Marines to discharge sergeant for dissing Obama on Facebook

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SAN DIEGO — A sergeant will be discharged for criticizing President Obama on Facebook in a case that called into question the Pentagon’s policies about social media and its limits on the speech of active-duty military personnel, the Marine Corps said Wednesday.

Sgt. Gary Stein will get an other-than-honorable discharge and lose most of his benefits for violating the policies, the Corps said.

The San Diego-area Marine, who has served nine years in the Corps, said he was disappointed by the decision. He argued that he was exercising his constitutional rights to free speech.

“I love the Marine Corps, I love my job. I wish it wouldn’t have gone this way. I’m having a hard time seeing how 15 words on Facebook could have ruined my nine-year career,” he told the Associated Press.

Gary Kreep, an attorney for Mr. Stein, said he would pursue administrative appeals within the Marine Corps, but anticipates the effort will fail. He said he planned to file an amended complaint in federal court.

“As long as he wants to pursue this, we will be supporting him,” said Mr. Kreep, who is executive director of the United States Justice Foundation, an advocacy group.

The Marines acted after saying Sgt. Stein stated March 1 on a Facebook page used by Marine meteorologists, “Screw Obama and I will not follow all orders from him.” Sgt. Stein later clarified that statement, saying he would not follow unlawful orders.

Brig. Gen. Daniel Yoo, the commanding general of the Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego, said in a brief statement Wednesday that evidence supported an administrative board’s recommendation to discharge Sgt. Stein.

Tom Umberg, a former Army colonel and military prosecutor, said Sgt. Stein persisted even after being warned.

“The Marine Corps gave him the opportunity to think about his actions, yet Sgt. Stein continued to undermine the chain of command,” said Mr. Umberg, who was not involved in Mr. Stein’s case. “I think his purpose was to leave the Marine Corps in a dramatic fashion in order to begin a career in talk radio or what have you.”

Mr. Umberg thinks the decision to discharge Sgt. Stein will have limited impact because the vast majority of Marines would never consider such postings.

“I think 99 percent of the soldiers and Marines currently on duty understand the duties of supporting the chain of command and understand their rights of free speech are limited,” he said. “To that 1 percent who don’t know their rights to free speech are limited once they take the oath, this is a loud and clear message.”

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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