As the 2016 U.S. presidential election season drew to a close, emotions were high throughout the country. However, as military members, we must stay professional and politically impartial while in uniform. We must be careful and think critically about the actions we take and the statements we make.
Critical thinking is a tool we can use to evaluate the wisdom of our statements and understand our role in American politics. But first: what is critical thinking? It is a way of considering a situation that requires a deliberate assessment of available information using four criteria. The U.S. Air Force Barnes Center for Enlisted Education defines these criteria as:
1) Being open-minded with healthy skepticism – this may sound contradictory at first, but being open-minded means actively listening and thinking about what is being said. This means not allowing our biases to stand in the way of the message or idea. Healthy skepticism is seeking the facts and not trusting information at face value.
2) Intellectual humility – accepting the idea that our beliefs or methodology may not always be right. If new information or the right way to do something is presented, be humble and accept it.
3) Free thinking – using your own judgment to find the truth and not just accepting the opinions of the majority.
4) High motivation – getting to the foundation of an issue requires energy and not just making a flippant decision so critical thinkers must be motivated.
Critically thinking in the post-election environment should help Airmen realize that information sources benefit from controversial topics, they should tread cautiously around click-bait news shares and be sure to fully read articles before sharing or commenting on them. Airmen should also realize that we as military members damage our professional image by provoking or encouraging any election controversy.
The Uniform Code of Military Justice’s direction on defamation of the president and his leadership is clear in its language and incontrovertible in spirit. The president is our Commander in Chief meaning he is the highest ranking leader of our armed forces. Under the UCMJ, officer (Article 88) and enlisted (Article 134) Airmen who make derogatory or disrespectful statements about political leaders when their military status is associated with the statements can face severe consequences (such as making derogatory comments on social networking sites where the member’s employment with the Air Force is also listed). All Airmen have taken an Oath, where they swore to obey the orders of the President of the United States according to regulations and the UCMJ.
Be disciplined in your actions, decisions and behaviors. And, remember this: once you post something to Facebook, it becomes public record forever and remains retrievable long into the future even after you delete it.