Dear Ms. Vicki,
With the creation and rise of joint bases, especially in metropolitan areas, base/post housing fills fast and often waiting lists are long. In these situations, officer and enlisted personnel are not so easily separated.
I recently received a new next-door neighbor. He is not in my command chain. In fact, he is in a different branch of the service.
The UCMJ and a number of policies and guidelines address fraternization, customs and courtesies. However, I have not come across anything that addresses being an officer with an enlisted neighbor.
I see my neighbor only during off-duty hours. I had a great relationship with my previous neighbor (an officer). We addressed one another by our first names.
When I met my new neighbor, he was in civilian clothes, so I didn't know he was enlisted. He walked up just as I exited my vehicle and said hello. Without pondering on it, I gave him my first name and we shook hands.
Now I am wondering if I should have just introduced myself by Rank/Last Name and simply said, "Hello and welcome."
The next time I see him, how should I address him? Is it too late to switch to Rank/Last Name?
I really want my family to have a good/appropriate relationship with the new neighbor and his family. How should I proceed?
Sincerely, Officer Who Doesn’t Want To Be A Jerk
I don’t think you are trying to be a jerk at all. This is the first time you have been in this situation, that’s all.
I think this will be a more common situation because of all of the changes that you mentioned in your letter and with privatized housing.
Here’s my question: When you met your neighbor, were you in civilian clothes too? I was thinking of situations when we lived on post, attending an outing with our children or just hanging outside of my home.
My husband would be talking to someone cordially, not knowing who they were or what rank they had. Eventually, he would meet them in uniform and realize they were higher rank, and he would greet them appropriately.
I think your neighbor will do the same to you when he realizes you are higher rank, without you saying anything.
In my position, I’m a spouse and I don’t wear rank. I have friends who are service members of all ranks. My spouse friends are married to officers and enlisted. Our sons went to school with the kids on post and played with them too.
I say that because your wife and your neighbor’s wife could make a connection. If you both have children, your children could play together. Now, if you are uncomfortable with that, it’s your choice.
Again, I don’t think you’re a jerk. I just think this is a first-time experience for you that I hope will be a positive one for you and your family.
Thank you for reading the column and for writing me. Your support means a lot. Keep in touch and let me know how everything evolves.
Sincerely, Ms. Vicki