Fraternization in the Coast Guard

An up-to-date assessment of fraternization policy and best practices for Coast Guard personnel

Building rapport and trust between officers and enlisted members is essential to the proper functioning of America’s guardians, the Coast Guard. Respect and communication are the foundations of this proud military institution, and maintaining this foundation is paramount to the organization’s success. 

There are however occasions when an officer of the Coast Guard becomes too invested in a particular relationship with one or more enlisted service members.  These types of relationships can impair an officer’s judgment and neutrality, and undermine the unit’s ability to trust one another and function together. 

Relationships between officers and enlisted which become too familiar have a name in the military—fraternization.  Fraternization can have terrible repercussions, which is why it’s essential that officers understand the Coast Guard’s fraternization policy and avoid certain relationships that could destroy their careers. 

What Is Fraternization in the Coast Guard?

The Military does not consider all relationships formed between service members to be of value to the institution.  Certain relationships, according to the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), actually impair the military’s ability to maintain order and discipline in the ranks.  These types of personal relationships—when formed between an officer and an enlisted member—are considered acts of fraternization by command, and they can have a serious impact on an officer’s military career. 

An officer accused of fraternization may not see the threat to his or her position or career right away.  He or she may not understand why accusations were made in the first place. Officers interact with enlisted service members all the time, and many of these interactions take place while service members are off duty.  Forming bonds makes for a stronger unit. And according to that logic, the charges are probably a big misunderstanding. 

Unfortunately, charges of fraternization are rarely considered a misunderstanding by military prosecutors.  Officers are charged with fraternization all the time and for the most seemingly benign of reasons. Even the perception of bias—such as having a beer with one enlisted service member but not another—could lead to charges of fraternization.  The offense considers a broad spectrum of actions and interactions and lowering your guard just once as an officer may be all it takes to be accused of an unprofessional relationship. 

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Where Can I Find Information About Fraternization Policy in the Coast Guard?

Coast guard boatInformation on fraternization in the military can be found in a handful of places.

The two most important for the Coast Guard include the Manual for Courts Martial, and Commandant Instruction Manual, or COMDTINST, of which many publications are available. 

  • General offenses for fraternization in the military are found under Article 134 of the UCMJ.  You can find the Manual’s 2019 version here
  • Information relevant to fraternization in the Commandant Instruction Manual can be found here under Chapter 2: Conduct.  

Professional vs. Unprofessional Relationships in the Coast Guard

The Coast Guard seeks to maintain a professional work environment, one which “fosters mutual respect among all personnel, and in which decisions affecting personnel, in appearance and actuality, are based on sound leadership principles.

Professional relationships between officers and enlisted members should be clearly defined, with enlisted members respecting the officer’s requests, and officers remaining impartial and unbiased toward those service members in his or her charge.  

All too often, however, personal bonds begin to interfere with a unit’s ability to trust one another.  Unprofessional relationships could be seen as an interaction between an officer and enlisted which:

  • Jeopardizes the members’ impartiality,
  • Undermines the respect for authority inherent in a member’s rank or position,
  • Results in members improperly using the relationship for personal gain or favor, or
  • Violates a punitive Article of reference (a), Uniform Code of Military Justice, 10 U.S.C. § 801 – 946 (as amended), or
  • Violates any lawful order, regulation or policy regarding inappropriate and prohibited relationships, communications, conduct or contact established by the competent military authority.

Interpersonal relationships are incredibly varied, and the Coast Guard makes clear that unprofessional relationships can form from any number of interactions.  Some of the most likely types of interactions that cause unprofessional relationships include:

  • Personal relationships are non-intimate, non-romantic associations between two or more people such as “occasional attendance at recreational or entertainment events.
  • Romantic relationships that are sexual or amorous in nature.
  • Certain unaccepted or prohibited relationships that violate Service policy or the UCMJ. 

The Consequences of Fraternization in the Coast Guard

Officers in every branch of the armed forces—Coast Guard included—are regularly blindsided by accusations of fraternization each and every year.  These officers may not understand what they did wrong, or why their military career is suddenly hanging by a threat. Only once they realize the full extent of what a conviction could do to them do they begin to take the threat seriously.

Sentencing for fraternization is no laughing matter.  Some of the harshest possibilities include:

  • Dismissal
  • Forfeiture of all pay and allowances
  • Confinement for up to two years

If you’re afraid that a fraternization charge could destroy your military career, then we highly recommend seeking out a professional military defense attorney with a proven record for winning such cases.

UCMJ Fraternization From Other Branches of the Military

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

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