- The Democratic National Convention attracted scrutiny after two US Army soldiers were filmed with American Samoa delegates during a roll call vote.
- The presence of the two uniformed soldiers, who appeared to be junior enlisted soldiers, raised concerns about the military being apolitical during a highly charged election season.
- But the recent controversy also highlights the differences exclusively experienced by US nationals, and the often overlooked service from military veterans who hail from the US territories, such as American Samoa.
- “Unfortunately, we have to use our bodies to get off the island, but that’s the reality of life,” a former US Army combat medic from American Samoa told Insider.
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A video of the Democratic National Convention’s televised roll call vote on Tuesday attracted scrutiny after two uniformed troops appeared behind American Samoa delegates as they cast their votes for Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden.
The presence of the two uniformed US service members, who appeared to be junior enlisted soldiers, raised concerns about the military, which is supposed to be apolitical, appearing to take sides in the political event.
A US Army spokesman confirmed it was investigating the event on Wednesday, adding that the uniformed service members were indeed members of a US Army Reserves unit.
The Defense Department has a long-standing policy of military service members and federal employees who act in their official capacity to refrain from engaging “in activities that associate the [Defense Department] with any partisan political campaign or elections, candidate, cause or issue.”
While it encourages its employees to vote and express their opinions on political candidates, the Defense Department adds in its regulations that active-duty troops “may not participate in partisan activities such as soliciting or engaging in partisan fundraiser activities … or speaking before a partisan gathering.”
“All military members, including National Guard and Reserve forces, are prohibited from wearing military uniforms at political campaign events,” the Defense Department said in a memo from 2019.
A spokesperson for the Democratic National Committee called the incident an “oversight.”
Incidents like the roll call vote have been a frequent Democratic talking point against the Trump administration. President Donald Trump has long been accused of politicizing the military and federal institutions for his own partisan agenda — his most recent controversy stemming from his plan to officially accept the Republican presidential nomination from the White House lawn.
‘We have to use our bodies to get off the island’
But the recent controversy also highlights the differences exclusively experienced by US nationals, and the often overlooked service from military veterans who hail from the US territories, such as American Samoa.
American Samoa became a US territory in 1900, but unlike other islands like Guam, its people are considered US nationals, and not US citizens at birth. Samoans have no congressional representations and are barred from voting in federal elections.
Despite the lack of representation, US nationals from the territories are still flocking to serve the military. Over 14,000 military veterans were living in either American Samoa, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands and the US Virgin Islands, which represents 5.6% of its people above the age of 18, according to a 2010 Census.
Americans who serve in the armed forces represent around 0.5% of the total US population.
A US Army recruiting station located in American Samoa was ranked first place in producing recruits, beating over 880 other stations throughout the US in 2014. More Samoans have also suffered casualties from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars per capita than any state or territory.
A Democratic spokesperson alluded to the contributions made by American Samoa and said its video was supposed to be a representation of its military service.
“Each state was asked to highlight issues and values that matter most and the American Samoa delegation wanted to highlight their commitment to military service when they filmed their segment,” a Democratic spokesperson said in a statement to Insider.
A retired US Army combat medic who grew up in American Samoa told Insider that the limited job opportunities was a primary reason why people joined the military.
A running joke throughout American Samoa, he explained, is that the island produced three goods: tuna, football players, and American soldiers.
“Most of the young people who leave to get off the island is through an educational scholarship playing football, or joining the military,” the combat medic, who asked to remain anonymous because he works in government, told Insider. “One of the easiest ways to get off the island is joining the military. A lot of Vietnam veterans came back home and became one of the affluent people on the island.”
“Unfortunately, we have to use our bodies to get off the island, but that’s the reality of life,” he added.
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