Officer Enlisted Relationships and Air Force Fraternization Policies

Military couple
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The Air Force fraternization policy is contained in Air Force Instruction 36-2909.

The Air Force places a high value on professional relationships within its ranks, which are vital to the functional effectiveness of the service. The Air Force work environment differs greatly from what you find in a civilian work environment, with missions involving difficult challenges, hardships, and the potential for injury and even death. As such, unit cohesion, morale, good order, ​​discipline, and respect for authority are essential to mission success.​

What a Professional Relationship Is in the Air Force

Professional relationships encourage communication between members and between members and their superiors. This boosts morale, focuses on the mission at hand, and preserves respect for authority. The Air Force defines a professional relationship this way:

Professional relationships are those interpersonal relationships consistent with Air Force core values: integrity first, service before self, and excellence in all we do. Military members understand that the needs of the institution will sometimes outweigh personal desires.

Personal Relationships and the Air Force Mission

Normally, personal relationships of Air Force members are ones of individual choice and judgment. However, if a personal relationship becomes a problem that affects the functioning of a unit, it ceases to be personal and becomes an official concern. These are considered unprofessional relationships. Fraternization is considered an unprofessional relationship. The Air Force defines unprofessional relationships in this way:

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. 

What Fraternization Is in the Air Force

The Air Force frowns on personal relationships between officers and enlisted members, both on and off-duty. Those engaging in fraternization can be brought up on Uniform Code Military Justice (UCMJ) charges. A relationship is considered fraternization even if the parties are in different units, different commands, or even different branches of service. Fraternization is defined in the Manual for Courts-martial as:

A personal relationship between an officer and an enlisted member that violates the customary bounds of acceptable behavior in the Air Force and prejudices good order and discipline, discredits the armed services, or operates to the personal disgrace or dishonor of the officer involved...Officers must not engage in any activity with an enlisted member that reasonably may prejudice good order and discipline, discredit the armed forces or compromise an officer's standing. The custom against fraternization in the Air Force extends beyond organizational and chain of command lines. In short, it extends to all officer/enlisted relationships. 

Any of the following actions or behaviors are considered fraternization. Officers are prohibited from:

  • Gambling with enlisted members
  • Lending money to, borrowing money from, or otherwise becoming indebted to enlisted members. Exceptions to this are infrequent, non-interest-bearing loans of small amounts to meet exigent circumstances.
  • Engaging in sexual relations with or dating enlisted members. The Air Force definition of "dating" is broad, covering not only the traditional idea of dating as a prearranged, social engagements but as anything that is more contemporary and would "reasonably be perceived to be a substitute for traditional dating."
  • Sharing living accommodations with enlisted members. Exceptions are when it is reasonably required by military operations.
  • Engaging in business enterprises with enlisted members on a personal basis. This includes a solicitation for sales to enlisted members. 

Marriage and Fraternization in the Air Force

Marriage in and of itself is not considered to be fraternization or misconduct, and some situations exist that may be technically defined as fraternization, but these are exceptions. For example, the commissioning of a civilian who is married to an enlisted.

But getting married does not shield service members from charges of fraternization. A relationship that begins between an officer and an enlisted member who then marry can still be considered fraternization, as the relationship was initiated contrary to Air Force custom.