Fraternization, unprofessional relationships: end of a career?

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sg.t Laura Rosenzweig
  • 71st Flying Training Wing Staff Judge Advocate Office
It is easy to become involved in an unprofessional relationship. It has happened here at our own base, as well as bases at deployed locations. Many times people have the mentality that it is okay for an officer and an enlisted member to be involved as long as no one finds out, or because they are in different squadrons or different chains of command.

That is not the case. To think that way not only brings your integrity into question, but it also degrades mission effectiveness.

Another question to ask is what happens when someone does find out? The consequences are definitely not worth the risk.

A professional military relationship is one that promotes an effective operation in the Air Force. All members of the Air Force are expected to maintain professional relationships both on and off duty. An unprofessional relationship degrades mission effectiveness, morale, good order and discipline and unit cohesion.

A relationship can be unprofessional both on and off duty when it produces the appearance of favoritism or the misuse of office and position for personal interests. Unprofessional relationships are discussed in detail in Air Force Instruction 36-2909, Professional and Unprofessional Relationships.

They can exist between officers, between enlisted members, between officers and enlisted members, and between military personnel and civilian employees or civilian contractor personnel.

An unprofessional relationship between an officer and an enlisted member is different and is recognized as fraternization under Article 134 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. This does not even take into consideration Air Education and Training Command specific limitations that apply.

The Manual for Courts-Martial states that not all relationships between an officer and enlisted member are considered fraternization.

Some factors to be considered include whether the conduct has compromised the chain of command, resulted in the appearance of partiality or otherwise undermined good order, discipline, authority or morale. Military custom recognizes that officers will not form personal relationships with enlisted members on terms of military equality, whether on or off-duty.

Officers are specifically prohibited from gambling with enlisted members, becoming indebted to an enlisted member and engaging in sexual relations or dating enlisted members. Additionally, officers can be punished under the UCMJ for fraternization; the maximum punishment includes dismissal, forfeiture of all pay and allowances and confinement for two years.

Although enlisted members cannot be punished under Article 134, they can be punished for being in an unprofessional relationship under Article 92.

Enlisted members may also engage in an unprofessional relationship by developing a personal relationship with their subordinates. This is unacceptable because it promotes the appearance of favoritism. Furthermore, the ability of senior members to influence assignments, promotion recommendations, awards and decorations can place the senior and junior member in vulnerable positions.

Supervisors need to know where to draw the line when it comes to socializing with their subordinates.

The mere fact that maintaining professional relationships may be more difficult under certain circumstances, such as being at a deployed location, does not relieve a member from their responsibility to maintain Air Force standards. All Air Force members, both active duty and civilians, must adhere to the standards and maintain professional relationships on and off duty to ensure good order and discipline in the work place - anything less is a violation of the Air Force core values.