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Can I Require my Soldiers to Answer the Phone or Respond to Text Messages

Can i counsel my Soldiers to answer their phone? What I want is to setup a counseling that is just about communication and how important it is to make sure they at least respond to there leader when I have questions Please Help. What do I do?

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Short Answer

You can make it a requirement the Soldier has a way of receiving information or being contacted.  If they fail to respond you have numerous options available.

You Can’t Make Me Answer My Phone!

That is a true statement….but you can make them wish they would have answered their phone.

Before cell phones we relied on landlines and Soldier were required to answer their phone and/or respond to voicemails.  Soldiers will occasionally say things like:

  • you can’t make me answer the phone. I am paying for it- true statement but if that Soldier lives off or lives in the barracks the commander can revoke off post living or pass privileges-problem solved
  • I do not have to respond to your phone calls or text message because I am off duty- again the commander can revoke pass privileges or off post living privileges and the problem is solved
  • You can’t make me respond- If a Soldier fails to respond to a text message, voicemail, or fails to answer their phone and they miss movement, recall, or fail to appear the next day with the specifics required then this is usually handled with a counseling statement, corrective training, Article 15 depending on the severity, pass privileges or off post living privileges being revoked-again problem solved.

Soldier Wants to Play Hardball

If a Soldier wants to play hardball with you there are a dozen ways to correct the problem some examples include:

  • give them a counseling statement in which you give them an order to respond
  • corrective training
  • revocation of privileges (you recommend and the commander implements)
  • hold the Soldier until the last senior leadership meeting of the day is complete (usually after all the Soldiers in the unit have been released) and then share your information with them-again problem solved.
  • Last resort an Article 15 for disobeying an order.

Now Let’s Look at it From the Soldier’s Point of View

Do you want someone constantly bugging you on the phone? Probably not. Therefore you need to use this communication method in a reasonable manner. How do you do this?

  • First be respectful of the Soldier’s time and only contact them when it is absolutely required.
  • Do not contact them early in the morning or late at night (that is if it can be avoided there are times you will need to contact them during these hours)
  • If you cannot reach them by phone try contacting them by text or email.
  • Construct text messages in such a manner that the Soldier only need respond with affirmative, negative, or understood will comply.
  • Ensure the text, voicemail, and/or phone dialogue is professional and respectful
  • If the Soldier’s spouse or significant other answers the phone be professional and respectful (believe it or not there are cases in which the leader was disrespectful to the spouse for answering the phone)
  • Tell the Soldier you will be respectful of their time and only contact them when it is necessary to do so. This creates a contract between you and the Soldier.
  • Do not call the Soldier when you have been drinking…yes believe it or not it happens and the leader usually gets in trouble when it is reported.

Counselings Statements

Initial Counseling:

The counseling might state something like:

  • I expect  you to answer the phone when I call you.  To ensure there is no confusion please place my numbers in your contact list so you will know it is me calling.
  • If for some reason you cannot answer the phone I expect you to return my call within 45 mins
  • If I leave a voicemail I expect you to return my call within 45 mins
  • If I leave a text message I expect you to respond within 15 mins
  • This counseling constitutes a lawful order
  • I will be respectful of your time and only contact you when absolutely necessary

Failure to Comply Counseling

Should the Soldier fail to comply with these requirements counseling them for failing to do so.  Determine which actions should be taken to correct the issue for example

  • Corrective Training (writing an essay, giving a class, writing a policy letter, writing an SOP, having the Soldier answer their phone at various times over the weekend)
  • Revocation of Privileges (pass privileges, off post living privileges, visitation privileges, etc)
  • Bar to Reenlistment
  • Letter of Reprimand
  • Article 15 (last resort)

Summary

Most Soldiers will have no problem answering their phone or responding to a text message, as long as leadership is respectful and treats them with dignity.  The rare exception usually only needs your attention once and they will decide to comply.

The key to success is to be respectful, professional, and treat them with dignity.

I hope you found this information useful!

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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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    Comments

  • Anonymous

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    What if a soldier is on leave?

  • evan

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    I have looked in the Army Command Policy as well as AR 25-52 and cant find anything on if correspondence courses are mandatory. If the correspondence course is not required for training or certification, can a soldiers leadership make correspondence hours mandatory?

