Leadership Ideas, Information and News

Saturday, May 04, 2013

Relationships impact Air Force at the most basic level

by Scott Prater
Schriever Sentinel

5/1/2013 - SCHRIEVER AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- Perception is reality.

That phrase can serve Airmen well if they contemplate its meaning prior to entering or continuing a relationship.

Periodically, the 50th Space Wing Staff Judge Advocate reminds Airmen about the difference between professional and unprofessional relationships because these concepts can have a profound impact on the Air Force at its core.

Air Force Instruction 36-2909 defines both terms and sets guidelines for service members to follow throughout their daily life -- in and out of uniform.

"Professional relationships are those that contribute to the effective operation of the Air Force," said Maj. Erika Lynch, 50 SW deputy judge advocate. "The Air Force encourages personnel to communicate freely with their superiors regarding their careers, performance, duties and missions. This type of communication enhances morale and discipline and improves the operational environment while, at the same time, preserving proper respect for authority and focus on the mission. Participation by members of all grades in organizational activities, unit-sponsored events, intramural sports, chapel activities, community welfare projects, youth programs and the like can enhance morale and contribute to unit cohesion."

The instruction also defines unprofessional relationships.

Relationships are unprofessional, whether pursued on- or off-duty, when they detract from the authority of superiors or result in, or reasonably create the appearance of, favoritism, misuse of office or position, or the abandonment of organizational goals for personal interests. Unprofessional relationships can exist between officers, between enlisted members, between officers and enlisted members, and between military personnel and civilian employees or contractor personnel. Fraternization is one form of unprofessional relationship and is a recognized offense under Article 134 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice or UCMJ.

"The reason it is so important for service members to consider these concepts is because the lines can gray in so many circumstances," said Lynch.

Relationships can create confusion. People involved may believe they are perfectly professional, yet their coworkers or unit members may see that same relationship in a different light.

"Say for example an officer in a leadership position routinely plays racquetball or golf with one of his subordinates," said Lynch. "The officer and his subordinate believe their relationship is professional, but others in the unit may view their interaction and begin linking other outcomes to that relationship. If that subordinate has earned recent awards or is perceived to have received favorable treatment, his coworkers may have a case for reporting the relationship as unprofessional to commanders or investigators."

This is one of many examples where crossing a line may not actually have happened among the parties involved, but others in the unit could perceive that it has.

There are a lot of areas where relationship concepts come into play: fraternization, dating and close friendships, living accommodations, social clubs and relationships with civilians and contractors.

"Enlisted service members should be careful too," said Lynch. "There's a common misconception that officers, alone, are responsible for heeding fraternization guidelines, but enlisted members can be disciplined for these type of offenses as well."

When 50 SW judge advocate staff deliver briefings on the topic they implore service members to contemplate professionalism before interacting with other members or civilians.

"Unprofessional behavior can quickly erode an office or a unit," said Master Sgt. Karana Rice, 50 SW/JA superintendent. "With this in mind, we all have a responsibility and duty to make sure that we are setting the proper example in everything we do. There will be instances, where you will find yourself being buddies with an individual one day and supervising them the next, and find yourself having to draw that line. The bottom line is, there is a common sense factor. We have to avoid relationships that negatively affect morale and remember, professional relationships are consistent with Air Force values."

When in doubt or questioning a proper course of action regarding their own relationship, Airmen can seek advice from the 50 SW/JA office or from their leadership.

"We talk about the concept of 'Perception is Reality,' Lynch said. "How a relationship is viewed by others is important and has far reaching effects to the unit. Many times, it serves an Airmen well to approach their supervisor or squadron leadership to explain circumstances and clear up any misunderstandings."

On the other side of the issue, Lynch also pointed out that Airmen may be conflicted about the best course of action when they suspect an unprofessional relationship may be occurring in their unit. She recommends Airmen use their chain of command when dealing with such a scenario.

She said the Air Force considers unprofessional relationships seriously and that discipline for offenders can be severe, even to the point of Article 15 punishment and courts martial, depending on the level of the offense and the offenders.

For more information on the topic, visit or call the 50 SW legal office at 567-5050. The full AFI can be found at the Air Force e-publishing website. Type "AFI 36-2909" into the search bar.

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