Army told to end relationships between officers, enlistees Pentagon directive aims at establishing universal policy among services

July 30, 1998|By Tom Bowman | Tom Bowman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF Sun staff writer Tanya Jones contributed to this article.

WASHINGTON -- The Pentagon ordered the Army yesterday to end its 20-year policy of allowing personal relationships between some officers and enlisted soldiers, throwing cold water on both romances and friendships.

The change will bring the Army into line with the Marines, Navy and Air Force, which prohibit any personal ties between officers and enlisted ranks, regardless of their sex, said Defense Department officials.

Defense Secretary William S. Cohen said a consistent policy was necessary in a time when the services are finding themselves stationed and fighting together in joint operations.

Allowing only Army personnel to date or have personal relationships created different standards that are "antithetical to good order and discipline and are corrosive to morale," Cohen wrote in a memo yesterday to service chiefs and other top Pentagon officials.

Cohen said the new policy would prohibit such personal relationships as "dating, shared living accomodations, engaging in intimate or sexual relations, business enterprises, commercial solicitations, gambling and borrowing between officer and enlisted, regardless of their service."

"This change will not affect existing marriages," the defense secretary added. There are 1,000 marriages between officers and enlisted personnel among the 480,000 on active duty, and another 1,200 marriages among the estimated 850,000 in the Army National Guard and Army Reserve, said Army officials.

The Army has 30 days to come up with draft regulations and 60 days to devise a training plan. But Army officials said privately that it could likely be another six to eight months before any permanent changes are made, giving Army personnel involved in now-prohibited relationships time to comply with new policies.

The Army allowed personal relationships as long as they were not between officers and enlisted personnel in the same command and did not violate good order and discipline.

"We have a 20-year culture we're going to have to change," said one Army officer. "We don't know how we're going to implement this. If we have 1,000 married couples, at least that many people out there are dating."

The Army may have to create some type of grandfather clause for serious relationships that include pending weddings or engagements, said the officer. "What do you do with people? Have them give back an engagement ring?"

Asked how current romantic relationships would be affected by the new regulations, Undersecretary of Defense Rudy De Leon told reporters, "We'll obviously be working with the Army." He said "common sense" would guide the way such relationships would be affected by policy changes.

One such Army relationship involves a 27-year-old female specialist at Walter Reed Army Medical Center dating a sergeant first class at Fort Knox, Ky. Shopping at the Fort Meade post exchange yesterday, she told of her plans to attend officer candidate school in January. Since the couple is already talking about marriage, the new regulations will not likely force them into a decision, she said.

She doubts other officer-enlistee couples she knows will make hasty decisions because of the new regulations. "I don't think people are going to get married because of that," said the soldier, who requested anonymity. "They'll just keep things more covert."

Behind the scenes, the Army tried to retain its policy. "The Army did not roll over on this issue," said Col. John A. Smith, an Army spokesman. "We presented our views, and they were considered."

The current Army policy, addressed in Army Pamphlet 600-35, "Relationships Between Soldiers of Different Rank," came about in 1978 when the Women's Army Corps disbanded and female soldiers were integrated into the Army in greater numbers.

"Women began to associate with their male counterparts in integrated units," said the pamphlet. "Relationships -- especially dating -- between soldiers of different rank are a reality, and a predictable consequence of more women entering the armed forces.

"Dating between soldiers of different rank is not harmful, and is usually not improper," the pamphlet continues, offering numerous dating scenarios that are either allowed or prohibited since they constitute fraternization.

Fraternization is punishable by a maximum of two years in prison and a dishonorable discharge for enlisted personnel and dismissal from the military for officers.

In June 1997, Cohen ordered policy reviews on fraternization and adultery, after a spate of sexual harassment cases involving trainers and young female recruits, principally at Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland. There were also several adultery cases, in particular those of Air Force Lt. Kelly Flinn and Air Force Gen. Joseph Ralston.

Pub Date: 7/30/98

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