Fraternization in the Air Force

An up-to-date assessment of fraternization policy and best practices for Air Force personnel

Every Air Force Officer knows the importance of keeping up morale and communicating with the enlisted airmen under their charge. A great officer is there to empower and guide their fellow airmen, to help them achieve their military goals, and to get them out of rough spots when the need arises. 

Sometimes, however, these relationships become personal in nature, and according to the Air Force, may interfere with the military’s order and hierarchy. The Armed Forces call this offense fraternization, and it can have a serious impact on an airman’s career. 

The question then becomes, what kind of relationships does the Air Force consider as fraternization? What should officers avoid to ensure fraternization doesn’t happen to them? And if they’ve already been accused of fraternization, what can they do to fight back?

What Is Fraternization in the Air Force?

Commissioned or Warrant Officers of the U.S. Air Force are held to a higher standard of military professionalism and are thus restricted in the types of relationships they can have with enlisted service members. When an officer fails to uphold that strict level of professionalism in his or her military relationships, he or she may be subject to the offense of fraternization. 

The Air Force takes charges of fraternization seriously, and officers are accused and convicted of this crime every year, from every branch of the military, even for the most minor infractions.

Because certain relationships have the potential to cause dissension in the ranks or create feelings of favoritism or prejudice, it is considered to be among one of the most serious charges of the UCMJ, with heavy consequences if an officer is convicted. 

Fraternization policy encompasses many types of relationships, actions, and interactions between officers and enlisted airmen. Dating, gambling, and loaning money are considered some of the reasons why an officer would be accused of fraternization. 

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Where Can I Find Information About Fraternization Policy in the Air Force?

Airman with an american flag in the backgroundOfficers and enlisted soldiers who are interested in the U.S. Military’s fraternization policy may access the Manual for Courts-Martial for free online at any time.

Alternatively, Air Force personnel should review the latest Air Force Instructions for Professional and Unprofessional Relationships, which is also free online with no releasability restrictions. 

  • General offenses for fraternization in the military are found under Article 134 of the UCMJ. The most recent edition of the UCMJ can be found here
  • Updated fraternization policy specific to the Air Force can be found in the Air Force Instruction 36-2909 under Professional and Unprofessional Relationships. 

Professional Relationships Vs. Personal Relationships

Air Force Policy Directive 36-29 establishes “command, supervisory, and personal responsibilities for maintaining professional relationships in the Air Force between Air Force members.” It also outlines prohibitions that apply to officers and details what unprofessional relationships look like between recruiters and recruits or applicants. 

Here’s what the Air Force considers a professional relationship:

“Professional relationships are those interpersonal relationships consistent with Air Force core values: integrity first, service before self, and excellence in all we do. Military members understand that the needs of the institution will sometimes outweigh personal desires.”

Communication, respect, and impartiality are all considered hallmarks of the Air Force’s policy on professional relationships. Speaking about careers, performance, duties, and missions are topics that the Air Force believes forms a professional bond between officers and enlisted airmen. 

According to Air Force literature, relationships are unprofessional when…

“…when the relationship detracts from the authority of superiors or results in (or reasonably creates the appearance of) favoritism, misuse of office or position, or the abandonment of organizational goals for personal interests.”

These unprofessional relationships may include:

  • Sharing living accommodations with enlisted members, barring certain exceptions during military operations. 
  • Traditional dating and sexual relationships, including those of a more casual nature, such as one night stands. Marriage will not protect airmen from being prosecuted for fraternization. If dating began while the enlisted was under the charge of the officer, then accusations of fraternization can still be leveled against them.
  • Gambling between officers and enlisted airmen
  • Lending to or borrowing money from enlisted service members
  • Regularly attending personal outings with enlisted service members, such as going to movies, bars, or other events, even when an officer is off duty. 

The Consequences of Fraternization in the Air Force

Failure by Regular, Reserve (active or inactive duty for training), and Air National Guard military members to observe the mandatory provisions regarding fraternization in the Air Force are subject to a violation of Article 92 of the UCMJ, as well as Article 134: Fraternization

Even if the accusations of fraternization against you are weak, or you know those accusations to be full-blown lies, that will not protect you from Office Hours or a court-martial. Your advancement in the Air Force could be in serious jeopardy. And if you’re convicted in a military court, you could face up to two years in prison, and be forced out of the military with a dishonorable discharge. 

Any accusation of fraternization is serious, which is why we always recommend having a proven military defense attorney to review your case and assess the threat that the accusations pose to you.

Fraternization Policies From Other Branches of the Military

Find out more about fraternization under these branches of the military:

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