David A. Bryant

I’ve been seeing all kinds of negative responses lately concerning retired members of the military speaking out on issues and exercising their right to free speech. Especially when it comes to publicly endorsing a political candidate, as in the cases of retired Gen. John Allen supporting Hillary Clinton for president and retired Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn backing Donald Trump.

The major outcry seems to be that by using their First Amendment rights, they are somehow speaking on behalf of the military. Apparently they are supposed to just shut their mouths, snap a salute and do what every good soldier does and stay out of anything controversial unless their remarks have been approved by the public affairs office.

Heck, I’ve even seen comments to my own little columns on Facebook telling me to shut up and keep my opinions to myself.

As you can see, I’m certainly not going to do that. And I don’t think any other retiree should, either.

You see, someone who gave up 20 or more years of his or her life and a lot of freedoms to serve this nation not only deserves the right to speak up, but is probably one of the most qualified to. That man or woman has proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that they can put the needs of the nation above their own.

When these people are retired, they have just as much a right to exercise their freedom of speech as any other American not serving in a capacity which limits what they can say, do or who they can endorse.

The same is happening to veterans, although not nearly to the same degree.

Quite frankly, they have more than earned the right to exercise those freedoms. If anyone should stand up and endorse a candidate he or she believes will be the best for the nation, it is someone who has already “walked the walk.”

You don’t have to agree with that person. You’re free to have your own opinion, even if you can’t express it while actively serving in the armed forces.

But telling a retiree he or she shouldn’t be allowed to voice an opinion because it may look like a “military endorsement” is equivalent to telling these retirees their service didn’t matter and they just aren’t as good as regular U.S. citizens who never served their country a day of their lives.

Retirees aren’t some sub-class of citizens who don’t rate the same rights everyone else does. If you think that, then you actually have more in common with Adolf Hitler than does that presidential candidate you don’t like. After all, that’s how Hitler treated the Jews.

One day, you, too, will have your freedoms back, whether as a veteran or a retiree. Don’t squander them. And don’t demean those who defended the rights they now exercise.

David A. Bryant is an Army retiree and the military editor for the Killeen Daily Herald. You can reach him at dbryant@kdhnews.com or 254-501-7554.

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