Army Fraternization Policies: What You Should Know

In today’s post, we are going to explore some United States Army policies that is often considered a taboo subject to talk about. Over the last 10-20 years, the Army has strengthened its stand on Army fraternization policies.

Due to the fact that many do not want to even touch this subject, here at Part Time Commander we are going to provide some basics on what you should know about these policies. The fact is: what you do not know could harm you and your United States Army career.

Fraternization is defined as turning people into brothers. The word comes from the Latin word frater, which means brother. While this seems a positive thing, in many institutions such as the military, it is considered a negative term that leads to unethical and immoral behavior.

Fraternization policies are ever changing as situations arise. One instance from years ago during World War II was in the realm of fraternizing with the enemy. General Eisenhower was very strict in regards to this, and Soldiers were not even allowed to speak with German children. The State Department and members of Congress pressured the War Department to relax this rule, and it was.

As a commander, it is your duty and responsibility to keep abreast in any changes to Army fraternization policies. If you find any questionable practice and you just cannot find an answer, you should begin to use your chain of command to find the answer. If you allow fraternization that is against regulations, it can harm your reputation as a leader, and the reputation of the United States Army.

At one time, the Army was actually quite easy going on its fraternization policies. In 1996, the Army was forced to take a hard look at these policies because of major publicity from the Aberdeen Proving Ground base in Maryland.

If you are not familiar with that incident, I will just say that 12 commissioned and non-commissioned officers were charged with mutiple counts of sexual assault against trainees. This incident and several others led the Army to adapt to policies that had already been instituted in the Air Force and Navy.

Most commissioned officers are given awareness of these policies, but new non-commissioned officers are often unaware of these. As a commander, it is very important that you make the NCOs under your command aware of these. All Army policies regarding fraternization policies can be found in Army Regulations 600-20.

Fraternization can be a difficult issue in the fact that the Army desires close relationships within the system. It is through positive personal relations between Soldiers of varied ranks that the Army has always operated. This is when a leader has to use sound wisdom in what is a positive, constructive relationship, and what is a negative, destructive relationship with those Soldiers of lower ranks. These are some of the important parts of those regulations and policies that you should know.

Relationships That Are Against Regulations

These are relationships that are considered inappropriate with Soldiers of different ranks:

  • If it creates actual or a possible impact on the authority, ability, or on the discipline of the command.

  • If it involves or is perceived to be the use of rank for personal gain.

  • If it seems to cause partiality or unfairness.

  • If it causes a compromise in authority in the chain of command.

  • Ongoing business relationships between officers and enlisted Soldiers. One time transactions does not fall into this category except if it involves lending of money. This rule is lessened in the case of National Guard and Reserve personnel if the relationships are in place due to their civilian businesses and employment.

  • Dating or cohabitation between officers and enlisted personnel with non application to marriages before March 1, 2000.

  • Gambling in any form between officers and enlisted personnel.

Relationships that would fall into appropriate areas could be:

  • 2 enlisted Soldiers are married and 1 is promoted to an officer level.

  • Personal relationships between members of the National Guard or Reserves because of civilian activities. This would be diminished if either member is sent to active duty or full time National Guard duty.

Commanders are in a position to make solid judgement calls in many cases. It can be even more questionable in the case of National Guard or Reserve officers and Soldiers. The primary judgement call will come down to the perception, and morale of others who could be affected.

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Below, I will provide some examples of possible situations that could arise. Before reading the answer, I suggest you make a judgement call if you were in the position of commanding these Soldiers.

Sergeant Mendez had just been promoted to an Warrant Officer position. Living off base, every other Saturday night the SGT and his wife had Soldiers and their spouses over for a night of barbeque, games and drinks. It was always a fun and didn’t seem wrong. Corporal True asked SGT Mendez if these nights would have to stop because of his promotion.

If you were the SGT’s commander, what call would you make?

The answer is yes, they should stop. The perception of favoritism could be generated from these seemingly innocent get together. It is a difficult part of the promotion process, but by doing so, Sergeant Mendez will have no issues with possible issues in the future.

The civilian job that Lieutenant Cross performs is the sales of cars and trucks in the small town they reside in. The Lieutenant has been with the National Guard for 8 years, and a newly trained Soldier by the name of Private Reese who has been buying cars every year from Cross comes for his yearly vehicle purchase. The Lieutenant wonders now if it is okay if he sells a car to the new Private. He calls his commander for an answer.

How would you answer the Lieutenant?

Sell the Private the car. First, it has been an ongoing business relationship on civilian terms. With both Soldiers being in the National Guard, this situation falls into a grey area in comparison to members who are full time Soldiers. Yes, it would be within Army regulations that this business relationship survives.

Major Holmes and Sergeant Major Frey go bowling every 2nd Saturday of the month on a regular basis. Major Holmes is the Battalion Commander. The question arises if this is an inappropriate relationship.

So what do you think in this situation? Should the once a month bowling activity stop?

This is one of those difficult calls, but the decision to allow this once a month bowling game to keep going is the right one. This is not considered an intimate relationship, it is considered a team building relationship. This relationship can be seen as a time for 2 who lead the opportunity to discuss situations that can help the battalion run more efficiently.

The Enemy

The policies that were enacted dealt mainly with those wearing the same uniform. What about the issue of fraternizing with the enemy? The rules are still essentially the same since World War II. We often see pictures on the internet of Soldiers talking with women and children who may very well be on the side of terrorists; is this against the fraternization policy?

With cases such as this, we are back to the wisdom of a commander. If a commander assumes that by talking with family members of possible terrorists, it is his/her prerogative to tell Soldiers not to do so. In most cases though, the Army encourages basic speaking engagements between the local population and Soldiers. This can foster a trust relationship in areas where the United States Army is considered evil.

Final Thoughts

Army regulations on fraternization can be difficult. It is important that all leaders read, study, and memorize the policies regarding fraternization. Commanders need to be attentive to all Soldiers under their command. By catching possible fraternization issues early, the situation can be much easier to resolve. Sometimes just a simple meeting with the parties involved who may be “touching” on a possible fraternization policy violation can alleviate the issue. In most cases, Soldiers are not even aware they may be violating a rule.

Fraternization violations can carry a wide variety of punishments including all the Article 15 levels and as high as a courts martial.

If you have become involved in a relationship that may be considered a violation of this policy, my recommendation is that you cut that relationship immediately. If this seems impossible, it is best that you immediately request a meeting with your commander to explain the situation. There is surely a way to resolve the issue, but if you continue to hide or worse, lie about it, it could mean severe punishment.

I am very curious about other thoughts and opinions around the subject of fraternization in the Army. Have you, as a commander had to confront any officers or Soldiers in regards to violating the fraternization policy? Have you ever been in a fraternizing position within the Army? Please tell us your opinions or thoughts, and if you desire, you can stay anonymous in doing so.

Just keep in mind that this violation can carry major consequences…. Is it worth it?

chuck holmes

Chuck Holmes
Former Army Major (resigned)

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3 thoughts on “Army Fraternization Policies: What You Should Know”

  1. Army Fraternisation policies are very intensive topic from beginning. It is the most controversial topic in the United States Army. Nice information BTW.

  2. I had no idea that the policy was thoroughly detailed! This is interesting, though, and kind of good to know even if it doesn’t affect me directly. Thanks for sharing!

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