Dear SpouseBuzz: Can He Hang With Those Below His Rank?


Dear SpouseBuzz: We are a fairly new military family. My husband is an officer and recently promoted to O2. We have been at this current duty station for the last few months, and I've made some very good friends. Two of them are married to enlisted soldiers who are not in my husband's branch, unit, or brigade. However, he refuses to spend time with my friend's husbands in a social setting. Both are E5. While I understand there are rules as to acceptable personal relationships between the two, I'm very confused about what is considered appropriate in this case.  Doing research increased my confusion, as the rules seem very vague and non-specific. I appreciate any guidance.

Sincerely, A confused spouse

Dear Spouse: One of the trickiest parts of military life for new spouses is the rank issue, but I think you've already done an awesome job figuring out how it applies to you: it doesn't. Bravo to you on knowing that good friends can be found anywhere, not just in your own housing area on base.

But try as we might to ignore rank in our own friendships, it does impact our families whether we like it or not. Rank is the work structure under which our service members operate. It is central to good order and discipline in the military -- the very backbone of the chain of command. Your husband knows that hanging out in a social setting with soldiers in his unit who he may have to someday command in battle isn't allowed. Those rules are there to make sure everyone has the right respect for the authority of those they, in theory, should look up to (whether or not those people are always deserving of that respect is a totally different and unrelated discussion).

Rank may not apply to spouses, but it can impact who their service members want to hang out with socially. But should it? (Photo: U.S. Army/Spc. Karen Sampson.)

So how does that rule against fraternization impact your husband and hanging out with your new friends who aren't in his chain of command? Sadly, the answer isn't cut and dry. Technically speaking, the rule applies to everyone -- not just soldiers in his unit. But in practice, most soldiers do not treat it that way. The soldier in this house, for example, has no problem hanging out with lower enlisted soldiers who are not in his unit (and does so regularly, particularly through our church). But if that person was in his chain of command we would have to somewhat put on the brakes. Technically speaking, the Army bars relationships between enlisted and officers that "compromise the chain of command," "cause partiality or unfairness" or "create an adverse impact on discipline, authority, morale or mission accomplishment," among other things. Whether or not a relationship does any of those has to be determined by your soldier (or, if he gets in trouble, by his boss).

For your husband, in my view this is more an issue about individual feelings than right or wrong -- and your respect for the feelings he has. Regardless of whether or not he's clear to do so, if hanging out with those folks makes your husband uncomfortable, than maybe you should consider not pushing him to do it out of respect for his ability to sort through this issue. Maybe in a few years, after he's been in the military a little longer and figured out how to navigate social situations without worrying about rank, he'll feel differently. But for now my best advice is revert to compassion for him.

Sincerely, Amy


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