In comments to two posts below, I raised the question of whether SGT Aguina behaved in an unseemly manner when he showed up at Yearly Kos in his class A's to make the point he had to make. Several commenters agreed that he did, some quite forcefully. I'd like some help in exploring why. My jumping-off point is Grim's response:
In answer to your question about whether it was "unseemly," I'll say no, for this reason: the panel discussion was explicitly on a military topic.I'll explain my problem in a roundabout way. I have noticed that some Presidential candidates like to run, not on specific policies and proposals, but as "keepers of the secret knowledge." Wes Clark was a prime example: the main focus of his campaign was the fact that he was a general, and presumably had technical knowledge and insights that most of us don't have, which (so the implication went) would make him strong on foreign policy. Ross Perot was much the same, with respect to his business experience and economic policy. I hated those campaigns. The level of grand strategy where the President must operate, and where much of the political debate takes place, goes far beyond the kind of operational judgment a successful general must make; and "I'm the man who knows because of my military experience" simply isn't satisfying. If it's presented the wrong way, it becomes an intimidation tactic - "Don't argue with me because you never did my job" - and an ineffective one at that.
Any other part of Yearly Kos, yes, it would have been unseemly to wear the uniform to it. It's a partisan political conference, one that features repeated calls for the impeachment of the Commander in Chief; even to attend that puts a uniformed military member in an odd position. (I say that having received some guidance from a sergeant about how to present myself when asked about our CiC, Clinton: "The only thing you should ever say about him is, 'I support the Commander in Chief.'" The military oaths make that explicit, so it's simply a direct and honest answer, regardless of politics.)
However, given that this panel discussion was about military topics, I think it was proper to wear a legitimate military uniform to address it. The military normally has to keep out of politics, but it does have a legitimate role in speaking to policy matters that affect it -- for example, a question like "should Congress approve funding for the Crusader system?"
By the same token, even a partisan political panel about military affairs is legitimate for a uniformed military man to address. So long as he is obedient to the law, shows due respect for the chain of command and makes clear that he speaks for himself and not the Army, I see nothing unseemly about his wearing the uniform there.
Now, if you show up at a meeting like that to make a point like that with your uniform on, to me you're saying, "You need to listen to me, because I know what I'm talking about, because of who and what I am." That might, as Grim says, be all right in the case of (let's say) an artilleryman commenting on the effectiveness of a new gun - his technical knowledge and his experience really matter in determining what weight to give his opinion. But SGT Aguina wasn't arguing from technical knowledge or experience; he was arguing from publicly available information (and, indeed, inviting the attendees to access it) about Iraqi casualties. His choice of uniform looked like an intimidation tactic aimed at most of the people at the conference. And that is why it seems unseemly to me, or at least why I think it does - because that's not what the uniform is for.
What do you think?