Iraq — Soldiers often sit in social circles and vent their frustrations and negative attitudes, and sometimes violations to Army regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice filter out of people's mouths. Though the Army does not actively seek to prosecute soldiers for engaging in free speech, some comments may violate the UCMJ.

"Because we're Americans, we believe in a right to express ourselves and know that, as opposed to tyrannical societies, we have the First Amendment right to engage in political expression," said Capt. Gregory S. Weiss, 13th Corps Support Command's Chief of Military Justice.

Once Soldiers take the oath of enlistment and once officers are commissioned, they agree to bear true faith and allegiance to the Constitution of the United States. However, by becoming Soldiers, military members forfeit a certain degree of the freedoms Soldiers swear to defend.

"Though the UCMJ limits certain aspects of Soldiers' First Amendment rights, it's still important to ensure that Soldiers are guaranteed the very constitutional rights that they have taken an oath to defend," Weiss said.

Soldiers don't have the liberty of loose lips for a couple of reasons. Operational security is a major concern, especially on a deployment, and morale is affected when negative comments are made about the unit, the chain of command, the mission, the president or the Army.

One might assume that there is no harm in making such statements, oral or written, but the far reaching consequences are that the individual making the statements could very well be providing unfavorable information to the enemy to use as intelligence or propaganda.

The UCMJ contains several punitive articles that curtail Soldiers' freedom of speech. These include Article 89, disrespect toward a superior commissioned officer; the maximum punishment is a bad conduct discharge, confinement for one year and forfeiture of all pay and allowances.

Article 88, contempt toward officials; the maximum punishment is a bad conduct discharge, confinement for six months and forfeiture of all pay and allowances and only applies to commissioned officers.

Article 92, failure to obey an order or regulation; the maximum punishment is a dishonorable discharge, two years confinement and forfeiture of all pay and allowances.

Article 134, a general article that prohibits disloyal statements and "all disorders and neglects to the prejudice of good order and discipline in the armed forces, all conduct of a nature to bring discredit upon the armed forces ." the maximum punishment is dismissal, forfeiture of all pay and allowances and one year confinement.

In addition, Army Regulation 360-1 states, "Official speeches and writings must not contradict U.S. Government policy or law."

It's been said that everyone is entitled to his or her opinion; Soldiers are not always entitled to utter those opinions.

Editors Note: Pfc. Burton is a member of the 28th Public Affairs Detachment from Fort Lewis, Wash. She is currently deployed to Iraq in support of the 13th Corps Support Command at LSA Anaconda.


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Soldier takes the oath of enlistment