How to Punish and Reprimand Soldiers

Today, I want to share some advice about how to punish and reprimand Soldiers.  These are some leadership lessons I learned throughout my Officer career that really helped me out.  Hopefully, it will do the same thing for you.

I should start out by telling you that MOST people who join the Army are GOOD people.  Yes, you get a few knuckleheads who challenge authority, and a few problem Soldiers, but most Soldiers have good intentions.  Most people want to do the right thing and be part of a winning team.

As a leader, you will typically deal with two types of issues.  The first issue is a good Soldier making a dumb mistake.  The second issue is dealing with your problem Soldiers that repeatedly mess up.  In every unit, I’d be willing to bet that 95% of the people are good people and 5% cause most of the problems.

You definitely need to find an effective way to punish and reprimand poor performance.  That’s your job as a small unit leader: to hold people accountable to the Army Standard.  Here is how I suggest you do that.

First and foremost, you want to set a good example yourself.  You want to be a sterling example that others look up to. Maintain your discipline, be professional, have a good attitude, and follow the Army Standards.  If you are a dirt bag, and have performance issues yourself, don’t expect your Soldiers to be saints.  The speed of the leader really is the speed of the team.

In addition, you must deal with issues quickly.  The longer you wait to deal with something, the worse things will get.  If something is wrong, address the issue immediately.

Next, make sure that the punishment matches the crime.  Don’t go overboard and give someone worse punishment than they deserve.  Don’t be extreme!

The next thing I recommend is to have universal punishment.  For example, if someone is late for formation, have a standardized way to punish people, such as the first instance is a verbal counseling, second instance is a written counseling and third instance is a rank reduction.  Let everyone know what the punishment will be ahead of time.  Publish your policies.  Don’t play favorites.  Hold everyone accountable to the standard.  Simply put, don’t give one Soldier an Article 15 for missing formation, but allow someone else to get away with it with no punishment.

Another tip I highly recommend is to have some compassion when giving punishment.  Don’t act like you are perfect and never mess up.  Realize that everyone is a human being and everyone is bound to make mistakes at some point in time.  I’m not telling you to be a push-over, but don’t forget what it was like to be a young 18 year old.

When it comes to your problem Soldiers, give them a chance to rehabilitate themselves.  If that doesn’t work, get rid of them. Discharge them from the service.  The Army does not need them.  Do not just pass them off to another unit either.  Do the counselings and create the paperwork trail, so you can discharge them.  There are few things worse for morale than seeing a dirt-bag Soldier get over.

The bottom line is that it’s your job as a small unit leader to punish and reprimand Soldiers who cannot meet the Army Standards. There is definitely a right way and a wrong way to do that.  Follow the advice in this post and you should do well.

What are your thoughts?  What tips and advice can you share with our community about punishing and reprimanding Soldiers? Leave a comment below to let us know what you think.

chuck holmes

Chuck Holmes
Former Army Major (resigned)

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9 thoughts on “How to Punish and Reprimand Soldiers”

  1. This is another good post and laid out well concerning discipline. I have been amazed at times how some leaders do not follow what you lay out here.

    And I agree, if a Soldier simply has an attitude that is detrimental to everybody around him or her, then cut him or her loose. It doesn’t have to mean a dishonorable discharge I don’t think, but you don’t need them in the Army either.

    There are more good attitudes than bad, I agree with that also. I have seen alot of guys and girls who simply never had tough love at any time in their life.

    Most of those will do the things asked of them once everything is laid out clearly and fairly.

    I like to believe in people until proven otherwise. When it’s proven otherwise then another decision has to be made.

  2. Theresa Williams

    I guess things stand out to me in threes…The ones that actually focus on dealing out punishment stand out to me here: deal with issues quickly, make sure the punishment fits the crime, and have universal punishment. They all go hand in hand and just set the tone for everything. I can’t even stress enough how outstanding these are and how necessary. So often punishments are either too harsh or too lenient and even more often the rules are bent and twisted from soldier to soldier. I’m not saying situation and circumstances shouldn’t be taken into consideration (see: compassion) but having those three standards in place will make dealing with the intricacies of individual situations much easier.

  3. Punishment, although it varies widely in application from profession to profession, is necessary across all of them. The way the punishment is administered is of the utmost importance. As a leader, will you punish the entire Unit as a means of trying to unify them and make them accountable for their fellow troops? Or will you reprimand the individual to avoid conflict and keep confidentiality? Will the punishment administered be suitable to the offense, way overboard, or not harsh enough? If punishment isn’t applied correctly, it will definitely not have the effect it was meant to have.

  4. Another good tip for military leaders to avoid general grumbling and low morale in their unit is to reprimand the individual soldier, not the unit as a whole. Nothing creates resentment faster than hearing a unit-wide diatribe, to use your example, about people being late for formation when you, yourself, haven’t been late a single time. It seems to suggest that the Commander isn’t comfortable with face-to-face discipline, so he or she is “copping out” by telling everyone instead of the offending soldier. Take responsibility for performing your own job by being willing to face individual offenders.

    1. I believe at one time, the general military attitude was to punish all for something one did. The thought process was that peer pressure would solve the issue. This has been proven to be ineffective for the most part, even though they still use it in basic training. I think that some of the commanders using this technique come from the “old school” and have not been shown that it doesn’t work. I believe the military needs to work with leaders using this form of punishment and get them to change.

  5. Crime and Punishment. As you pointed out I found one of the biggest problems I've run into was the inequality in punishment. It's okay to work for a disciplinarian or an easy going person as long as they hand out equal punishment to all troops regardless of personal favor.

    Once word gets out that a supervisor plays favorites morale can become a very big problem. Best way to alleviate most (but never all) of the problems is to publish rules and stick to them.

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