After Navy Secretary Richard V. Spencer made a special holiday appearance with troops deployed in Afghanistan, people in the military community took notice, and exception, to a picture of him with a pistol holstered on his thigh.

According to the Marine Corps, Spencer addressed a group of servicemembers at Camp Shorab, Afghanistan, on Saturday, Dec.23 with other top Marines, including Marine Corps commandant Gen. Robert Neller and Sgt. Maj. of the Marine Corps Ronald Green.

A photo of the gathering shows a group of servicemembers listening to Spencer, who appears to have a pistol that resembles the Beretta M9 — a standard-issue pistol used by many in the military — on a holster attached to his right thigh.

"Can someone explain why the [civilian] head of the Navy is wearing a sidearm," CNN correspondent Barbara Starr asked on Twitter in response to the photo.


#US Secretary of the Navy Richard V. Spencer and and Corps Commandant Gen Glenn M. Walters visited southern #Helmand province, #Afghanistan .@USNavy @USMC

— Pajhwok Afghan News (@pajhwok) December 24, 2017

Spencer was reportedly offered the pistol and ammunition from Marine commanders, according to a Navy spokesman cited in a San Diego Tribune report.

"He was offered the weapon to carry while he was traveling around [Afghanistan] and he accepted that offer," the spokesman told The Tribune. "It was not something that he specifically requested and it was offered to everybody on the travel team."

Senior military officials and VIPs are typically accompanied by an armed military personal-security detachment (PSD) or contractors for visits to combat zones. While it would not be out of the ordinary to see a uniformed senior military official carrying a pistol in a combat zone, as a civilian, some people viewed Spencer himself carrying a weapon as an unorthodox move.

Spencer was sworn in in August to become the Navy Secretary — a president-appointed and Senate-confirmed position held by a civilian to oversee all of the Navy's operations. As a former H-46 Sea Knight pilot in the US Marine Corps, Spencer would have most likely been familiar with a pistol; however, would most likely not have been the M9, which was fielded to the military after he completed his service.

Secretary of the Navy Richard V. Spencer speaks with Marines and Sailors assigned to Task Force Southwest at Camp Shorab, Afghanistan, Dec. 23, 2017. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Lucas Hopkins)

"It's odd for a senior civilian political appointee to carry a weapon in a combat zone," Phillip Carter, the director of the Center for a New American Security's Military, Veterans, and Society research program, told The Tribune. "But if you're going to carry then you should do so safely, with proper training, including both weapons [qualification] and [rules of engagement] training."

Some saw his decision to arm himself as a form of showboating:


Spencer may have been trying to impress the Marines pictured, who are not carrying weapons. Their expressions suggest how well he succeeded.

— Joseph Britt (@Zathras3) December 28, 2017


Don't worry Barbara. They gave him a Blackhawk holster. Along with that civilian belt he will lose his pants if he draws. #YourPSDisArmed #GoatlockerSaysYoureWelcome

— Malcolm Nance (@MalcolmNance) December 28, 2017


Wants to look "cool"...

*has opposite effect...

— Joe (@JoePlenzler) December 28, 2017


It shows he has zero confidence in his highly trained security team who travels with him literally everywhere. Wonder if he qualified with the weapon before he departed? Does the Secnav really have time for that stuff?

— Big Lew (@BIGLEW4IOWA) December 28, 2017

Also Read: Former Marine Corps captain is new Navy Secretary nominee

While others pointed to the inherent dangers of being in a combat zone:


... because he's in Afghanistan? There's literally nothing prohibiting you from carrying a firearm because you're a senior official. Generals deploy with a firearm. Or carry one on short visits.

— MENA_Conflict (@MENA_Conflict) December 28, 2017 you go to Afghanistan without a gun regularly?

— MENA_Conflict (@MENA_Conflict) December 28, 2017


He's in a combat zone, & a former Marine, so I don't see why this is an issue, except that he's a Trump appointee so that makes it polemical.

Better question is will combat operations in Afghanistan ever end?

— Steve Arionus (@sarionus) December 28, 2017


Why not carry a piece. The man was a US Marine and he is in a war zone. They offered me the pack I would too.

— C. F. Karpenski (@USNGunnerDAV) December 29, 2017

Although the military is allowed to issue firearms to trained federal civilian employees, it was unclear whether Spencer received authorization from appropriate leadership or if he was certified to carry a firearm, The Tribune reported.

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