Unpacking the Claim That Maj. Gen. Thomas Suelzer Broke Military Code by Wearing Uniform During Trump Speech?


On Feb. 29, 2024, former President Donald Trump visited Eagle Pass, Texas, which had become the center of the ongoing conversation about the U.S.-Mexico border in recent months. While there, Trump met with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and gave an address to the media that was broadcast on Fox News.

As Trump spoke about people “who don’t speak languages. We have languages coming into our country — we have nobody that even speaks those languages — they’re truly foreign languages. Nobody speaks them,” users on X (formerly Twitter), were paying attention to something else. Behind Trump stood Maj. Gen. Thomas M. Suelzer, the adjutant general for the state of Texas, in his combat uniform. Because the Department of Defense does not want to influence elections, service members are forbidden from attending partisan political events in uniform.

Was this a breach of regulation? The answer depends on whether Trump’s visit to Eagle Pass was a partisan political event.

According to the Texas State Directory, Suelzer graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy in 1990 before completing 10 years of active-duty service and seven years of reserve service in the Air Force. After that, he moved to the Texas Military Department, where he became a deputy adjutant general-air before Abbott gave him the lead job.

Snopes looked at regulations for the U.S. Air Force, both active-duty and reserves, and the Texas Military Department, which includes the Texas State Guard, Texas Army National Guard and Texas Air National Guard to cover all possible bases to see whether Suelzer broke with protocol.

From the Air Force’s website, under the section titled “When NOT to Wear the Air Force Uniform:

1.4.2. Except when authorized by the AF/A1, when participating in activities such as
unofficial public speeches, interviews, picket lines, marches, rallies, or any public
demonstration which may imply Air Force sanction of the cause for which the demonstration or activity is conducted.

The same document notes that reserve members should “conform to the same standards of appearance, military customs, practices and conduct in uniform prescribed for active duty members when participating in short or long (extended) periods of active duty, to include active duty training time.”

As for the Texas Military Department, the most recent memo on political activities we could find was from 2019. It applies to the Texas State Guard, and directs members of the Texas Army or Air National Guard to “Department of Defense Directive (DoDD) Number 1344.10”. For the Texas State Guard, the following regulations apply:

a. It is Texas Military Department (TMD) policy to encourage members of the TXSG
to carry out the obligations of citizenship. In keeping with the traditional concept that
members should avoid inferences that their political activities imply or appear to imply
official sponsorship, approval, or endorsement, the following policy shall apply:

(3) Members of the TXSG shall refrain from participating in any political activities
while in uniform or using Government facilities or resources for furthering political
activities.

(4) Members of the TXSG may not attend partisan political events in uniform or as an official representative of the TXSG

As directed by that memo, we next checked DoDD 1344.10 to confirm the regulations for Texas Army and Air National Guard personnel:

4.1.2. A member of the Armed Forces on active duty shall not:

4.1.2.1. Participate in partisan political fundraising activities (except as permitted in
subparagraph 4.1.1.7.), rallies, conventions (including making speeches in the course thereof), management of campaigns, or debates, either on one’s own behalf or on that of another, without respect to uniform or inference or appearance of official sponsorship, approval, or endorsement. Participation includes more than mere attendance as a spectator.

4.5. Holding and Exercising the Functions of a State or Other Non-U.S. Government Office
Attained by Election or Appointment

4.5.1. Paragraph 4.5. applies to a civil office in a State; the District of Columbia; a territory, possession, or commonwealth of the United States; or any political subdivision thereof

4.5.5. Any member on active duty authorized to hold or exercise, or not prohibited from
holding or exercising, the functions of office under paragraph 4.5. is still subject to the
prohibitions of subparagraph 4.1.2

In conclusion, no matter what branch of the armed forces you consider, determining whether Suelzer violated uniform code is dependent on one thing: Was Trump’s address a partisan political event?

Sources:

England, Gordon. Political Activities by Members of the Armed Forces. Department of Defense, 19 Feb. 2008, https://www.esd.whs.mil/Portals/54/Documents/DD/issuances/dodd/134410p.pdf.

“Https://Twitter.Com/AndrewflemingJ/Status/1763423177181692354.” X (Formerly Twitter), https://twitter.com/AndrewflemingJ/status/1763423177181692354. Accessed 1 Mar. 2024.

“Https://Twitter.Com/Hissgoescobra/Status/1763376052888543520.” X (Formerly Twitter), https://twitter.com/hissgoescobra/status/1763376052888543520. Accessed 1 Mar. 2024.

Kanno-Youngs, Zolan, et al. “In Dual Border Visits, Biden and Trump Try to Score Points at a Political Hot Spot.” The New York Times, 29 Feb. 2024. NYTimes.com, https://www.nytimes.com/live/2024/02/29/us/biden-trump-border-visit.

Major General Thomas M. Suelzer – Texas State Directory Online. https://www.txdirectory.com/online/person/?id=42069&staff=9229. Accessed 1 Mar. 2024.

National Guard Biography. https://www.nationalguard.mil/portals/31/Features/ngbgomo/bio/3/3631.html. Accessed 1 Mar. 2024.

Norris, Tracy. Political Activities of Members of the Texas State Guard (TXSG). Texas Military Department, 23 Sept. 2019, https://tmd.texas.gov/Data/Sites/1/media/tmdpolicies/2019/txsg/dec/tmdd-1030.05-political-activities-of-members-of-the-txsg.pdf.

Reporter, James Bickerton US News. “Military Presence behind Donald Trump during Border Speech Raises Alarm.” Newsweek, 1 Mar. 2024, https://www.newsweek.com/donald-trump-border-speech-texas-military-presence-raises-alarm-1874991.

Times, James Barragán, The Texas Tribune, and Davis Winkie, Military. “Gov. Greg Abbott Replaces Texas Military Leader Who Has Overseen Heavily Criticized Border Mission.” The Texas Tribune, 14 Mar. 2022, https://www.texastribune.org/2022/03/14/texas-greg-abbott-border-military-thomas-suelzer/.

Wagner, Alex. DRESS AND PERSONAL APPEARANCE OF DEPARTMENT OF THE AIR FORCE PERSONNEL. Department of the Air Force, 29 Feb. 2024, https://www.afpc.af.mil/Portals/70/documents/DRESS%20AND%20APPEARANCE/dafi36-2903%20(29Feb24).pdf.

Wermund, Cayla Harris, Benjamin. “In Texas Visit, Trump Praises Abbott’s Border Crackdown: ‘This Is like a War.'” San Antonio Express-News, 29 Feb. 2024, https://www.expressnews.com/politics/article/donald-trump-texas-border-abbott-18691009.php.





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