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Can Army commands restrict on-duty cell phone use?

Is there a regulation governing the use (overuse) of cell phones in the work place in the military? Can you tell a Soldier not to bring a cell phone into work?

To my knowledge, there is no regulation governing the use of cell phones in military environments unless it is a classified area or an area in which a cell phone would create a safety hazard. For example, you cannot bring a cellphone into a classified briefing or to an area where explosives are being prepared.

If neither of those conditions exist, you probably cannot restrict a Soldier from bringing a cell phone to work. However, if the Soldier’s cell phone overuse is preventing him from being able to do his job to standard, a performance counseling can be administered. You could recommend to the commander that the Soldier’s cell phone privileges be revoked for a period of time to get the Soldier to comply with reasonable use. Separation action can be initiated if performance does not improve.

posted on 11/02/2011 under Q&A
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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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  • pv2 d

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    Is there a regulation on how you talk on the phone to an nco, or like cell phone courtesy

    • Mark Gerecht

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      There is no specific regulation that covers phone courtesy. However when talking on the phone all other military customs and courtesies that would otherwise be extended to a leader in person apply when speaking on the phone. Let’s look at a couple of examples:

      Military Phone: When answering a military phone usually the unit has an SOP, policy letter, or the instructions are provided in a verbal briefing to the Soldier who will answer the phone. Typically it goes something like this:

      Charlie Battery 1st of the 35th Field Artillery, SPC Jones speaking, this line is not secure. How can I assist you?

      Civilian Phone: When answering a personal phone the Soldier should answer in a manner that is considered reasonably acceptable for answering a phone. Once the individual on the line identifies themselves as a member of the military the Soldier is bound to apply all military customs and courtesies appropriate and should speak as if the conversation was taking place in person.

      Good Example:

      Soldier: Hello,

      Leader: SPC Jones, this is Sergeant Rock.

      Soldier: Yes, Sergeant

      Leader: The parts for our track just came into the motor pool and the entire section must report to the motor pool to begin maintenance. You need to be at the motor pool no later than 14oo hours, in duty uniform.

      Soldier: Roger, Sergeant

      Bad Example:

      Soldier: Yeah! What’s up?

      Leader: SPC Jones, this is Sergeant Rock.

      Soldier: Look Dude why are you bothering me I am off today!

      Leader: First, its Sergeant, not Dude.

      Soldier: Yeah! Whatever man!

      Leader: SPC Jones, The parts for our track just came into the motor pool and the entire section must report to the motor pool to begin maintenance. You need to be at the motor pool no later than 14oo hours, in duty uniform. In addition you will refer to me as Sergeant Rock, not by any other title or name. Your comments are disrespectful and unprofessional.

      NOTE: Notice the Leader did not allow the Soldier’s comments to distract them. Instead the Leader ensure the Soldier was told exactly what was expected of them. Then and only then did the Leader address the substandard performance. The reason for this was to make sure an agreement did not start of the issue of rank. It allowed the leader to get the information to the Soldier quickly so the conversation could not be side tracked.

      Soldier: Yeah, well I am off duty and you got no right bothering me on my time off. I got rights you know. So I hate to disappoint you but I won’t be at the motor pool, I have plans. So I will catch you later big SARGE!

      Leader: SPC Jones, unfortunately you do not have a choice. You will be in the motor pool at 1400 hours in duty uniform. Failure to obey this order will result in possible action under the UCMJ and other administrative actions. After we have completed the maintenance on our vehicle I will discuss with you your inappropriate, disrespectful and unprofessional conduct during today’s phone conversation. I will see you at 1400 hours in the duty uniform, at the unit motor pool. Do you clearly understand these instructions.

      Soldier: Yeah but don’t hold your breath for me showing up. Like I said I got plans and you and the Army ain’t got no part in my plans.

      Leader: SPC Jones, you have acknowledged understanding the order and the requirements of the order. I expect to see you in the motor pools as directed. Have a good day!

      Notice how the Leader handled the issue in a professional manner. Instead of allowing the conversation to get side tracked the Leader stayed on message because they already made the correction to the Soldier concerning inappropriate/disrespectful behavior and the Soldier failed to respond. So rather than getting into an argument the Leader remained calm and ensured the Soldier understood the requirements and the consequences for failing to obey the order. The Leader prepared the situation in a manner that allows them to address the inappropriate behavior while on the phone at the next face to face meeting.

