Relationships Between Soldiers of Different Rank
2 August, 2012 Leave a comment
This is the first of several articles related to Customs and Courtesies. Additional articles will be forthcoming. If you are new to the VCA, or if you have been away from Active Duty for a considerable length of time, you need to read these.
The following is a historical perspective of military relationships from DA Pamphlet 600-XX. A supplement to AR 600-20, paragraphs 4-14 through 4-16.
Many VCA members with out prior service, or those who do not actively participate are often surprised by the way we communicate with each other, and the Chain of Command. The following attempts to explain the reasons from a military perspective, but it boils down to two basic reasons.
1. Custom protected the officer from situations where undue familiarity would undermine command authority and thereby threaten the good order, morale, or discipline of the unit.
2. It also protected the enlisted soldier from unprincipled officers who might take advantage of rank and position.
1-4 Historical perspective
a. Leaders always have judged soldier relationships with the assistance of the customs and traditions of the Service. The military custom on fraternization forbade undue familiarity between officers and enlisted soldiers. It was said, “familiarity breeds contempt.” While certain relationships–gambling with, drinking with, or borrowing money from enlisted soldiers–were specifically forbidden, most relationships were judged by the effects of the relationship. Custom protected the officer from situations where undue familiarity would undermine command authority and thereby threaten the good order, morale, or discipline of the unit. It also protected the enlisted soldier from unprincipled officers who might take advantage of rank and position. The custom regarding fraternization has always been primarily directed at officer-enlisted relationships.
b. The custom against undue familiarity was based on class distinctions, as well as discipline, since officers in theory came mostly from the “upper class.” World War II had a profound impact on the officer corps of the Army. The wartime officer corps was much more representative of the total population than was the pre-war corps. While officers and enlisted soldiers still did not associate together in mutual social activities, rank distinctions no longer brought to mind class distinctions. The custom also changed slightly during the conflicts in Korea and Vietnam. The following two major aspects remained:
(1) The major focus on officer-enlisted relationships.
(2) The concept that officers and enlisted soldiers should not associate on a basis of military equality, thereby adversely affecting good order and military discipline.
c. It is difficult to predict which relationships–strong friendships, parent-child, sibling, career, business–an create adverse effects. Many judgments are “after the fact” and are “in the eye of the professional,” since they judge the results of the relationships and not the relationships themselves. This does not mean the commander needs to wait until something happens in order to act on a relationship. Professional soldiers consider some relationships, like social relationships in a training environment or involving the chain of command, as having so much potential for abuse or having such a damaging effect on morale or discipline that these are consistently held to be improper.
d. Our custom acknowledges that leadership and obedience are founded in sincere, deeply held emotional bonds. Leaders affectionately care for their soldiers, and soldiers hold deep, caring affection for their leaders. Building these emotional ties is a mark of good leadership. Neither leader nor follower ought to act in ways which corrupt or abuse these bonds.
For the full pamphlet please see DA Pamphlet 600-35