AIT Soldier is Ordered by Platoon Sergeant not to get into a Car with Father (an Officer), because it is Fraternization! | AskTOP.net - Leader Development for Army Professionals
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AIT Soldier is Ordered by Platoon Sergeant not to get into a Car with Father (an Officer), because it is Fraternization!

Research on the Subject

I have reviewed everything I can find with regard to fraternization with regard to Army Regulations, TRADOC Regulations, the Manual for Courts-Martial, and various policy letters.  I have attached the extracts of these documents to the article and cited them when appropriate.

References: 

a. AR 600-20-paragrapsh 4-14 thru 4-16, 6 November, 2014

b. Manual for Courts-Martial- Article 92 Failure to Obey Order or Regulation, Article 134 Fraternization,  2012,

c. TRADOC Regulation 350-6 paragraph, subparagraphs c, d(1),(3) , e, g. 7 November, 2013

 

Recently I read about this situation and felt compelled to write an Article about it.  I did not want to just give my opinion or rant I wanted to get Leaders engaged and look at the issue from all sides.  I hope this Article achieve this goal.

The Situation

An AIT Soldier is being charged with fraternization, recommended for an Article 15 with 14 days of extra duty for getting in a car with the Soldier’s Father who is a Field Grade officer. The Soldier was signed out 3 times previously on Sunday’s with no problem to spend time with the Fathe!

Let’s look at this from a factual and unemotional perspective. Here are the questions I came up with to guide my approach.

1. Is the relationship between a parent and a child fraternization under Army Regulation?

2. Was the intent of the policy/regulation on fraternization intended to be applied to family relationships?

3.  How can this relationship possibly adversely impact the good order and discipline of the unit and/or Army?

4.  Who if anyone should be held accountable/responsible?

5. What are some reasonable solutions to this situation?

6. What should be done in this case?

 Let’s Put This Into Perspective

Everyday leaders are faced with situations that do not have clear and specific solutions.  Yet other times Leaders become wrapped up in enforcing the regulation and potentially lose sight of the true purpose, meaning, and intent of a regulation, order or law.

Example:

Let’s look at it from a perspective most of us can relate to.  I do not know of anyone that can tell me that 100% of the time they obey the speed limit.  Some drive 5 miles over regularly, others do their best to obey the speed limit to the absolute best of their ability, but fall short.

A Police Officer pulls you over one day states you were driving say 1, 2,3,4,5 miles over the speed limit.  The police officer cannot reasonably stop every person who is driving over the speed limit.  It is simply not possible.  Therefore the Officer selectively enforces the speed limit, not necessarily by choice but by physical limitations of resources, AND then maybe the officer stopped you not necessarily for driving over the speed limit but because you also pulled out in front of them, which forced the Officer to slam on the brakes and spill their coffee.  Perhaps the Officer ignores individuals driving 10 miles an hour or more over the speed limit.  Perhaps the officer tickets everyone they can who is driving 1 mile or more over the speed limit.  When the Officer is writing your ticket for 1 MPH over there are individuals driving by the traffic stop at the speed of light but they are not receiving a ticket. WHAT GIVES!

Like it or not what happened in the example above happens every day to Leaders.  We must decide how to use our time, prioritize requirements, solve problems, and maintain the good order and discipline of the unit.  How can we achieve this when like the Police Officer we do not have the resources or capacity to ensure every law, order, or regulation is interpreted/enforced to the letter of the law each and every day, 365 days a year?  How do we remove our emotions (coffee being spilled) How do we maintain the standard and enforce discipline while at the same time doing our best to ensure fair and equitable treatment?

 Answering the Questions:

1. Is the relationship between a parent and a child fraternization under Army Regulation?

I could find nothing that specifically prevented a child from seeing their parent.  I could find no reference that directly indicated this activity would be considered fraternization.  Nor do I believe the intent of the fraternization policy was designed to interfere with a Parent/Child relationship. The biggest reference I could find supporting the fact that this is not fraternization was in AR 600-20 paragraph 4-14d.  Specifically it states:

These prohibitions are not intended to preclude unit based normal team building or activity based on interaction which occurs in the context of community based, religious, or fraternal associations such as scouting, youth or adult sports leagues or teams; membership in organizations such as the Masons or Elks; religious activities including chapel, church, synagogue, mosque, or religious education; Family gatherings; unit-based social functions; or athletic events.

However the regulations do place a certain amount of responsibility on members of the Army.  AR 600-20 specifically paragraph 4-14b states with regard to fraternization.