      The Soldier’s actions in the bad example would, in my opinion, qualify as disrespectful and the Soldier would be a prime candidate for corrective training or UCMJ. Once a Leader identifies themselves the Soldier has a duty and obligation to apply all appropriate military customs and courtesies.

      Hope this Helps!

      Did you find this information useful? I appreciate your feedback!

      TOP

      • SGT CORONA

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        I have a new soldier just arriving from AIT who is not willing to buy a cell phone or any other means of communication. Is there any kind of AR stating that a phone is required?

  • Spc. D

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    If our PLT SSG. talked to our 1SG. about restricting cell phone use at work during normal working hours, he blessed off on the idea, we are at work from 5:45am till 17:00 at the earliest, sometimes till 19:00 on a regular basis, Are there any regulations reguarding resticting cell phone use for soldiers for no legitamate reason, or what are the proper channels I would need to go through to put a stop to an unnecessary restriction.

    As a Team Leader, I am able to keep track of my guys via cell phone, especially throughout the duty day, especially when it comes to appointments, or guys asking me where the need to be, or locating soldiers/ putting out information that gets passed down to me, communication is key.

    This resriction is trying to be enforced by a Plt Sgt. that leave early on a regular basis to go home to his family at a reasonable time, while his soldiers are still at work doing what they were told to do, till unreasonable hours on a regular basis, mind you we just returned home from a deployment about 4 months ago.
    Thanks.

    • SGT Nick

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      This is an odd move your platoon sgt is making but to give him the benefit of the doubt I do not know what your job entails or the mission you support. If your PLT SGT believes that the platoon is not making deadlines or progress in work related activities a modest restriction can be applied just from the fact that he is a senior nco.

      Cell phone use that gets in the way of work productivity can easily be applied to “dereliction of duty.” and thats what he can hit you guys with by regulation (Article 92 – Failure to Obey Orders or Regulations, Sub-Part 3, of the UCMJ). And for some reason or another Soldiers think its just the Army that restricts cell phone use on the job but most professional occupations have cell phone restrictions much worst than the US Military.

      I understand your frustration with the PLT SGT leaving early but rarely are they going home, most 1SG meetings are in the afternoon and they last forever. I have been in units with a regular 1900 release day so I feel your pain…

      *All views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, the Department of Defense or the US Army.*

      • Mark Gerecht

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        SPC D.
        Let’s look at this from a couple of different perspectives. Having a cell phone is a privilege to some degree. There will be those that disagree with me on this point but hear me out. The Army is struggling with the use of cell phones and new technology as to what leaders can and can’t do with personal property.
        Now any action that detracts from work productivity such as: Phone calls, appointments, smoke breaks, and frequent breaks to name a few can and should be reasonably curtailed by leadership. Notice I used the term reasonably. These actions could reasonably be called privileges to some degree. If there is a Soldier misusing his/her cell phone the proper thing to do is have a discussion with the Soldier and attempt to resolve the issue. Now the funny thing about privileges is they must be revoked by the Commander having the authority to revoke them. NCOs can only make recommendations. So what Commander decided to revoke the Soldier’s privilege to use cell phones during work hours? HUMMM!

        Then there are legal issues associate with personal cell phones.
        So to my point. Can your PLT SGT prevent the unreasonable use of cell phones I would say “Yes” a simple counseling documenting the specifics of issue should be enough. However if they are trying to restrict the use of cell phones as you describe or that I at least perceive from your post then that is another issue and I would say that is probably in violation of their authority.
        If the Commander truly wants to support this policy he should obtain a legal opinion from JAG if he believes the policy is reasonable and rationale.
        However I highly doubt the Commander even knows this is going on. I would consider getting the facts of the issue together and then developing a calm, unemotional, and professional plan of action that could include bringing the issue up to your chain of command by using the open door policy with the Commander. If you choose to do this you need to notify your leadership of your intent. You might want to consider calling the JAG office and/or local IG office and asking them to provided you an opinion. You can usually obtain this information by going in an talking with them or calling them on the phone. You can also make your request in an anonymous manner if you desire. If you choose to speak with these agencies be factual, calm, and professional. Odds are if things are as you state the policy would be viewed as unreasonable and irrational. The simple test would be are the NCOs willing to have the same policy/restriction applied to them. Bottom-line treat people like you want to be treated.
        As far as leaders going home early. Welcome to the real world. You will learn more from bad leaders than you learn from good leaders. Fight the battles that make sense. When in charge take charge, when not in charge let those in charge be in charge. You will accomplish more by being polite and respectful.

