IOWA CITY, Iowa – A soldier who went on national television in his military fatigues to endorse Ron Paul's presidential campaign after the Iowa caucuses has been reprimanded but not dismissed from the Army Reserve, a spokeswoman said Friday.
The Army determined that Jesse D. Thorsen violated policies that bar soldiers from participating in political events in their official capacities or while in uniform. Experts say a reprimand may become a problem if Thorsen seeks a promotion or could be used to justify more serious punishment if he gets in trouble again.
U.S. Army Reserve spokeswoman Angel Wallace said a letter of reprimand was placed in Thorsen's official personnel file. Thorsen, who learned of the punishment following a two-month investigation, declined comment when reached by email. His supporters praised the news on a Facebook page dedicated to him, noting it could have been worse.
Thorsen, 28, showed up in his uniform Jan. 3 to Paul campaign's caucus night celebration at a suburban Des Moines hotel ballroom. There, he gave a live interview with CNN saying he supported Paul's plans "when it comes to bringing the soldiers home" because he'd served for a decade in the military during wartime.
CNN cut off the interview after technical difficulties and some Paul supporters accused the network of silencing Thorsen. Paul then called him to the stage so he could finish his thoughts before giving remarks after finishing a close third in Iowa's first-in-the-nation Republican presidential nominating contest.
"We don't need to be picking fights overseas. And I think everybody else knows that too," Thorsen said while on stage. He said being with Paul was "an incredible moment ... like meeting a rock star" and urged supporters to organize to make sure Paul was elected president.
The military's reaction was swift.
The Army Reserve said Thorsen "stands alone in his opinions reading his political affiliation and beliefs" and launched an investigation. The Army soon learned from news reports that Thorsen was convicted in connection with breaking into a home in December 2004 in Fort Myers, Fla., to steal a shotgun and other items.
The statement released Friday by the military didn't address the criminal record of Thorsen, who learned of the reprimand earlier this month.
"If you're an officer, a letter of reprimand is a career-ender. In the lower ranks, you can sometimes overcome it," said Greg Rinckey, a former Army attorney whose Albany, N.Y., law firm often represents soldiers and veterans. "The bigger issue is, you don't go to political rallies in your uniform. It has to be addressed because it's not appropriate."
The statement listed his rank as specialist. Thorsen had earlier identified himself as a corporal, as did the military. The statement said investigators could not find documentation that Thorsen had been promoted to corporal but noted that calling him a specialist wasn't a demotion. Wallace said Thorsen wasn't necessarily misrepresenting himself, adding that he could wear the corporal rank if the paperwork is found.
Thorsen joined the Army National Guard in Florida in 2001, then transferred to Guard units in Illinois and Colorado before joining the Army Reserve. He was deployed to Afghanistan in 2009 and is currently a member of an engineer company based in Des Moines. His unit falls under the 416th Theater Engineer Command out of Darien, Ill.
Paul's campaign did not respond to messages seeking comment Friday.
Thorsen's appearance during the event helped Paul highlight support among active duty soldiers, who had given more money to his campaign than others.
But Rinckey said the candidate and his aides should have known better than to put Thorsen in the spotlight.
Paul's Iowa campaign chairman, Drew Ivers, said in January that campaign officials figured Thorsen knew the military regulations before they put him on stage.
"I think it's an impromptu happening by an enthusiastic supporter who wanted to express his support for Ron Paul's candidacy," he said. "I don't think it's worth anything more than a footnote in the annals of Iowa politics and the national Republican Party primary process."