Belote campaign says it used uniform photo appropriately, but some uses may be inconsistent with regulation

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VIRGINIA BEACH — The photograph shows Dave Belote, a retired Air Force officer running for a state senate seat here, standing before an American flag.

He is in uniform in the picture, and he is saluting.

This photograph, taken during his time on active duty, appears — or has appeared — as the main image at and campaign Facebook and Twitter pages. The image also appears in some campaign literature and individual social media posts.

In some uses, it may be inconsistent with guidance from the Department of Defense intended to prevent the appearance the department or any branch backs a political candidate.

Belote campaign manager Aaron Bly on Saturday said the campaign reviewed the directive governing images of people in uniform and used the image appropriately.

However, the campaign’s Twitter, which used the image as its header photo until The Independent News asked about it, did not include a disclaimer explaining the military does not endorse the campaign. 

“We must have missed that one,” Bly said.

That aside, he said the campaign used disclaimers to ensure people do not think Belote is endorsed by the military. Belote, a Democrat, faces state Del. Bill DeSteph, a Republican, in the 8th state senate district election on Tuesday, Nov. 3.

The applicable directive makes it clear that there are limitations for candidates for office who are not on active duty. According to the directive:

  • The candidate can use or mention their rank and service affiliation, but “they must clearly indicate their retired or reserve status.”
  • Candidates may include photographs in uniform “when displayed with other non-military biographical details.” The information “must be accompanied by a prominent and clearly displayed disclaimer that neither the military information nor photographs imply endorsement by the Department of Defense or their” military branch.
  • Candidates may not use “photographs, drawings, and other similar media formats of themselves in uniform as the primary graphic representation” in campaign materials. This includes online, video and print materials of the campaign.

Here are some examples of how the image has been used by Belote’s campaign:

  •  The image of Belote in uniform and saluting is the main image for the campaign site, appearing across the top with the slogan “VETERAN. LEADER. PROBLEM SOLVER.” Scrolling to the bottom of the page, past a second use of the image and another photograph of military aircraft in flight, showed this disclaimer: “Use of these images does not imply endorsement by the Department of Defense or the U.S. Air Force.”
  • The cover photo of the Belote campaign Facebook page, posted in January, is the image of Belote saluting in uniform. There was no disclaimer apparent on the individual post. Bly said a disclaimer on the campaign Facebook page “impressum” covers content on the Facebook page, of which the image in question is one of many. That disclaimer reads: “This page represents the personal and political views of candidate Dave Belote. Nothing on this page implies endorsement by the US Air Force or Department of Defense.” This disclaimer is not directly visible with some uses of the image because a Facebook user can only see the disclaimer by clicking on “about.” The image also was posted as a profile picture on Dec. 30. Initially, there was no text, but an edit history shows text on Jan. 24 was added that says the image is from when Belote relinquished command of the 99th Air Wing Base at Nellis Air Force Base in 2010.  Also on Facebook, a May 23 post uses the same image to a share a message in relation to a Memorial Day weekend event.2015-10-30 03.07.13 pm2015-10-16 12.17.37 pm 
  • The photo of Belote saluting while in uniform was the dominant image on one side of campaign literature seen in an Aug. 2 photograph posted to the campaign Facebook page. Bly said print material included disclaimers and that not all of the campaign’s literature used the image. fb - 1
  • In a video advertisement posted to Facebook, the image of Belote saluting in uniform is used at the beginning of the video. The ad includes a disclaimer, which Bly pointed out to reporter who viewed the video online. Other images of Belote in uniform appear with the caption “COL. DAVE BELOTE.”
  • The image of Belote in uniform saluting was the dominant background image for @VoteBelote, the campaign Twitter page. The Twitter account identified Belote as a retired Air Force colonel. The campaign was in the process of updating the page on Saturday, and, by late afternoon, the image had been replaced.

The Independent News sought understanding of appropriate uses of such images from Air Force and defense spokespeople in recent weeks. The Air Force did not initially respond to requests made on Oct. 16 and 19. The Independent News then contacted the Department of Defense, and a spokesperson there forwarded questions and images to the Air Force.

Marine Corps Lt. Col. Gabrielle M. Hermes, the defense spokesperson, also released a statement that read, in part, that “resolution can involve simply ceasing the conduct.”

Rose Richeson, an Air Force spokesperson at the Pentagon, on Friday wrote via email that the service is “actively engaged in gathering the facts of the situation to determine how the use of these images may be addressed.”

DeSteph on Friday declined to discuss Belote’s use of the photo.

“I’ve always run a positive campaign,” he said, adding that Belote “was probably a nice guy.”

DeSteph served as a Navy chief petty officer and, later, an intelligence officer. He said he does not use images of himself in uniform in campaign materials.

Ed. note — This story was updated on Sunday, Nov. 1, to reflect that The Independent News initially contacted the Air Force seeking information on Friday, Oct. 16.

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