Administrative Sanctions in the U.S. Military

Judge bangs his gavel.

In addition to judicial and nonjudicial actions, commanding officers can elect to choose among several administrative sanctions for those who break the rules.


Commanders and supervisors have the authority to counsel subordinates. Counseling can be both positive (atta-boy) or negative (don't ever do that again). Counseling can be either verbal or written. Unfortunately, in the military, positive counseling is usually verbal (creating no record), while negative counseling is often written (which can then be used against youlater, if you don't change your behavior).

Written counseling is often called a letter of counseling, and a copy is usually filed in your military records, which may affect future promotionsor assignments.

Reprimands and Admonitions

Reprimands and admonitions are basically a chewing out. They almost always appear in writing in order to create a record that can be used to justify future disciplinary action if your behavior doesn't improve.

Administrative Reduction in Rank

It doesn't take a court-martial or Article 15 action for a commanding officer to take away a stripe. Commanders are the ones who approve enlisted promotions before you sew another stripe on, and they can also deny promotion, or — even worse — take rank away from you.

Administrative reductions are usually (although not always) a result of long-term problems, such as failing in training, being overweight, or failing to pass repeated fitness tests.

Administrative Discharge

The most serious administrative punishment is undoubtedly the administrative discharge. The civilian equivalent is "you're fired." However, when you're discharged from the military, you're given a discharge characterization, which can affect your future employment opportunities for the rest of your life. Possible discharge characterizations are

  • Honorable: If you complete your military service or you're discharged early through no fault of your own, your characterization will probably be honorable. This type of characterization usually doesn't negatively affect future civilian employment and entitles you to veteran benefits, if you are otherwise qualified.
  • General (Under Honorable Conditions): This is the second type of administrative discharge characterization. It means most of your service was okay, but some problems did occur. Usually, you're still entitled to many veteran benefits, but some employers may question you about why you "got fired" from the military.
  • Other than Honorable Conditions (OTC): This discharge means you got "fired" from the military for doing something very, very bad and were probably lucky to escape a court-martial. Veteran benefits are usually not authorized, and you may find it hard to get a good civilian job.
  • Bad conduct: This is a punitive discharge. By a punitive discharge, I mean it can only be imposed as a punishment by a military courtmartial. This type of discharge can be imposed by either a special or general court-martial, following a finding of guilty for a military offense. Individuals with a bad conduct discharge are not eligible for most veteran benefits, and future employers may stare at them in disbelief.
  • Dishonorable discharge: The most severe type of punitive discharge, it may be imposed only by a general court-martial, following a finding of guilty for a serious criminal offense. It's usually accompanied by a lengthy stay in a military prison. Those with dishonorable discharges are not entitled to veteran benefits and will definitely have problems finding a civilian job.

From Basic Training for Dummies, copyright © 2011 by Wiley Publishing, Inc., Hoboken, New Jersey. Used by arrangement with John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Show Full Article