Senior-subordinate relationships can be source of trouble
April 1, 2009
- "Elements of proof" for the offense of fraternization
- Army Regulation 600-20 covering inappropriate superior-subordinate relationships
FORT EUSTIS, Va. (April 2, 2009) -- I want to discuss some things of equal importance and that is senior-subordinate relationships. Bottom line is that nine times out of 10, sexual harassment and other leadership issues resulting in Uniform Code of Military Justice action stem from senior- subordinate relationships.
So what is this animal and how do we define it' Well for one, do not confuse this with fraternization under Article 134 of UCMJ. The offense of fraternization occurs between officers and enlisted personnel and is defined as follows:
"Elements of proof" for the offense of fraternization are:
1. That the accused was a commissioned or warrant officer;
2. That the accused fraternized on terms of military equality with one or more certain enlisted member(s) in a certain manner;
3. That the accused then knew the person(s) to be (an) enlisted member(s);
4. That such fraternization violated the custom of the accused's service that officers shall not fraternize with enlisted members on terms of military equality;
5. That, under the circumstances, the conduct of the accused was to the prejudice of good order and discipline in the armed forces or was of a nature to bring discredit upon the armed forces.
On the other hand, Army Command Policy states that inappropriate senior-subordinate relationships can occur between or within any combination of officers, warrant officers and enlisted personnel.
Army Regulation 600-20 provides that inappropriate superior-subordinate relationships are prohibited if they:
1. Compromise, or appear to compromise, the integrity of supervisory authority or the chain of command;
2. Cause actual or perceived partiality or unfairness;
3. Involve, or appear to involve, the improper use of rank or position for personal gain;
4. Are, or are perceived to be, exploitative or coercive in nature;
5. Create an actual or clearly predictable adverse impact on discipline, authority, morale or the ability of the command to accomplish its mission.
Now just to clarify something that is usually a misnomer, inappropriate relationships between Soldiers of different rank are not necessarily exclusive to those relationships that are sexual in nature. Consider the following scenarios.
You might have a problem if:
Aca,!Ac you are a noncommissioned officer who gambles with officers and owes them money,
Aca,!Ac you are an officer who has habitual car trouble and continues to seek out a NCO in the organization to fix it,
Aca,!Ac say you are a platoon sergeant or instructor and have a sexual encounter with an Advanced Individual Training student.
You get the picture' It is simple: ethics and Army values rule the day and define our conduct. Most of the time these personal relationships are clearly contrary to Army values but, nevertheless, continue even though the inappropriate conduct is glaringly obvious. Trust me - the reality is that someone else will perceive the impropriety of such a relationship as much as you may want to ignore that perception. Over time, everyone knows what the real deal is. Make no mistake, a personal superior-subordinate relationship, which appears more personal than professional, is usually known all over post. When the investigations come, they all look at each other and say "it was just a matter of time."
Moreover sexual relationships between enlisted ranks are inappropriate if the Soldiers involved are in a supervisor-subordinate relationship or are in the same rating scheme.
To make sure we get it right, the below case examples are right out of the AR 600-35 Relationships Between Soldiers of Different Rank
CASE Number 1: Commander - staff officer
a. Lt. Col. Thomas, a single male battalion commander, identified 2nd Lt. Adams, a junior, single female on his staff, as an outstanding officer with much potential. He took pains to counsel her individually on her career progression, assigned her separate significant tasks and advised her rater that he considered her particularly talented. At battalion social events, he always singled her out for discussions to the exclusion of other officers.
He frequently invited her to attend staff meetings at brigade and division levels with him, although he did that for no other lieutenant. Junior male and female officers within the battalion hinted at a sexual relationship (although that was, in fact, not true). In general, junior officer morale was low because of the perceived unequal treatment.
b. This relationship clearly caused a perception of partiality or favoritism, adversely affecting morale as prohibited by AR 600-20, para. 4-14b(2). Commanders at all levels must be particularly careful in their relationships with subordinates, both male and female. This is especially true in relationships with members in the same chain of command or supervision. In this instance, Thomas exercised poor judgment by establishing such a relationship with Adams. He should be counseled and directed to take corrective action.
c. What assessment could be made if Adams were a male officer and other junior officers hinted at a favoritism relationship' Favoritism may appear more evident in male-female relationships because of the possibility of sexual favors. However, favoritism is independent of the sex of either party. Equity and impartiality are key criteria in differentiating between favoritism, mentoring and normal development of subordinates.
d. Change the facts once again. What assessment would be made if Thomas established such a relationship with two of six officers' Suppose he offered special mentoring opportunities to all, but only two maintained a commitment' Thomas, by offering assistance to all, is not at fault if only two junior officers continue to participate in a close mentoring relationship.
