Beware: Perception is reality

SPANGDAHLEM AIR BASE, Germany -- Have you ever been at a bar, club or party and scratched your head thinking, "I thought that was her boss," "What is the Air Force coming to?" and "What has happened to the policy on professional and unprofessional relationships?"

Nothing has happened to the policy -- as a matter of fact, Air Force Instruction 36-2909, Professional and Unprofessional Relationships, has remained unchanged since May 1, 1999. The only major revision since May 1996 version was the inclusion of specific prohibitions on formal training relationships and prevention of unprofessional relationships in such environments.

What would you think if you read this headline, "General weds two striper?" Unfortunately, the reality is some of the relationships and situations we find ourselves in are no more than an arm's length away from potentially having a damaging impact on your organization and the entire Saber family, just as a general marrying an airman would.

What do you think about the following incidents that are neither funny nor fictitious? 

· A female major introduces herself to two male senior airmen in a hotel during a temporary duty assignment. They later make plans to go out to a few bars. All three return to the hotel after a night of drinking and continue to drink in an Airman's room. The evening concludes with all three engaging in sexual activity. The events of the evening resulted in charges and allegations of rape, sodomy, adultery, fraternization and the list goes on. 

· A male captain and a male airman first class secure a hotel room together so they could go drinking away from the installation. When town patrol entered a bar they were in, the captain fled into the female restroom. Questioning reveals the captain has both member's identification cards and the only hotel key. They are both taken into custody because they are drunk and out past curfew. These events lead to an inconclusive inquiry of homosexual activity with both members receiving reprimands for various violations. 

· A female Airman exhibits a flirtatious attitude toward a male second lieutenant in her chain of command. She sends the lieutenant text messages, one of which states "What do officers younger than me do on the weekends?" The flirtatious manner and texts are ignored until the lieutenant gives the Airman instructions at work of which her response is "no." The Airman's behavior is addressed by way of an Article 15. 

· A male staff sergeant attends a party at a male airman first class's house. The sergeant leaves the party accompanied by two other airmen first class and an unidentified third party. He encounters two female airmen first class at a local club where he proceeds to grope and verbally harass them. The sergeant admits to drinking five to six beers prior to this incident taking place. He is punished via Article 15 for wrongful sexual contact and conduct below the expectation of a non-commissioned officer.

Sabers please put down the beer, wake up and smell the coffee! I highlighted a few cases of unprofessional relationships/inappropriate behavior that should and could have been avoided. These relationships and behaviors led to incidents that brought discredit upon the members and the units involved. I think you would agree beyond a shadow of a doubt, these events adversely affected the Air Force by eroding morale, good order and discipline, respect for authority, unit cohesion and mission accomplishment.

The Air Force believes personal relationships between members are normally a matter of choice; however, they become a matter of concern when they have the potential to negatively impact any of the areas previously mentioned. The potential to impact these key areas are not always based on facts; sometimes the mere perception of a relationship can have the same damaging effect.

I grew up in a military where a chief could and would sit down with a young staff sergeant at the enlisted club and share wisdom. In many instances this was done while drinking a beer or two. However, that chief didn't get drunk and belligerent, nor did that chief take the staff sergeant to his house for a drunken party.

Our leadership does not desire for us at any rank to be unapproachable or afraid to engage with members of varying ranks. Wing leadership strongly desires for us all to take advantage of mentorship opportunities, which involve the ability to talk and socialize appropriately. However, this needs to be done without losing sight of our military obligations and limitations based on rank and position.

I have grabbed some key excerpts from AFI 36-2909, but please read it in its entirety for further guidance and understanding. 

 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. 

 Fraternization is 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. 

 Sharing living accommodations, vacations, transportation and off-duty interests on a frequent or recurring basis can be, or can reasonably be perceived to be, unprofessional. 

 Examples of activities that may result in an adverse impact on morale, discipline and respect for authority are gambling or partying with subordinates, soliciting or making solicited sales to subordinates and entering into business ventures with members who are junior in rank, grade or position.