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WASHINGTON — An Army reservist who appeared in uniform on national television in support of Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul during Tuesday’s Iowa caucuses could face harsh penalties from the Defense Department for violating military rules against politicking.

Service officials confirmed Wednesday that they are looking into possible violations of the department’s rules governing troops’ political participation by Cpl. Jesse Thorsen, an Iowa-based reservist.

Thorsen was interviewed on CNN, speaking in support of Paul’s campaign. Later, at a post-caucus rally, Paul identified Thorsen as a 10-year soldier who “has been with us in our campaign for a few years,” and invited Thorsen on stage to tell the crowd why he supports Paul’s foreign policy plans.

Thorsen could not be reached for comment. Army Reserve officials would not release details of Thorsen’s service record, but the reservist told CNN that he has served in Afghanistan.

Potential penalties could range from a letter of reprimand to a reduction in rank or dismissal from the service.

Military rules prohibit participation in “partisan political” events as a speaker or organizer and mandate that servicemembers avoid media interviews in which they advocate “for or against a partisan political party, candidate, or cause.”

Troops are allowed to attend political events as spectators, but not while in uniform.

Joel Arends, executive director of the political action organization Veterans for a Strong America, called Thorsen’s decision to appear in uniform “irresponsible.” But he also blasted the Paul campaign for either being unaware or blatantly ignoring the military’s rules on troops politicking.

“We need troops and veterans at the table, and we need them to be part of the election process,” he said. “But we don’t need troops to be violating regulations. It’s all about common sense, and most troops understand that we cannot mix the use of a military uniform with political campaigns.”

Last week, Veterans for a Strong America criticized the campaign for using a photo of troops in uniform wearing “Veterans for Ron Paul” T-shirts in pre-caucus fliers distributed throughout Iowa, calling it exploitative.

Officials from Paul’s campaign could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

shanel@stripes.osd.milTwitter: @LeoShane

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