Reinbold triggers investigation over Beyonce image

Wednesday, August 3, 2016 - 14:25
  • Eagle River District 14 Rep. Lora Reinbold set off a Facebook firestorm and a military investigation over the weekend after a member of the public reported she chastised a service member at Fort Richardson over an image of Beyonce on a cell phone. File photos by Associated Press
  • Eagle River District 14 Rep. Lora Reinbold set off a Facebook firestorm and a military investigation over the weekend after a member of the public reported she chastised a service member at Fort Richardson over an image of Beyonce on a cell phone. File photos by Associated Press

The Aug. 16 primary contest for the state house seat in Eagle River’s District 14  between incumbent Rep. Lora Reinbold and challenger Crystal Kennedy took a nearly soap opera like turn last weekend.

The plot features two questions: Does a state representative have the right to publicly address or even verbally reprimand a military member and should a military member have a cell phone cover in public view that features something some would consider inappropriate and others may label as sexually provocative?

Over the weekend, the first question took center stage on several Facebook sites addressing Alaska politics.

The triggering event was a July 28 visit to the Fort Richardson security office by Reinbold to obtain a security pass. That in and of itself is normally a routine event as civilians regularly acquire security passes to attend events on post. The verbal exchange initiated by Reinbold as reported by another civilian on Facebook is what has made the event the subject of Facebook fodder and social scrutiny.

According to a Facebook posting dated July 29, Reinbold “shamed” a JBER soldier because her personal cell phone had a phone cover featuring pop singer Beyonce that Reinbold saw while the soldier at the Fort Richardson security gate was processing her pass for post access to attend a picnic.

The Facebook post made by Asa Chandler of Chugiak included the following: “Yesterday I was at the JBER gate waiting for a pass to get on when I had to watch Rep. Lora Reinbold shame the soldier handling her pass. She was in a hurry to get to a picnic on base, but had enough time to berate the sentry for choosing a non-nude picture of Beyonce for a personal cellphone cover. She said, ‘I would write up anyone on my staff for that. Unacceptable.’ Lora shook her head a bunch while frowning at the soldier, then walked out nose up. I’ve never seen a grown up talk to another grown up like that.”

The post was shared 25 times by 7 p.m. on July 30 from Chandler’s timeline to a variety of other timelines and the Kennedy campaign also shared the post and commented on the incident on its official Facebook page: Crystal Kennedy for State House. 

That “share” elicited a running written dialogue between Kennedy and Reinbold in which Kennedy chastised Reinbold for not following the military’s “chain of command” protocol by not reporting the cell phone cover to a supervisor versus engaging the military member herself. Reinbold countered that she did not want to get the “young soldier” in trouble and thought that reporting it to a supervisor would be “excessive.”

Reinbold also stated that in light of last year’s sexual harassment scandal at the National Guard, the cell phone cover with Beyonce’s image was not appropriate for the military workplace.

The Star contacted Reinbold via text message asking her to describe the Beyonce image. Reinbold responded, “no comments.”

However, in comments she’s made on the Kennedy Facebook campaign page, Reinbold described the cell phone cover as, “had a cover of Beyonce nearly half naked in a very suggestive pose.”

Chandler — the original Facebook reporter of the incident — later told The Star, “I saw the phone cover after hearing Lora bring it up. There are more revealing photos of her (Beyonce) in a simple Google search of her name.”

As of Tuesday morning, the military itself was not sure if a Beyonce cell phone cover on a personal phone was acceptable within the military work environment.

The phone with the cell phone cover in question was not on the uniform of the military member, according both Chandler and Reinbold.

Its exact location within the security office is somewhat in question according to Facebook discussions: Some say it was sitting on a desk located behind the public service counter at the Fort Richardson security office. Others have reported that the military member was using the phone when Reinbold entered the security office and another military member began Reinbold’s paperwork and that the member using the cell phone put the phone on the security counter after completing the call.

If the cell phone was put on the desk, which military public affairs officials say they do not know for sure as of Tuesday morning, then the cell phone would not be considered part of the military member’s uniform.

That is according to U.S. Major Angela Webb, Chief of 673rd Air Based Wing Public Affairs.

In regards to whether or not a cell phone and its cover is considered part of the uniform, Webb said, “Technically unless it is clipped to their belt, to their waist band or any other part of the outside of the uniform, a personal cell phone is not considered part of the uniform. For the Army, the regulation states that the cover must be black. For the Air Force, the color options are black, dark blue, gray or silver.”

If the cell phone in question was indeed sitting on the desk behind the counter as reported, Webb believes it would not be considered part of the military member’s uniform.

As of Tuesday morning, Webb was in the process of contacting Fort Richardson-based public affairs officials to begin an investigation in to the incident.

The Facebook scrutiny occurring last weekend coincided with JBER’s Arctic Thunder and the bulk of the public affairs personnel were off duty on Monday to compensate for the weekend’s activities. As of Tuesday, finishing up work from Arctic Thunder was taking precedence.

Webb said military officials want to interview all parties present when the verbal interaction occurred.

She said military officials do not know at this point which branch of the service the member receiving the “shaming” is part of as members from the various branches were serving at the Fort Richardson security gate due to the demands of Arctic Thunder.

Webb did confirm the military is investigating the event.

She was not able to comment on whether it was appropriate for a civilian official such as a state representative to engage a military member in the type of conversation Reinbold is reported to have held at the security office.

“We first have to identify the military member involved in this and ask if he or she felt Rep. Reinbold’s comments were in the realm of her acting in the capacity of having authority over the member,” Webb said. “For now, all we have is hearsay and speculation and we must conduct an investigation to determine what happened and then going forward based on the results of that, we will be able to make additional comments.”

Webb also added that military public affairs officials would like to see the cell phone cover to evaluate its appropriateness.

At this point, Webb is unaware of any military regulation regarding what type of graphics can be on a cell phone cover. She only knows of color regulations. She is investigating if other military regulations regarding the content of posters or other displays that do prohibit certain content might also apply to a cell phone cover.

In the meantime, Reinbold said via Facebook posts and text message to The Star, that the incident is being misrepresented in social media.

Chandler disagrees.

“I took enough offense to write a short post about it on my personal Facebook page. The military (member) did not comment, acted professional even after she (Reinbold) left the building,” Chandler told The Star via a private Facebook message when questioned why he posted about the incident. “I was prompted to share because it is totally out of the ordinary to hear an adult stranger talk to another adult stranger like that in front of other strangers.”

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