Fraternization in the Army

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

Maintaining order and discipline within the ranks is one of the highest priorities of Army officials and officers.  It is the job of an officer to provide fair, impartial, and just treatment to all enlisted service members under his or her charge. 

At the same time, building relationships between soldiers is essential for the morale of a unit.  And this leaves some officers with a serious problem. What constitutes an affront on Army standards between officers and enlisted soldiers?  What are officers allowed to say or do with enlisted soldiers, and what could get him in trouble with his command? 

Fraternization is the term used to describe unlawful behavior between an officer and enlisted soldiers.  This guide looks into the Army’s policy on fraternization and provides detailed information on what fraternization is, who it applies to, and what the consequences are if a soldier is found guilty of it. 

What Is Fraternization in the Army?

When a commissioned or warrant officer of the United States Army interacts with an enlisted soldier, it is expected that the officer maintains a certain etiquette and level of decorum as befits his or her superior rank.  Fraternization is any act by an Army officer which creates the perception of equality between himself and another service member of an enlisted rank. 

Fraternization is a broad offense that includes many different interactions between officers and enlisted service members.  Dating, showing favoritism, gambling, and loaning money to enlisted members are just some of the reasons why an officer would be accused of fraternization. 

Where Can I Find Information About Fraternization Policy in the Army?

Up-to-date fraternization policy for the Army can be found in the Manual for Courts-Martial as well as the most recent Army Regulation materials. 

  • Article 134 governs all acts which are deemed prejudicial to the good order and discipline in the Army.  Elements and sentencing related to fraternization can be found under Article 134 by visiting the corresponding section of the Manual for Courts-Martial.
  • Information specific to the Army’s fraternization policy can be found in the Army Regulation materials (600-20) under Chapter 4: Military Discipline and Conduct.

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What Types of Relationships are Off Limits in the Army?

As stated previously, fraternization encompasses a broad set of relationships, actions, and interactions between officers and enlisted service members.  Officers should be cognizant of how they pursue individual relationships with subordinates, or how their actions and words might lead to the perception of favoritism and partiality. 

Certain relationships between soldiers of different grades should never be pursued for any reason. AR 600-20 defines the following five prohibited relationships:

  1. Compromise, or appear to compromise, the integrity of supervisory authority or the chain of command.
  2. Cause actual or perceived partiality or unfairness.
  3. Involve, or appear to involve, the improper use of grade or position for personal gain.
  4. Are, or are perceived to be, exploitative or coercive in nature.
  5. Create an actual or clearly predictable adverse impact on discipline, authority, morale, or the ability of the command to accomplish its mission.

In addition to these relationships, certain personal relationships are not to be pursued.  These personal relationships include:

  • Ongoing business relationships (with the exception of landlord/tenant relationships or one-time commercial activities such as a sale)
  • Dating and/or sexual relationships
  • Gambling between officers and enlisted personnel

The Consequences of Fraternization in the Army

If a soldier is accused of fraternization, he or she may face an NJP or even a court-martial.  Sentencing for fraternization can be severe and may include dismissal from the armed forces along with forfeiture of all pay and allowances, and confinement for 2 years.  So taking steps early on to mitigate the risk of a conviction is important. 

In practice, not all relationships are prohibited by the Army.  Far from it. Officers are invited to form bonds with enlisted service members and may even be encouraged to do so to maintain morale.  According to the Manual for Courts-Martial:

“Not all contact or association between officers and enlisted persons is an offense. Whether the contact or association in question is an offense depends on the surrounding circumstances. Factors to be considered include whether the conduct has compromised the chain of command, resulted in the appearance of partiality, or otherwise undermined good order, discipline, authority, or morale.” 

In other words, circumstances surrounding the relationship play a significant role in whether or not fraternization actually took place.  And in many cases, defining a relationship can be a difficult task for the prosecution.

That’s why it’s important to consult an attorney right away if you’ve been accused of fraternization.  Doing so quickly could save your military career, your freedoms, and your future.

Fraternization From Other Branches of the Military

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

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