By Capt. Deric Prescott , 379th Air Expeditionary Wing Chief, Military Justice
/ Published October 20, 2007
SOUTHWEST ASIA -- It has been a little over a month since I have arrived here and I continue to be amazed at how professional our Airman, Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and Coalition Partners are.
However, I have also noticed that our office has seen a rise in investigations regarding unprofessional relationships. Despite an Air Force Instruction, guidance from General Order 1B, and basic common sense, this type of misconduct continues. Too many times people believe that rules and regulations are relaxed, especially when deployed. Those who adhere to the "relaxed" philosophy generally find out, usually when facing discipline, that unprofessional relationships will not be tolerated - period. Our goal in writing this article is to highlight certain key concepts and the consequences of engaging in an unprofessional relationship.
So, what exactly is an unprofessional relationship? According to AFI 36-2909, Professional and Unprofessional Relationship, 1 May 1999, an unprofessional relationship is a personal relationship, whether pursued on or off-duty, that detracts from the authority of superiors and results in or creates the appearance of favoritism, misuse of office or position, or the abandonment of organizational goals for personal interests.
Upon hearing the term "unprofessional relationship" most members think of fraternization. But fraternization is just one type of an unprofessional relationship.
Fraternization is a personal relationship between and officer and enlisted member that violates the customary bound of acceptable behavior in the Air force and prejudices good order and discipline, discredits the armed services, or operates to the personal disgrace or dishonor of the officer involved.
Very often fraternization gets narrowed into just being about a sexual relationship; however, it actually encompasses much more than sexual relations. For example, AFI 36-2909 also prohibits officers from gambling, sharing living accommodations (certain exceptions are made in deployed environments) and engaging in a business or enterprise with an enlisted member. Fraternization can also include a level of undue familiarity that happens when officers and enlisted personnel consume alcohol together.
While there are NO rules flatly prohibiting officers and enlisted from consuming alcoholic beverages together, officers and Senior NCOs are reminded that they have a duty to act responsibly and should never get drunk in front of their subordinates.
Remember, fraternization covers interaction between males, between females, and between males and females.
Unprofessional relationships encompass more than just interactions between officers and enlisted. Unprofessional relationships can exist between officers, between enlisted members, between officer and enlisted members, and between military personnel and civilian employees or contractor personnel.
The bulk of the responsibility to ensure that relationships remain professional is on the senior ranking person in the relationship. However, subordinates also have a reciprocal responsibility to maintain a professional relationship and can be similarly disciplined as well.
Key points to remember: the status of the individuals in the relationship (civilian/military, military/contractor, officer/enlisted); the type of activity (office function, personal function, social visits, etc) and the frequency of the interaction can turn a professional relationship into an unprofessional relationship.
We have all seen or heard stories about favoritism; "teachers pets," people who "take care of their friends," etc. You may know about people who have abused their position or rank or have acted in their own selfish interests. We tend to be suspicious of the decisions and motives of people who engage in favoritism or misuse their position.
Undoubtedly we all feel more comfortable when our leaders judge us on our ability and performance, not on personal likes and dislikes or personal interests. In other words, when we believe our leaders are fair and professional, our morale and motivation to perform our duty increases.
For example, picture two officers (or NCOs) planning a hazardous mission and one saying to the other, "I can't decide who to send, the Airmen I don't like or the Airmen who owes me money." Imagine how you would feel if your duty assignments were made based on the personal likes and dislikes or financial interests of your superiors. Clearly, how we make decisions and treat others has either a positive or a negative impact on morale and discipline. Maintaining professional relationships requires avoiding favoritism and abuse of authority.
Make no mistake; unprofessional relationships will not be tolerated. Those who engage in these types of relationships have committed offenses punishable under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), specifically Article 92, Article 133 and various provisions under Article 134 that carry a maximum punishment of a dismissal (officers) or dishonorable discharge (enlisted), forfeiture of all pay and allowance and confinement for 2 years. Further, those who engage in this type of misconduct will likely receive disciplinary action, ranging from an administrative action to a court-martial depending on the severity of the misconduct.
It is not worth the inevitable pain - either from the loved ones who are forsaken at home, or from the discipline and negative career impact that will ultimately result - to stray from the professional behavior we all must exhibit.
Here in the AOR, we have had several unprofessional relationship issues. Most recently, we had an NCO who pursued a romantic relationship with an Airman. The NCO continually tried to contact her, followed her around, and engaged in unprofessional conduct. The conduct not only upset the person being pursued, but disrupted many in the unit. Another SNCO was disciplined for his overly familiar relationship with an NCO.
The relationship was such that others in the unit knew that if they could not reach the SNCO on the cell phone, all they had to do was contact the NCO and she would hand him her phone. Because of their close relationship, she received favorable treatment to include a GOV, government cell phone, and favorable hours. Both of these incidents negatively impacted individuals throughout the units involved.
You can maintain professional relationships in the military. Camaraderie is essential and beneficial to all military organizations. So please enjoy organizational functions, such as picnics, sporting events, Air Force-approved fund drives, membership campaigns, and other activities authorized by the commander.
Keep in mind that an unprofessional relationship is not only a punishable UCMJ offense, it also ruins what the Air Force's camaraderie and esprit de corps attempt to build: cohesion to accomplish the mission and the maintenance of a professional force.