Service Members and Private Organizations working in tandem
July 7, 2014
JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska - As the summer season in Alaska continues in full gear and Soldiers here seek the adventure that is unique to "The Last Frontier," they have to be cautious of gifts and endorsements they may be offered for their service to our country.
The Army is guided by many regulations. Common regulations many Soldiers are familiar with are Army Regulation (AR) 350-1, Army Training and Leadership and AR 600-9, The Army Weight Control Program. While these regulations offer clear guidance on what is expected of Soldiers, some regulations require interpretation and better understanding. Some even require legal counseling.
Likewise, the Office of Government Ethics has established standards of conduct that apply to all U.S. government employees. Within the Department of Defense, these principles are guided by the Joint Ethics Regulation (JER); DOD 5500.7-R.
U.S. Army Maj. Elisabeth Claus, the brigade judge advocate for the 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division, said, "One of the primary rules is that public service is a public trust requiring employees to place loyalty to the Constitution, the laws, and ethical principles above private gain."
The JER is made up of the 14 General Principles of Ethical Conduct and Executive Order 12731. President George H.W. Bush signed the regulation in 1990 to revise the President's authority over employees of the executive branch in order to clarify laws that could cause a conflict of interest.
According to Claus, it's important for Soldiers at the junior level to learn about ethics and remember that the JER applies to everyone, regardless of rank. She said understanding the principles of ethics becomes more important as a Soldier progresses to higher ranks and the need to avoid an appearance of impropriety becomes more significant.
"As they grow more senior in rank, their actions become more visible to the public," Claus said.
In the past, the Army and many organizations have partnered to provide support to one another. There is no black and white rule that says one may not have any interaction with an organization, but there are specific rules about how the Army is allowed to interact with private organizations.
"As Soldiers progress through their careers, I just encourage them to start learning about the ethics regulations, and always seek legal advice if they have questions, and continue to enforce that in their formations," Claus said.
Claus also recommends the seeking of a legal and ethics review when participating with private organizations. Some examples which should be reviewed are a planned fundraiser, or active duty service members using their rank and service when identifying themselves in connection with private organizations.
"The advantage to seeking an ethics review from a legal attorney is no administrative action will be taken against somebody if they have received an ethics review from an attorney that approved the activity and told them this is in compliance with the ethics laws," said Claus.
Claus said that when it comes to active duty service members working with private organizations, it's important to remember that ignorance of the law is no defense.
"Like any other infraction, like a violation of a regulation or order, there are a variety of options a command can take from counseling to Article 15," Claus said. "It would be a case by case decision by the command."