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Fort Drum undecided on punishment for soldier who flew upside-down flags to oppose Obama

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FORT DRUM — The post’s command will not formally discipline an enlisted soldier who flew a pair of American flags upside down in front of her Copenhagen home in what she told a neighbor was a protest against President Barack Obama’s re-election.

However, the 10th Mountain Division’s public affairs officer said the soldier’s actions could be reviewed at a later point.

The upside-down flags were flying in front of the home of Sgt. 1st Class Melissa L. Coss on the village’s Main Street. She is a service member from Ohio who bought the house in 2006. She took down the flags Monday.

On Monday, her neighbor John H. Drewes told the Times that his wife visited Sgt. Coss about a week earlier after seeing the flags upside down and was told by Sgt. Coss that the display, done shortly after the Nov. 6 general election, was to protest President Obama’s re-election.

Lt. Col. David A. Konop, division public affairs officer, said the soldier, whom he would not identify by name, rank or unit, was talked to by the chain of command, but would not say by which level of leadership. He noted the upside-down flags were taken down later that day.

The protest could have been answerable under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, primarily Article 134, which punishes speech and conduct that would affect good order and discipline or bring discredit upon the armed forces.

“The soldiers do have the right of freedom of speech and freedom of expression,” Col. Konop said. “We do have those rights, but if the rights cross the line, then you have the article.”

As an enlisted soldier, her actions would not fall under the military’s Article 88, which stipulates that officers who use contemptuous words against prominent federal and state officials, including the president, vice president and Congress, could face court-martial.

Flying a flag upside down is considered a sign of distress, and Section 176 of Chapter 10, Title 36 in the U.S. Code of Laws, referred to as the U.S. Flag Code, says the flag should be flown upside down only in “instances of extreme danger to life or property.” However, the federal law does not carry punishments, and the state does not have any laws applicable to the situation.

An article in the June 16, 2011, edition of the Fort Drum Mountaineer listed Sgt. Coss in the division’s Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion. Several attempts over three days to reach Sgt. Coss through a phone number listed to her name were unsuccessful.

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