Millions of Americans are making their voices heard, be it at town hall meetings, rallies, or email and phone messages to Congress. As diverse as we know the military community to be, Congress as a whole sees the military community as a monolith of traditional, conservative, social and national security views. Congress should hear more progressive military voices.
Know the Rules
Like all US Citizens, servicemembers and their families have the right to contact members of Congress to voice their opinion. Servicemembers must speak in their personal capacity and not as an official representative of their branch, command, or installation.
During my career as a Judge Advocate, I worked very closely with the Public Affairs and Voting Assistance offices. Every election cycle, Public Affairs would re-issue a good, updated discussion of the Dos and Donts of political activity for Servicemembers and their families. Every military family should check their installation Public Affairs site to review this guidance.
However, I have seen servicemembers cross the line and find themselves dealing with the legal consequences, so please do seek guidance if unclear about the propriety of your planned political actions. Personally, I did not see any issues when military families contacted their Congressional representatives in order to share their opinion on an issue. I did see potential problems when servicemembers engaged in partisan political activities involving writing letters to the editor or speaking at political events. Act professionally and follow public affairs guidance for political activities and there should not be any problems.
Which Elected-Officials Should You Contact?
Many military families are unsure of which Senators and Representatives to contact to share their concerns and opinions. There are actually more bona fide opportunities to be heard than one may think.
Where are you registered to vote? The spouses of active duty servicemembers may maintain their voter registration at their original home of record, at their state of residence, or they may register to vote where assigned. The same choice exists for active-duty servicemembers as well.
If you are unsure where you should register and have a choice, consider where your vote has more impact. As to the mechanics of voter registration, consult the Federal Voting Assistance Program at your command or installation.
For families who register to vote in the community where they are assigned, they may contact the Senators and Representative from that location.
For families who maintain their state-of-residence or home-of-record voter registration, they may contact their Senators and Representative from that location.
However, even families who maintain their original voter registration from home may contact the Congressional delegation representing the installation where assigned.
Military community members may not vote in both places, and it is important to update voter registration as needed, but nothing prevents the military community from communicating with the local delegation as well. Do not misrepresent yourself as a local voter, but as a member of the military community they represent; the Congressional delegation should welcome your voice as a member of that community.
Similarly, all members of the House Armed Services Committee and all members of the Senate Armed Services Committee are appropriate recipients of military concerns. You can easily find the names and contact information of your Senators and Representative as well as the names of all members of the Armed Services committees through various Congressional websites as well as search engines such as Google.
Fine-tuning Your Message
There are plenty of options to make your voices heard. Avoid sending out blanket communication to the entire possible Congressional audience for each issue. Look at the intent and your desired impact. The more the issue goes to national military policy, the greater the audience should be. The more the issue is related to a personal request for assistance, it may be better to focus on your local or registered district members. When contacting your local Congressional delegation, it is often more efficient to communicate with the local offices covering the area in which you live. The national offices in Washington, DC, often get overwhelmed with the volume of email and voicemail messages and your voice could be lost.
The key is to make your voices heard.