CASE Number 2: Noncommissioned Officer -junior enlisted Soldier
a. Sgt. Brown was promoted ahead of his unit contemporaries based on his outstanding performance of duty and demonstrated leadership. Since he was married and living off post, his promotion did not result in his moving into noncommissioned officer billets. He was already filling a fire team leader position in his squad so he was not moved to a new position. In fact, Brown saw little change in his status or responsibilities as a result of his promotion. He and his wife continued to socialize with his unit friends who were still privates first class and specialists. Brown and his wife frequently invited them to weekend parties at their home so they could get away from the troop billets and have a good time. When Capt. Fox, the company commander, learned that Brown was continuing to socialize with his subordinates, he called Brown in for a counseling session. He warned Brown such relationships could undermine unit discipline. Fox further stressed the need to avoid actual or perceived favoritism, partiality, preferential treatment and exploitation.
b. There is nothing inherently wrong with social relationships among enlisted Soldiers of different rank. However, in this case, Brown continued to act as an equal in rank to some of the Soldiers in the unit. The commander firmly stressed to Brown that his new rank carried with it different responsibilities and authority. He was encouraged to view his relationships with his friends in light of any actual or perceived advantage to them. If his familiarity with his friends is perceived as favoritism, it could undermine his authority and even erode discipline in his unit.
CASE Number 3: Drill sergeant - Initial Entry Training trainees (AIT platoon sergeants take note)
a. Sgt. 1st Class Frost, a male drill sergeant, invited several male trainees to his house over the weekend to watch football on television. While there, the trainees drank beer and watched television. As Frost was in the process of painting his house, he asked if they would help. They all did so. Upon returning to the barracks that night, the trainees joked about their new friend, Frost. One of the trainees said, "We paid a small price for easy treatment for the rest of the basic training period - we just painted his house. Of course, we had no real choice."
b. Any training situation requires special consideration and, normally, the command issues local regulations or policy letters. AR 600-20, paragraph 4-15 prohibits relationships between trainees and permanent party personnel (including cadre) except those relationships required by the training mission. In addition, virtually every U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command installation with training requirements has regulations prohibiting anything but duty interaction between trainees and permanent staff. In this situation, Frost violated the regulation when he invited the trainees to his house. He compounded the error by asking them to paint his house, an act which clearly took improper advantage of both his rank and position. Adverse action (including Uniform Code of Military Justice options) against Frost may be appropriate.
While counseling may be the most appropriate initial response to an inappropriate relationship, commanders must determine the appropriate response based on the particular circumstances in each case. AR 600-20, para 4-14f, lists a wide range of potential responses to inappropriate relationships.
Now that I have got you thinking of how we conduct ourselves I will end with this final thought. We are all in the Army with the intention of executing the scope of our duties with the thought of doing good. It is when we compromise our shared Army Values and ethics for personal gain that gets us into trouble. Before joining the Army, we had values and morals that were hammered into us at an early age. Part of that was not taking advantage of friends and family (if you didn't get this at home, you must have missed class that day). Hopefully, your association with the Army and appreciation for our values is not a new revelation. In fact, Army values and ethics caveat earlier social values. Now to be fair, sometimes things sneak up on you and before you know it you are in a compromising situation. But, I can bet your intuition indicated something wasn't quite right in Kansas anymore. When in doubt, you can bet the Army has included it in a regulation somewhere and has subject matter experts staffed to assist all of us in keeping the moral compass on track. Pick up the phone. Google the topic. Wham.... your educated.
We owe our Soldiers and our nation our very best, and I can tell you the best of the best serve in this community, both civilian and military. I've seen it, so keep doing the great things that you do, which makes our Army the best in the world.