First sergeant offers clarification on unprofessional relationships

GOODFELLOW AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- Professional relationships are essential to the effective operation of the military and in meeting our mission requirements. The nature of the military mission requires absolute confidence in command and unhesitating adherence to orders.

While personal relationships are largely a matter of choice in the civilian world, professional relationships are required in the military. AFI 36-2909 governs professional and unprofessional relationships.

Unprofessional relationships are those which simply create the appearance of favoritism, involve the misuse of office or position, or lead to the abandonment of organizational goals for personal interests.

One can easily see how these relationships would erode good order and discipline, respect for authority, unit cohesion, and ultimately mission accomplishment.

Unprofessional relationships can exist between officers, between enlisted members, between officers and enlisted members, or between military personnel and civilian employees.

When unprofessional relationships are discovered, typically a cease and desist order is given to the parties involved. Continuing the relationship then subjects the members to violating a direct order, a violation of Article 92 of the UCMJ.

Fraternization is an aggravated type of an unprofessional relationship. Fraternization is a personal relationship between an officer and an enlisted member which violates the customary bounds of acceptable behavior in the Air Force and prejudices good order and discipline, discredits the armed forces, or operates to the personal disgrace or dishonor of the officer involved.

Air Force custom provides that officers will not form personal relationships with enlisted members on terms of military equality, whether on or off duty.

Factors which can change an otherwise permissible relationship into an unprofessional relationship include the members' relative positions within the organization, and the members' relative position within the supervisor and command chains.

Remember that it is the senior member's primary responsibility to maintain the professionalism of a personal relationship. Fraternization is recognized as a violation of the UCMJ.

Even if a relationship does not rise to the level of fraternization, it may still be punishable under the UCMJ as conduct unbecoming an officer, and/or addressed as an unprofessional relationship.

When people hear the term "fraternization," many immediately think of adultery or dating. However, this prohibition is gender neutral. Creating a close personal friendship that meets the elements of the offense is still fraternization, even between members of the same sex.

Adultery or dating is fraternization as between an officer and an enlisted member, but may also be an unprofessional relationship between two officers or between two enlisted members.

Beware of shared activities such as living accommodations, vacations, transportation, and off-duty interests. On a frequent or recurring basis these can be, or can reasonably be perceived to be, unprofessional. Such arrangements often lead to claims of abuse of position or favoritism.

While an occasional round of golf or game of racquetball between a supervisor and a subordinate could remain professional, daily or weekly activities could result in at least the perception of an unprofessional relationship.

Again, this is the senior military member's primary responsibility to guard against. If you have any questions or concerns regarding activities in your unit and whether or not they might constitute an unprofessional relationship or fraternization, you should contact your commander or first sergeant for advice.