Administrative Sanctions in the US Military

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A gavel rests on a judge's desk.
A gavel rests on the judge’s bench in the courtroom of the 39th Air Base Wing legal office at Incirlik Air Base, Turkey, Nov. 14, 2019. (Staff Sgt. Joshua Magbanua/U.S. Air Force)

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

Counseling

Commanders and supervisors have the authority to counsel subordinates. Counseling can be positive (attaboy) or negative (don't ever do that again). It can be oral or written. Unfortunately, positive comments are usually oral (creating no record) while negative ones often are written (which can be used against you later if the behavior doesn't change). A copy of what is called a letter of counseling usually is filed in your military records, which may affect promotions or 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 approve enlisted promotions before you sew another stripe on, and they also deny them 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 probably will be honorable. This type of characterization usually doesn't affect future civilian employment negatively and entitles you to veteran benefit, if you otherwise qualify.
  • General (under honorable conditions): This is the second type of administrative discharge characterization. It means most of your service was OK, but some problems occurred. 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 usually are not authorized, and you may find it hard to get a good civilian job.
  • Bad conduct: This is a punitive discharge that only can be imposed as a punishment by a military court-martial. 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 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.

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