        Regardless of how you choose to approach this issue ensure you have a professional approach and understand the possible unintended consequences of your actions.
        Hope this helps a little!
        TOP

  • SGT NICK

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    Your going to have the rephrase the question. If you have the time let us know all the details of the incident so we can make a better judgement on the situation. Thanks

  • spc kimberley ike

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    Dear Top,

    I recently had an incident with texting on personal cells.

    Is it legal for a 1sgt/cdr to give a direct order to an e5 (that is S2) to text text messages to her personal cell? Even though this text contained work info and personal info…

    Thank you…

    SPC kimberley ike

    • Preston

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      SPC Ike,
      Are you asking if it is legal for a 1SG to order you to send them personal text messages?

    • Mark Gerecht

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      SPC Ike,
      The 1SG cannot order the use of a personal device for work, especially if you have a plan that charges you for each text message received or minutes used. The only part that concerns me is the order. The 1SG can require you to provide information in a timely manner. That part of the order is legal. How you provide that information is another question. You cannot be ordered to use your personal equipment to provide government information. If you believe you are being treated unfairly you need to bring this up to the chain of command. Most likely the commander in this incident. If you had to use personal funds to cover this use you can apply for reimbursement and/or request the Soldier in question repay you under the conditions of Article 139 of the UCMJ. Now let’s look at this from a different perspective. Your unit needs to be able to get in touch with you for emergencies and therefore needs your personal contact information. If this is a one time incident probably not a big deal. If it continues or you feel it is abusive in nature then you need to bring it up to the chain of command. First remove the emotions from the issue. Evaluate what happened. Is it something that is really worth the time and effort to pursue? If so take action but do so in a manner that is professional, unemotional, and factual.
      Did you find this information useful? We appreciate your Feedback

    • SGT NICK

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      Just FYI for anyone reading this post this can turn ugly fast. The chain of command can have you report to the CQ desk every six hours on the weekends for accountability. You will call your squad/platoon sergeant to check for any updates. Also when most soldiers are released when the duty day is over the platoon sergeant still has meetings to go to and will call/text sqaud leaders any important info for the following day. If you decide not to answer or “acknowledge receipt” as I make my soldiers do after texting them then you will stay after work to receive the information after the meetings are finished. Be careful what you wish for

      • Spc. Beaver

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        I was sleeping after a midnight shift and my wife had my cell phone to relay info to me if anything changes or anything was to come down. They flat out told me to tell my fucking wife to not answer my phone. It’s a personal cell phone and not a military issued BlackBerry. They bad mouthed my wife to me in front of everyone else. Is there a regulation concerning this issue. All she said was that she would wake me up to call them back.

      • Mark Gerecht

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        Nick, good points….hope you are doing well

      • Mark Gerecht

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        SPC Beaver,
        This might fall under Hazing in AR 600-20 and/or abusing a subordinate under toxic leadership. There is no excuse to speak that way about anyone’s spouse and I am sure your unit leader would not condone that type of behavior if they are made aware of it. If it is tolerated you may have grounds to file an Article 138 complaint. See AR 27-10. The bottom line is do not loose your cool. Be professional, factual, and unemotional. That is the only way you will come out ahead in this situation. Hope this helps.

  • Mark Gerecht

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    Unit Commanders and leaders have the ability to prevent Soldiers from absenting themselves from duty or failing to focus on mission requirements. While I could see an individual’s cell phone privileges being modified if the Soldier is abusing the use of the cell phone or their personal life (excessive calls) are interfering with the performance of their duties. Typically this would be on a case by case basis and not a unit in mass.

    Soldiers should be afforded reasonable access and use of their phone. However the sticking point becomes the definition of “reasonable use”. I find it hard to believe that a commander would allow all of their Soldiers to be barred from using the phone during duty hours.

    If the entire unit is banned from using cell phones I see a potential issue. If individual Soldiers are banned from using cell phones based on it interfering with work and some reasonable means is afforded for reasonable communication then I do not necessarily see a problem with it. Reasonable might be during breaks, lunch hour, and to communicate that the Soldier is working late.

    Hope this Helps!
    Did you find this information useful? I appreciate your feedback!
    TOP

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