    • Mark Gerecht

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      This response is provided based on the information you shared and should not be used as the sole source for making a decision. You should seek guidance from the chain of command, IG, JAG or other certified agencies before making any decisions. How you chose to use this information is totally up to you and is your sole responsibility.

      They cannot make the courses mandatory. They can highly encourage it. They are usually looking out for your career by doing this. Is this a battle really worth fight? Only you can decide. There are benefits to numerous correspondence courses but only you can decide if you want to take them if they are not required for your MOS and/or certification. Ask yourself a few questions: Is there any harm in doing this? Am I just upset because I don’t like someone telling me to do something rather than asking me? If this is the case perhaps a conversation with your leader might be in order. If you choose to do this remain: calm, professional, factual, and unemotional.

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      Hope this helps to some degree.

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  • Caleb

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    I was forced to download and utilize an application on my cellular device once arriving to my new unit. However, new leadership has rotated in and now they are requiring me to utilize another application. At what point can I just say no, I apologize, but I will not download another application? Aside from the question, I’ve been dealing with mass or private messages being pushed out well beyond 1700, sometimes to 2200 Monday through Friday. In the past year, I’ve only had a handful of weekends unbothered. I could safely say that I’ve recieved a message 85% of my weekends in the last 12 months.

    • Mark Gerecht

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      Caleb, what type of applications are they asking you to download?

    • Mark Gerecht

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      This response is provide based on the information you provided. You should not use this content as the sole source in making your decision. Seek guidance from your chain of command, JAG, IG., or other appropriate agency. Do your own research. Then make an informed decision.

      Caleb, I reached out to a few peers on this one to include our Legal SME. While I can understand not wanting to be bothered after 1700 there are times when leaders need to pass critical information during the week and on weekends. However leaders need to exercise restraint and only contact Soldiers when it is critical, otherwise they should hold off on contacting the Soldier after the normal duty day. What you may be experiencing could be coming from an inexperienced or immature leader. In these cases you might consider approaching them in a humble and professional manner and asking them if they could only contact you if it is critical. Ensure you explain you totally understand the need to communicate critical information you are just asking if the information can wait until the next day just to wait until the next day. You have to be careful how you handle this as it could cause friction with your leader. Now with that said there are a couple of other ways to handle it. You can talk to the Platoon Sergeant/Leader, or Company Commander/1SG on open door policy but this too might cause some friction. Another method could be to simply write an anonymous professional note to your commander and 1SG. As a last resort you could make an anonymous complaint to the IG and simply ask them to share with your unit leadership that some elements of leadership are over zealous in communicating noncritical information after the normal duty day to include weekends.

      Now let’s address the issue of downloading apps to your phone. If this is your personal cell phone no one can force you to download an app to your phone. If it is a government cell phone they can require you to download government approved applications. The question becomes is this really a battle you want to fight? Is this simply annoying, inconvenient, and frustrating? You can always say “No”. Be polite and professionals in your refusal, but realize it could cause friction. Ultimately the choice is yours.

      Consider following our YouTube Channel Mentor Military at:https://bitly/2FPymVa There are tons of great videos that discuss all types of issues Soldiers and Leaders face every day.
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  • Mark Gerecht

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    This response is provide based on the information you provided. You should not use this information to make a decision. Seek guidance from your chain of command, JAG, and/or the IG. Do your own research. Then make an informed decision.

    No, but the chain of command must be able to reasonably get in contact with you bot on and off duty.

    Consider following our YouTube Channel Mentor Military at:https://bitly/2FPymVa There are tons of great videos that discuss all types of issues Soldiers and Leaders face everyday.

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  • Logan

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    Is a soldier required to use rank in text messages?

  • Noah Daily

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    Where can I find the official policy saying that you can’t require soldiers to answer personal cell phones?? I need to know the policy or regulation specifically.

    • Mark Gerecht

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      To my knowledge this is no specific regulation. It is typically covered in unit policy. Keep this in mind. When you leave work everyday you are considered to be on pass. The commander can revoke your pass privileges (off post living included) if the unit has difficulty getting in touch with you. Whether you answer the phone or not is up to you. Just be certain that you want to endure the legal 2nd order consequences. The command must be able to get hold of you in a reasonable amount of time by reasonable means.

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