Soldiers of different grades must be cognizant that their interactions do not create an actual or clearly predictable perception of undue familiarity between an officer and an enlisted Soldier, or between an NCO and a junior-enlisted Soldier. Examples of familiarity between Soldiers that may become “undue” can include repeated visits to bars, nightclubs, eating establishments, or homes between an officer and an enlisted Soldier, or an NCO and a junior-enlisted Soldier, except for social gatherings, that involve an entire unit, office, or work section. All relationships between Soldiers of different grade are prohibited if they—

(1) Compromise, or appear to compromise, the integrity of supervisory authority or the chain of command.

(2) Cause actual or perceived partiality or unfairness.

(3) Involve, or appear to involve, the improper use of grade or position for personal gain.

(4) Are, or are perceived to be, exploitative or coercive in nature.

(5) Create an actual or clearly predictable adverse impact on discipline, authority, morale, or the ability of the command to accomplish its mission.

Paragraph 4-15 of AR 600-20 also bans relationships between trainees and permanent party personnel.  Specifically is states:

Trainee and Soldier relationships. Any relationship between permanent party personnel and initial entry training trainees not required by the training mission is prohibited. This prohibition applies to permanent party personnel without regard to the installation of assignment of the permanent party member or the trainee.

This extract clearly prohibits interaction between a trainee and permanent party.  It clearly and specifically applies.  Again the question becomes was the regulation designed to stop a parent/child relationship?

Could a civilian parent pick up their child, sign them out, and ride with them in a car on the weekend within the policy allowed by the unit?  My answer is ABSOLUTELY! So why then would we prevent a Military Parent from seeing their child simply because the Parent is an Officer or Senior member of the military?

As Soldiers we are held to different standards.  For example, while Adultery is a rather common practice within the civilian sector. It is punishable by dishonorable discharge, forfeiture of all pay/allowances, and up to 1 year in prison for members of the military. So there is a precedence for military members being treated differently than members of civilian society.

Does this relationship really cause a problem? Or is it really a problem? Is it just a perception of a potential problem?Keep in mind perceptions in the military tend to be problems or become problems. From a regulatory perspective it is very likely that other trainees could perceive this as unfair.

Examples of how this could be a problem for the training command could include comments from other trainees like: Hey I can’t ride with an Officer, if I did I would get an Article 15. The Soldier is getting over because their Father is a Major. The Soldier threatened me that if I did not do something for them they would have their Father who is a Major recommend me to be thrown out of the Army, etc.

I can see how this could potentially create a perceived issue and encourage gossip and resentment.

Bottom-line: Based on the information provided in the references above there is a case and information to support the relationship being perceived as inappropriate because it can cause a perception issue. However the interaction between Father and Child is a clear violation of AR 600-20 paragraph 4-15 by definition which deals with interaction of trainess and permanent party Soldiers. Was that the intent of the regulation? Probably Not! It was most likely intended to prevent situations that could lead to trainees being placed in o inappropriate relationships and potential violations of the UCMJ including inappropriate sexual contact, mistreatment, special treatment, favoritism,etc.

 2. Was the intent of the policy/regulation on fraternization intended to be applied to family relationships?

There is nothing I can find that leads me to believe or interpret that the purpose of the fraternization policy was designed in whole or in part to prohibit a relationship between a child and their parent.  However as stated previously AR 600-20 paragraph 4-14d specifically states:

These prohibitions are not intended to preclude unit based normal team building or activity based on interaction which occurs in the context of… Family Gatherings. 

Therefore there is room within the regulation that a parent/child relationship could be exempt from the requirements of the policy on fraternization.

3.  How can this relationship possibly adversely impact the good order and discipline of the unit and/or Army?

The only impact I can see is the perception by other trainees.  I believe if left unchecked and given the proper environment it could be an issue concerning good order and discipline.  Therefore it is in the best interest of the Commander of the Training Unit to take proactive measures as discussed later in this article.

 4.  Who if anyone should be held accountable/responsible?

AR 600-20 paragraph 4-14e states:

All military personnel share the responsibility for maintaining professional relationships. However, in any relationship between Soldiers of different grade or rank, the senior member is generally in the best position to terminate or limit the extent of the relationship. Nevertheless, all members may be held accountable for relationships that violate this policy.

So very clearly both individuals could be legally accountable and responsible for this issue.  However the ethical question becomes is it fair to punish the enlisted Soldier and nothing happens to the Officer?  Wow, now we really have a situation of unfair treatment and perception of issues as they pertain to the good order and discipline of the Army and unit.  Imagine the enlisted Soldier gets an Article 15 and the Officer walks.  Is that not a violation concerning perception? Double standards?

