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Bumper stickers: extensions of communication

Bumper stickers are displayed on the back of a personally owned vehicle at Minot Air Force Base, N.D., March 16, 2017. Airmen may have bumper stickers on their POVs as long as they don’t discredit the Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Alyssa M. Akers)

Bumper stickers are displayed on the back of a personally owned vehicle at Minot Air Force Base, N.D., March 16, 2017. Airmen may have bumper stickers on their POVs as long as they don’t discredit the Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Alyssa M. Akers)


Active Duty Air Force members are held to high standards, even when it comes to bumper stickers placed on their privately owned vehicles.

“A bumper sticker acts as an additional type of speech by the Airmen,” said 2nd Lt. Bryant Mishima-Baker, 5th Bomb Wing volunteer legal services officer. “We have to be careful of things that can be misunderstood.”

According to Mishima-Baker, a good rule of thumb to follow is anything an Airman can’t talk about face-to-face shouldn’t be on their POV.

There is only one Air Force Instruction that mentions bumper stickers directly.

According to AFI 51-902, Political Activities by Members of the U.S. Air Force, section 3: Permitted Activities, members may display a political bumper sticker on their private vehicles. However, the following section states that members will not display a large political sign, banner or poster on a private vehicle.

These instructions allow an Airman to have political bumper stickers, but only up to a certain size.

“It’s important to avoid the appearance that the Air Force is supporting a certain cause or business,” said Mishima-Baker.

While there are specific guidelines for bumper stickers with political messages, regulations for other types of bumper stickers currently don’t exist. Regardless, there are many regulations concerning an Airman’s demeanor toward racist or sexist content.

“It is important to be mindful of what is added to your vehicle for the base populous to see,” said Tech. Sgt. Amber Hastings, 5th Bomb Wing equal opportunity director. “If the bumper sticker is perceived to be offensive, the member may be asked to remove it from the vehicle so it does not negatively affect base personnel.”

Failure to follow the regulations listed above may be grounds for punishment under Article 92 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, Failure to Obey an Order/Regulation.

If an NCO orders an Air Force member to remove a bumper sticker and they fail to do so, they may also be punished under Article 91 of the UCMJ, Insubordinate Conduct toward a Warrant Officer, NCO or Petty Officer.

“Punishment could be as simple as asking you to remove certain things, or it can go as far as receiving non-judicial punishment,” said Mishima-Baker.

It’s important to remember that we are members of the military at all times, added Mishima-Baker. The punishments that would be given for word-of-mouth may also be given for stickers on vehicles.

“If someone looks at your vehicle and it makes them uncomfortable, don’t put on your car,” said Mishima-Baker.
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