Thursday, March 4, 1999

Army’s policies on
fraternization getting
strictly personal

By Gregg K. Kakesako


Staff Sgt. Kimberly Ramsey believes the Army's new fraternization policy goes too far when it prohibits relationships between officers and enlisted soldiers who are not in the same command, or even in the same service.

"I don't think rank should have anything to do with it, especially if the two people are not in the same command," said Ramsey, a 12-year Army veteran stationed at Fort Shafter.

As the Army closes ranks with the other services by barring personal or business relationships between officers and enlisted soldiers, the change is troubling many in uniform.

Until recently, the Army had a more liberal policy than the other services. While the Air Force, Marine Corps and Navy banned romantic relationships between officers and enlisted ranks, the Army allowed them as long the people involved were not within the same organization.

That has changed, and the days of allowing Army officers and enlisted ranks to be business partners, lovers and even close friends are over.

Many active-duty soldiers, like Ramsey, believe the old policy of forbidding fraternization only within the same organization was adequate.

That Army policy permitted relationships between officers and the enlisted ranks as long as the people involved were not in the same chain of command.

However, high-profile adultery cases and sexual wrongdoings between Army drill sergeants and female recruits at Aberdeen Proving Ground (Md.) training camps led last year to a review of the four services' adultery and fraternization policy by Defense Secretary William Cohen.


The new Army rules went into effect March 1. They prohibit any new romantic relationships be tween officers and enlisted soldiers. If the relationship existed before March 1, the couple has until March 1, 2000, to decide whether to break up, marry or leave the service.

The new policy rules out dating, engagement and marriage between officers and enlisted soldiers, but does not affect existing marriages.

It restricts practices such as lending money or entering into long-term business partnerships. Business relationships, which were allowed under the old policy, are exempt until March 1, 2000. The new policy does not prohibit transactions such as selling a car or renting a house.

It does contain certain exemptions, especially one raised by the Army Reserve.

The Army Reserve wanted its part-time citizen soldier ranks excluded when the "personal relationship is outside of marriage and due mainly to civilian acquaintanceship" or "civilian association."

Howard Sugai, Pacific Army Reserve spokesman, said the new rules could have had a major impact on the Army Reserve here because many of its 3,000 reservists have personal or business relationships outside of the military, such as being in business together or serving as volunteers in the same Boy Scout organization.

"It would appear that these business relationships could continue," Sugai said.


Active Army soldiers interviewed about the policy questioned the need to extend the fraternization ban beyond a soldier's current chain of command.

One 16-year Army enlisted soldier who asked that his name not be used labeled the new policy "shameful" and devised by "senior officers at higher levels who forget what it was like to be at the bottom."

"They don't seem to care ... If I was single and an officer and I wanted to date an enlisted soldier outside of my command, I don't think I should be prohibited. The Army can't tell you who to fall in love with."

But Pentagon officials believe stricter rules are needed on fraternization to control personal relationships that could harm what it calls "unit cohesions" essential for "good order and discipline."

At Fort Shafter, Spec. Bernard Powell, a supply specialist, said he believes the rule forbidding dating or marrying someone outside his organization is not right.

"I don't see why the two couldn't marry if they didn't work together," said the New York native.

Maj. Dan Perrotta, 37, a budget analyst and an 18-year veteran, said: "I don't believe in it. It will only work if it is within a person's chain of command."

Perrotta noted that he and Sgt. 1st Class Mark Ruhl, 45, work together in the same building and frequently have lunch together.

The ability to meet together socially is "what's good about the Army. That's the way you build 'esprit de corps' and unit cohesiveness."

Ruhl, who will retire as senior finance noncommissioned officer with 22 years in June, noted that in the Army "you're supposed to develop respect for people, not just for their rank."

Perrotta said expanding the definition of fraternization is "unfortunate."

"It creates a bad situation for all of us because some people don't know where to draw the line. It will create an atmosphere where we have to walk a tightrope, and that's not productive."

Ruhl and Perrotta said officers and enlisted personnel "do socialize after hours" at their Fort Shafter office. That could be prohibited under the new Army rule.

Ramsey, 30, has socialized with female officers when the duty day was over.

"A lot of the officers I know are the same age as me," the personnel supervisor said. "You know how to separate work and pleasure. In the office, you address the officer as 'sir' and 'ma'am'. You know the distinction."

Fraternization is punishable by up to two years in prison. In addition, enlisted personnel face a dishonorable discharge, and an officer could be dismissed.

Sgt. 1st Class Tom Stewart, a Panama war veteran, said soldiers who are assigned to the same unit and marry can be "detrimental to the combat readiness of the unit."

But Stewart, 38, said he is worried that the policy might end such popular practices as "right arm nights," in which officers and enlisted soldiers meet after duty hours for drinks.

"Officers and enlisted soldiers relate at a human level in these settings," said Stewart, who has participated in many of these informal sessions during his 16 years in the infantry.

The Army said "right arm nights" will be permitted because they deal with unit morale.

However, an officer meeting with his favorite sergeants or other enlisted soldiers for beers, poker or dinner could be treading on dangerous ground.

The same would be true for officers and enlisted soldiers socializing after playing together on a company sports team. Participation on the team would be acceptable, while the after-hours beer bust would not.

Stewart also wonders about his relationship with an officer he befriended when the officer was an enlisted soldier.

"Now I am godfather to his daughter," Stewart said. "How does the fraternization impact on that relationship?"

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