Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan urged U.S. services members and civilian Department of Defense employees to maintain the "apolitical nature" of the military, telling them they are supposed to epitomize "American values and ethics."
In an internal memo sent to Pentagon staff and members of the armed forces, Shanahan said long-standing Pentagon policy allows military professionals to carry out "obligations of citizenship," including "certain political activities." He stressed, however, that there are limitations in place to ensure their actions don't appear partisan.
"Our policy and tradition also clearly limit active duty members from engaging in partisan political activities or actions that could appear to imply DoD sponsorship, approval, or endorsement of a political candidate, campaign, or cause," Shanahan wrote in the memo, which was first reported by CNN.
"I expect you to remind leaders at all levels in the Department to reinforce the apolitical nature of military service and professionalism, while ensuring all Service members remain free to exercise the responsibilities of citizenship as laws and regulations allows," he added.
Shanahan's message comes after the administration faced bipartisan criticism over attempts by White House officials to keep the USS John S. McCain out of President Trump's view during his state visit to Japan last month. After the episode came to light, Shanahan said the Navy had ignored the directive and said he had asked the Pentagon's inspector general to review the incident.
During that same trip, U.S. service members attending a Memorial Day address by Mr. Trump were photographedinspired by his campaign slogan, "Make America Great Again." When the photos first surfaced, the Pentagon told CBS News it was reviewing the incident.
David Martin and Emily Tillett contributed to this report.