Gossip -- arguably a favorite "sport" in our society -- ranks right up there with football and basketball for things we like to talk about. And, even better, it's never out of season.

One of the most common gossip topics in the Army concerns the perception of proper and improper relationships.

Soldiers and leaders often discuss terms such as fraternization, inappropriate relationships and prohibited relationships interchangeably; causing plenty of confusion.

The Army has recently released an update to Army Regulation 600-20, Army Command Policy, which better defines these issues for leaders and Soldiers.

The changes took effect on Nov. 6, so commanders and Soldiers need to be aware of the new elements in the regulation to ensure compliance and to limit confusion.

AR 600-20, paragraph 4-14, defines relationships between Soldiers of different ranks and seeks to clarify proper personal and professional relationships within the Army.

The standard for what constitutes an inappropriate leader-subordinate relationship hasn't changed in the new AR 600-20 4-14b which states, relationships, (both opposite-gender and same-gender) are prohibited if they: -- Compromise, or appear to compromise, the integrity of supervisory authority or the chain of command; -- Cause actual or perceived partiality or unfairness; -- Involve, or appear to involve, the improper use of rank or position for personal gain; -- Are, or are perceived to be, exploitative or coercive in nature; -- Create an actual or clearly predictable adverse impact on discipline, authority, morale or the ability of the command to accomplish its mission.

If any of these criteria are met, the parties involved may be subject to Uniformed Code of Military Justice action under Article 92 as a violation of a lawful general regulation.

None of these relationships require any element of a sexual nature; they simply have to cause an actual or perceived situation, which negatively impacts a unit's good order and discipline. A couple of scenarios to consider are:

--You are an officer who regularly hangs out with some of your subordinates to watch the game.

-- You are a sergeant who calls select Soldiers by their first names.

-- You are a Soldier who enjoys working on computers, so you help out the battalion command sergeant major with his home computer during your free time.

Any of these situations could cause a problem within a unit if other Soldiers or leaders perceiving favoritism or personal gain between the parties involved.

So, even if there is nothing wrong occurring, the simple perception among others makes these relationships inappropriate.

Any relationship between Soldiers of different ranks, which is too personal in nature, will cause problems in a unit -- it's simply a matter of time.

This is why the Army expressly prohibits relationships that meet any of the five criteria.

The Army also prohibits relationships between certain categories of Soldiers, regardless of any command or unit affiliation. Previously, certain types of personal relationships between officers and enlisted personnel were prohibited in writing, while long standing military tradition proscribed personal relationships between NCOs and junior enlisted personnel.

In a significant change to AR 600-20, paragraph 4-14c, now codifies the customary prohibition of personal or intimate relationships between NCOs (corporal through command sergeant major) and junior enlisted service members (private through specialist).

The prohibited relationships, which apply to both opposite-gender and same-gender relationships include:

--Ongoing business relationships.

-- Dating, shared living accommodations other than those directed by operational requirements, and intimate or sexual relationships.

-- Gambling.

AR 600-20, para. 4-14c, goes on to clarify certain situations in which business relationship prohibitions would not immediately apply.

That same paragraph also addresses when prohibitions on personal/intimate relationships between officers and enlisted Soldiers or NCOs and junior enlisted Soldiers do not apply.

Commanders should provide leadership and guidance to NCOs and junior enlisted Soldiers who are in violation of this time honored but previously unwritten policy.

Commanders have a wide range of responses available including counseling, reprimand, order to cease, reassignment, administrative action or adverse action.

Para. 4-15 outlines the final category of prohibited relationships, which are focused on Initial Entry Training Soldiers and potential recruits.

Any relationship between permanent party personnel and IET Soldiers not required by the training mission is prohibited.

This prohibition applies to permanent party personnel without regard to the installation of assignment of the permanent party member or the Soldier in Training.

Recruiters and permanent party personnel assigned or attached to the U.S. Army Recruiting Command or National Guard recruiting program are also prohibited from establishing personal relationships with potential prospects, applicants, members of the Delayed Entry Program or members of the Delayed Training Program not required by the recruiting mission is prohibited

The intent of the existing regulation and the changes is to ensure good order and discipline throughout the force by limiting or prohibiting relationships between leaders and subordinates, which could damage the fabric of unit cohesion.

As with most things in the Army, if a Soldier is unsure of the rules or their application, he/she should ask the question before risking action.

Soldiers can always speak to their chain of command, the Staff Judge Advocate Legal Assistance Team or the Inspector General to get clarification.