By Verndal C.F. Lee, Chief, Legal Assistance, 25th Infantry Division Staff Judge AdvocateMay 15, 2015
Q -- Dear JAG, I'm a company commander, and my battalion is changing command next week.
I haven't thought about a gift because of my focus on my Soldiers and their mission.
I told my XO today, "The battalion commander is leaving next week, and we don't have a PCS gift for him. Mission: Get the battalion commander a nice gift, but don't spend more than $500!
Collect from all our Soldiers; everyone must contribute! Here's my two dollars."
Did I do the right thing?
Sincerely, Curious Commander
A -- Dear Curious,
Cease-fire, let's check signals!
Under the Joint Ethics Regulation, permanent change of station gifts to superiors are authorized, but not required. There is no legal limit on what you give to a peer or subordinate. However, some rules must be followed for such gifts.
Gifts cannot exceed $300 per donating, identifiable group, like a company or battalion. Therefore, each company may give up to a $300 gift to the departing commander.
If an individual donates to more than one group, then those groups must be aggregate when counting the $300 limit. For example, if you decide to donate to both your company fund and your sister company's gift fund in contribution toward your departing battalion commander, then those two companies are now combined as one identifiable group with a limitation of $300.
So long as individuals within their identifiable group only donate to one group, it is perfectly permissible for a departing commander to receive a $300 gift from each company in the battalion. Hence, conceivably, a commander could receive gifts totaling several hundred dollars.
Solicitation for donations is permissible, but solicitations may not exceed $10, and Soldiers are not required to donate. However, individuals may contribute more. To avoid the appearance of command pressure, junior personnel should be asked to collect donations. Your executive officer is a bad choice to solicit donations for an organization because the XO is second in command.
Another potential pitfall involves giving a gift to a departing superior's spouse. The basis of the spouse's gift must be independent of the status as a spouse; otherwise, the gift counts against the departing Soldier's $300 limit.
If a gift does exceed $300, then the gift must either be returned or purchased by the superior. "Buy-down" provisions are NOT authorized: Superiors may not pay the difference between $300 and the cost of the gift.
In your case, you should not have waited until the last minute to buy the gift. You can't spend more than $300 on the gift, so a $500 gift is forbidden. Again, Soldiers may not be forced to contribute to a gift.
Lastly, expect to pay a lot more than $2!
To answer your question, you have not done the right thing. Call the 25th Infantry Division/U.S. Army-Hawaii Office of the Staff Judge Advocate Administrative Law Section at (808) 655-8743 for further questions you may have.