In a June 29 letter to Rumsfeld, Senate Armed Services Chairman John Warner, R-Va., and ranking member Carl Levin, D-Mich., reminded him that a department rule adopted last October prohibits the wearing of military uniforms at political events.
"The committee is concerned that departmental policies regarding the wearing of military uniforms during personal or public activities may be poorly understood and inadequately enforced," Warner and Levin wrote.
They cited a May 10 event outside the Russell Senate Office Building during which, the senators said, "about 25 general officers of the Army and Air National Guard" rallied in support of legislation that would elevate the National Guard Bureau chief to four-star rank and make him a member of the elite Joint Chiefs of Staff.
"Most of the officers present wore their military uniforms during the event," Warner and Levin wrote. "Some press accounts referred to this event as a 'rally' in support of the legislation."
They enclosed for Rumsfeld's benefit a May 9 news release promoting the next day's appearance of adjutant generals from 27 states at "a rally behind a bill designed to empower the Guard inside the Pentagon."
"We would appreciate receiving your views on . . . whether wearing the uniform by the National Guard general officers who participated in this event on May 10, 2006, was authorized," Warner and Levin asked Rumsfeld.
Last month, Warner agreed to add language to the fiscal 2007 defense authorization bill that would promote the Guard chief to a four-star general, but not enlarge the Joint Chiefs. Despite his own objections, he also added provisions giving the state-run Guard new authority to identify gaps between itself and the active-duty military and to validate its own technology and equipment needs.
It was a compromise that capped a lobbying campaign by veterans and Guard members, long known for their strong, influential grassroots organizations. They inundated Capitol Hill with thousands of e-mails and letters supporting the original bill, sponsored by Sens. Christopher (Kit) Bond, R-Mo., and Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., co-chairmen of the National Guard Caucus, to boost the Guard's decision-making role.
Asked for his recollection of the May 10 event, Maj. Gen. Roger Lempke, president of the Adjutant General Association of the United States, said Thursday that it was a news conference, not a political rally.
Lempke, who was there, and other Guard officers had often worn their uniforms for news conferences and speeches last year in opposition to Pentagon base closure recommendations.
But Lempke, who is also Nebraska's top Guard officer, said the Guard only learned about the new uniform regulation several days ago. And even after learning of it, officers had difficulty finding the instructions, he said.
The Guard has not yet taken a position on the uniform policy, and Lempke would not comment on the Warner and Levin letter. A Senate Armed Services Committee spokesman also would not comment on the letter.