Friday, November 28, 2014

Fraternization guidance for Junior Officers

Fraternization is one of those nasty grey areas in the Navy, especially for officers.  For junior enlisted, it's easy: hang out with E1-E6, avoid anything that is khaki, especially if it has bars or leafs on the collar.  Since there are plenty of enlisted running around a command, there are plenty of people to hang out with, become friends with, and in general enjoy your time in the Navy.

Junior officers don't have this luxury.  They are told to not hang out with junior enlisted because it violates the Navy's fraternization policy.  They can't hang out with their Chief too much (and most Chiefs won't let them anyway).  Senior officers are giving them tasking, so in most cases they avoid them.  That leaves fellow JOs, of which there aren't many.  So if you don't get along with a selection of 2% of the crew, well, it can be very lonely.

The problem here is that there is a lot of bad gouge about fraternization.  So, let's start with an instruction.  The Navy's fraternization policy is in OPNAVINST 5370.2C, which hasn't been updated since 2007, which speaks to its enduring nature.  At only 5 pages long, it's a quick read, and worth the 20 minutes it'll take to read it (you can spare 20 minutes from Facebook, trust me).  What does it say?  In a nutshell:

- Officers and enlisted will not have unduly familiar relationships.
- Chiefs (E7-E9) will not have unduly familiar relationships with E1-E6.
- Obvious examples include cohabitating, sexual relationships, and indebtedness.

What constitutes an unduly familiar relationship?  The 5370.2C doesn't try to list all circumstances, but it gives some guidance.  An unduly relationship is anything that:

(1) call into question a senior's objectivity;
(2) result in actual or apparent preferential treatment;
(3) undermine the authority of a senior; or
(4) compromise the chain of command.

I think these points should be burned into every Junior Officer's lexicon, because if what you are doing doesn't meet these points, you are probably OK.

So, let's do some examples.

1. It's Thanksgiving.  You and your wife don't have any kids, but you'd like to put on a Thanksgiving dinner and invite some of your Sailors to your house.  Are you allowed to, and if so who can you invite?

Answer: You can invite whomever you would like.  You do NOT have to invite the whole division, since you couldn't reasonably fit them in your house.

Caveat: in the future, if you hold other dinners, you should ensure that your invitations don't single out only a few individuals such that it may be perceived you like them above others.

2. You're on Facebook, and one of your Sailors invites you to be a Facebook friend. Do you accept?

Answer: It depends.  If you are their Reporting Senior, you should not, because that could be perceived as preferential treatment.  However, you are welcome to communicate over Facebook messenger and even be part of the same Facebook groups (like the command's Facebook page).  If you are not the Sailor's Reporting Senior, you could accept the request, keeping in mind if you become their Reporting Senior in the future you should unfriend them.

3. After a 12 hour watch, your watch team wants to go out to eat at a local restaurant.  Can you go?

Answer: YES!  Go and get to know your team.  However, if the team then wants to hit up the club for more than a casual drink, it's best you politely decline.

4. Your older brother is enlisted, but you are getting commissioned.  How does he have to behave around you?

Answer: He's your brother.  Nothing has changed except for your job.  In public, the two of you should be cognizant of how your actions might be perceived, so I would avoid using first names.  But at home?  Be family and enjoy each other's company.

5. Your civilian husband is watching the game at home and invites the civilian husband of one of your female enlisted Sailors.  Is that OK?

Answer: Yes, but be cautious if it becomes a regular occurrence.  Your husband isn't bound by the rules, but he could bring you into trouble if it can reasonably be perceived that his friendship with another Sailor's family is affecting your decision making process about them.  I would ask him to keep the games limited to once every two weeks as a precaution.

6.  You have a car you're trying to sell.  Can you sell it to one of your Sailors?

Answer: Yes, but you should openly advertise it and issue a receipt for the sale.  You don't want someone to accuse you of giving it as a gift, so having a bill of sale and having it openly advertised keeps you out of hot water.

7. You (female) have a Sailor (male) with a family issue that they wish to discuss in private.  Should you shut the door in your room while you listen?

Answer: Use your best judgement.  You don't want accusations that the two of you were engaged in inappropriate activity, but if your Sailor is bringing up sensitive issues, the privacy will help you focus on the issue and not have to do rumor control.  Nothing says you can't shut the door.  If you are afraid that the Sailor will do something harmful, bring in a second person.  Ask for a few minutes to think it through before deciding one way or the other.

8. You (male) get a call from an enlisted Sailor (female) saying she really wants to talk to you privately at her house because she is "having issues."  Do you go over?

Answer: First, you should advise the member that if her issue related to sexual assault in anyway she should call a victim advocate.  Assuming that is not the case, I would ask to meet somewhere public.  Privately meeting at the private residence of a member of the opposite sex could be reasonably perceived as unduly.  You can easily meet at a restaurant or other public venue where you have enough privacy to discuss the matter.  If your Sailor has serious issues, you should refer them to a clinical psychologist or therapist, because you are not allowed to keep your Sailor's matters private if they involve a UCMJ violation.

My "litmus test" for junior officers is this: if the relationship you have with a Sailor is such that you couldn't punish them at Captain's Mast for something they did wrong, you are on the wrong side of the fraternization line.  The flip side is that the Navy's fraternization policy is NOT meant to destroy camaraderie.  If you are such a stiff that your Sailors don't view you as a human being, you risk losing their trust, which will destroy your organization in the long run.