5. What are some reasonable solutions to this situation?

The Commander of both individuals have extensive discretion in this situation. AR 600-20 paragraph 4-14f states:

Commanders should seek to prevent inappropriate or unprofessional relationships through proper training and personal leadership. Commanders have a wide range of responses available should inappropriate relationships occur. These responses may include counseling, reprimand, order to cease, reassignment, or adverse action. Potential adverse action may include official reprimand, adverse evaluation report(s), nonjudicial punishment, separation, bar to reenlistment, promotion denial, demotion, and courts martial. Commanders must carefully consider all of the facts and circumstances in reaching a disposition that is warranted, appropriate, and fair.

Notice the Bold sentence above.  I believe we just found the answer!  The Commander has the ability to determine how, when, and if they should respond to this issue.  What actions or exceptions should be made, if any?

 Possible Solutions:

1. Counsel Both Individuals:

Have the Commanders of both units counsel their respective Soldier (Trainee and Officer) regarding the importance of avoiding the perception of an inappropriate relationship.

2. Write an SOP

Have an SOP that applies to pick up, drop off procedures for all parents including Soldiers who have parents that are senior members of the military service.  Include something about the commander having the ability to review and if necessary revoking parent visitation if there is a perception of unfair treatment,  fraternization, etc.  If the relationship causes problems with perception, good order and discipline the command take appropriate action.

 3. Counsel the Soldier Upon Arrival to the Unit:

These enlisted Soldiers could be given a specific counseling statement detailing how they may interact with their parents to avoid the perception of an inappropriate relationship.  The counseling could also detail procedures for visitation.  Specifically the Soldiers could basically be told to keep their private lives private.  If they choose to make comments about having a senior military parent and the discussion leads to a problem with good order and discipline then the privilege to see the parent could be revoked. When training reaches the point in which visitation or passes are allowed this information should be presented as a reminder and the Soldier should sign a counseling statement and code of conduct that applies while on pass.

6. What should be done in this case?

My personal and professional opinion is that the Soldier and Leader should be allowed to see one another without restriction just as any other parent is allowed to see their child within the guidelines of unit policy.  The individuals should be given counseling statements detailing how their relationship may be causing a problem within the unit and direct the Soldiers to follow specific guidelines to remove the perception.  The trainee unit commander can also contact the permanent party commander and request their assistance in counseling the Soldier and resolving the issue.  Another way to reduce the perception problem is to specifically restrict the military members from arriving at the unit location in military uniform thereby advertising the issue.

Other Options that May Assist in Problem Resolution

1. Contact your local JAG office

2. Request to see your Company, Brigade, Division Commanders on Open Door Policy

3. Consider wiriting your Congressperson or Senator requesting they look into the matter

4. Consider involving local and national media.

5. If you are recommended for an Article 15 and receive your 1st reading.  GO SEE JAG!  You have the option to refuse an Article 15- only make this decision after you have spoken to counsel.

6. If you refuse an Article 15 the Commander will more than likely recommend a Summary Courts-Martial.  You can turn down a Summary Courts-Martial.  At this point the Commander must decide if they will proceed with a Special or General Courts-Martial.  It is rare a Commander will drop a charge simply because you refused a Courts-Martial.  However, if the case does not support the charge the JAG in conjunction with the Commander may decide not to proceed.  The rule of thumb is never take something to an Article 15 unless you can win a Courts-Martial.  Unfortunately not all leaders follow this rule of thumb.  Either way, decisions pertaining Article 15s and Courts-Martial should not be made lightly.  Seek counsel from JAG and I would also encourage you to seek counsel from a civilian attorney who has prior experience as a military JAG officer.

Regardless of how you choose to proceed. Do your research, be calm, factual, and professional.  Never provide a person the opportunity destroy your argument because you were emotional, untruthful, or unable to properly explain your position.

 Summary-

Is the purpose of the fraternization policy prevent and deter a parent/child relationship?  I do not believe that this was or is the spirit/intent of the policy.  I believe that in 99.9% of these cases all you need to do is: apply the reasonable person rule and treat people like you want to be treated!  Commanders have numerous tools and resources available to crush the problem when it falls within the .01% zone, for example if  a child or parent attempts to misuse a family relationship.

Last but not least- Use Common Sense!

Author’s Note:  My response assumes we have all the facts on the issue and the Soldier/Parent were acting appropriately and professionally.

posted on 02/28/2015 under Articles, Site News
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Mark is a Retired Command Sergeant Major with 26 years of military leadership experience. He held 3 military occupational specialties (Field Artillery, Nuclear Weapons Tech, and Ammunition Ordnance). Mark is one of the leading military authors in the fields of leadership, counseling, and training..

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