Guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain is moored pier side at Changi Naval Base, Republic of Singapore on August 21, 2017, following a collision with the merchant vessel Alnic MC while underway east of the Straits of Malacca and Singapore earlier that day. The ship now is undergoing repairs in Japan, where President Donald Trump visited. Photo courtesy /U.S. Navy
June 12 (UPI) -- Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan has reminded all military personnel "that our mission, to protect and defend the nation, is apolitical" following a controversy to hide the name of a warship during a presidential visit.
Two one-page memos -- one to top managers and other to all personnel, including active duty and civilians -- were distributed Tuesday, 10 days after the U.S. Navy acknowledged that a request was made by the White House Military Office to hide the USS John S. McCain while President Donald Trump visited Japan.
The similarly worded memos were first disclosed by the Wall Street Journal and USNI on Tuesday.
"DoD has a long-standing policy of encouraging military personnel to carry out the obligations of citizenship, which includes permitting certain political activities," read both memos. "However, our policy and tradition also clearly limit active duty members from engaging in partisan political activities or actions that could appear to imply DoD sponsorship, approval, or endorsement of a political candidate, campaign, or cause."
The memos added: "Political activity by members of the Armed Forces continues to be governed by DoD Directive 1344.10, which specifically lays out this policy."
Both memos note the responsibility of top leaders on the issue.
"I expect you to remind leaders at all levels in the Department to reinforce the apolitical nature of military service and professionalism, while ensuring all Service members remain free to exercise the responsibilities of citizenship as laws and regulations allow," he wrote in the memo to top leaders.
Shanahan described the intent of the memo to reporters Tuesday.
"What I wanted to do is -- after the McCain situation -- remind everyone that we're not going to politicize the military," Shanahan said. "So it's just a good healthy reminder -- think of all the travel that is going to come up; think of the season that we're entering into. There's nothing wrong with having a reminder."
Emails dated May 15, before Trump's Memorial Day visit to Yokosuka, were published days later showing a request that the "USS John McCain needs to be out of sight."
Despite the request from the White House Military Office, U.S. 7th Fleet commander Vice Adm. Phillip Sawyer didn't have the ship obscured. McCain was in "normal configuration," during the president's visit to the Yokosuka, Japan waterfront, a U.S. Pacific Fleet spokesman told USNI News.
"Our business is to run military operations and not become politicized," Shanahan said May 31 to reporters traveling with him to Seoul, South Korea. "Our job is to run the military."
Shanahan, who acknowledged he wouldn't have moved the ship, said at the time he didn't initially plan to call for an inspector general investigation investigation into the request.
The Pentagon chief denied a report that a cover was used to block the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer name because it could not be moved due to repairs after colliding with another ship in 2017. He said the tarp was for "hull preservation and not to obscure the name."
Sailors who typically wear caps with the ship's name were also given the day off during Trump's visit, though Shanahan said they were given a 96-hour Memorial Day weekend off that was unrelated to the presidential visit.
Trump said at the time that he had no knowledge of the plan and wouldn't have approved the request, but he "is not a big fan" of McCain and whoever did it was "well meaning."
Trump criticized McCain when he was alive, and after his death last year, noting his vote to preserve the Affordable Care Act, and during the 2016 campaign questioned whether McCain was a hero because he was captured during the Vietnam War.
The USS John S. McCain was originally named for McCain's father and grandfather, both of whom were admirals in the Navy, with the longtime Arizona senator added as a namesake in 2018.