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Military Fraternization Policy Explained

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Aug. 3, 1998 – Webster's New World Dictionary says to fraternize is "to associate in a brotherly manner; be on friendly terms."

So how does fraternization apply to the military? Some forms of its practice are OK. In fact, fraternization between officers and enlisted service members is necessary for units to build teamwork. The problem comes when an officer or enlisted service member steps across a fine line and the relationship becomes too familiar.

The fraternization policy comes down to where DoD draws the lines so that bosses are bosses and the people working for them understand that, said Vice Adm. Dennis Blair, director of the Joint Staff, during a July 29 Pentagon briefing on the subject. Bosses -- whether senior enlisted or officer -- must be impartial and perceived by service members to be impartial.

"That is the big principle here," Blair said. "Our superiors in the armed forces have incredible authority over their subordinates. In war, they send them out to die. In peacetime, the superior's decisions make the difference between professional success and failure in each of our service members' careers."

He said fraternization is not limited to gender issues. Fraternization deals with any relationship between superiors and subordinates. The standards must be applied fairly or teamwork in the unit will break down. Any actual or perceived favoritism will corrode unit morale.

"So, to me, what we've done is going to reinforce the essentials of the high combat effectiveness of our military forces," Blair said. "It's going to ensure the impartiality of the chain of command, going to help us with keeping teamwork within the organization and maintain the standards which are the basis of what we do."

He gave examples of acceptable and unacceptable levels of fraternization. "You've got a division on a ship -- men, women, chiefs, officers, some mixtures of each," he said. "You're going to have a division softball game, so you all go out in the afternoon and you play."

The teams are mixed, Blair said, and all are having a good time. This is acceptable fraternization, he said.

"The game's over and now you bring out a couple of cases of beer and you have the after-game party, he said. "Everybody is there, full daylight [and they're saying] 'We won,' 'You lost,' 'I beat you,' 'I struck you out.' This also is acceptable fraternization, he said.

But if the party continues and breaks into smaller groups heading to different destinations, then those involved ought to start thinking about what the fraternization policy allows. For example, an officer asking an enlisted person out for a drink is not allowed, Blair said.

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