Washington, DC – Following complaints about “Make Aircrew Great Again” morale patchs spotted on the sleeves of some servicemen aboard the USS Wasp on Monday, the servicemen are under investigation.
The patches – red circles with a picture of President Trump in the center, ringed with the words “Make Aircrew Great Again” – are clearly a play on the Make America Great Again (MAGA) slogan made famous during the 2016 election.
“Navy leadership is currently reviewing this instance to ensure that the wearing of the patch does not violate DOD policy or regulations,” U.S. Navy Lieutenant Samuel Boyle, a Navy spokesman at the Pentagon, told Stars and Stripes in an email.
Morale patches are nothing new and the unofficial insignia can be spotted on uniforms across all service branches.
Most patches are humorous and widely available for purchase online and in military supply stores, according to Stars and Stripes.
While morale patches are officially against uniform policy, they may be approved for display by ranking officers.
Stars and Stripes reported that it wasn’t known where the sailors got the patches, nor whether they had been approved by the commanders of their units.
A Wall Street Journal reporter travelling with the President was the first to notice the morale patches and posted pictures of them to Twitter on Tuesday, setting off a storm of outraged posts.
However, May 27 was not the first time the “Make Aircrew Great Again” patches have been worn by members of the U.S. military, according to Stars and Stripes.
In July of 2018, a helicopter crew chief at Barking Sands Missile Range in Hawaii was photographed sporting the red morale patch during the Rim of the Pacific naval exercises, and the picture appeared in Stars and Stripes.
The Pentagon also shared a picture on social media in 2017 that showed a sailor wearing the same patch.
Former top military officials have said the patches could be a problem if they were interpreted as a military institution supporting a particular political candidate, Stars and Stripes reported.
Retired U.S. Army Lieutenant General Mark Hertling tweeted that morale patches were “inappropriate [and] against regulation.”
However, Hertling has shared anecdotes since then about his own unit’s morale patches and how he wore them, Stars and Stripes reported.
“When patrolling with our Iraqi counterparts, I put a Velcroed Iraqi flag on the shoulder opposite the U.S. flag, to show them we were fighting together,” Hertling wrote. “That’s also ‘unauthorized’ but I got permission from my [four]-star boss.”
U.S. Marine General Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has frequently reminded service members that their oath is to the Constitution and not a politician or political party.
The 1939 Hatch Act prohibits military personnel from publicly supporting candidates or conducting any other political activity while in uniform, according to Stars and Stripes.
Air Force troops at Ramstein Air Base in Germany were put under a microscope in December of 2018 after a number of them were photographed having President Trump sign their red MAGA baseball caps.
But the Air Force determined that no rules or regulations had been broken because the airmen weren’t wearing the MAGA hats with their uniforms, Stars and Stripes reported.
“There is no rule against airmen bringing personal items to be signed by the president,” U.S. Air Forces Europe said in a statement after those photos were released.