The Army—and all branches of the military—maintain specific rules about fraternizing. The policy has been updated in throughout the years to reflect and better define acceptable and unacceptable relationships. The goal is not to discourage soldiers from having any interpersonal relationships, or to prevent team-building among units, but to avoid unfair treatment and the appearance of unfair treatment between an officer or NCO and his subordinates.
Part of the challenge of writing and understanding the Army's policy is that "fraternizing" is sometimes used to mean an inappropriate or prohibited relationship when all three are different.
Relationships to Avoid in the Army
Essentially the rules seek to prevent inappropriate relationships between higher-ranking personnel and their subordinates. Relationships of the same and opposite genders are prohibited if they fall into any of the following categories:
- 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
Such relationships don't have to be sexual in nature to be prohibited. For instance, if an officer is spending more time with one of his subordinates than others, the appearance of favoritism could certainly arise. And an officer who spends time with subordinates in social settings, or who calls subordinates by their first names, for example, may bring his authority or fairness into question.
Other Prohibited Relationships in the Army
Some relationships between certain categories of soldiers, such as non-commissioned officers and enlisted personnel, are also prohibited under the Army's fraternization policy.
These can include ongoing business relationships; dating or shared living accommodations (other than those necessary to Army operations) and sexual relationships; and gambling, where one soldier may end up owing another money. Such relationships were not specifically covered under the Army policy until recently but were considered unwritten rules.
Business Among Troops
And there are some situations where the above rules don't apply. For instance, the "business relationships" clause doesn't apply to a landlord-tenant relationship, and one-time transactions like the sale of a car from one soldier to another are allowed.
But the borrowing or lending of money and ongoing business relationships are not allowed among soldiers and NCOs.
Soldiers who are married prior to joining the military are exempted from the anti-fraternization policy as well.
Also, any relationship between permanent party training personnel and soldiers not required by the training mission is prohibited. Army recruiters are also prohibited from having personal relationships with potential recruits.
Consequences of Violating Fraternization Policies
Commanders who discover violations of fraternization policy must choose the appropriate punishment. It may include counseling, reprimand, an order to cease, reassignment for one or both of the soldiers involved, administrative action or adverse action.
More serious consequences could include nonjudicial punishment, separation, barring reenlistment, denial of a promotion, demotion, and even a court-martial.
The best course of action for any Army personnel who's unsure of the specifics of the fraternization policy is to ask. Ideally, a soldier would consult a superior officer or a member of the staff judge advocate legal assistance team before engaging in a relationship that might be against the rules.