In November 2020, the Navy published an update to its Fraternization Policy. The new instruction, OPNAVINST 5370.2E, provides updated reporting procedures for instances of fraternization, as well as a more robust discussion section to help members navigate a determination of what relationships might violate the policy. This article is meant to offer a synopsis of the newly published instruction – a lawful general order – and to clarify what responsibilities it imposes upon all servicemembers.
The Navy has a strict fraternization policy in order to maintain good order and discipline among the ranks. “Fraternization” refers to personal relationships that fail to respect the bounds of appropriate seniorsubordinate relationships with the military structure. The Navy has long prohibited “unduly familiar” relationships within the ranks and has largely relied on tradition and custom to help members determine what kinds of personal relationships are acceptable.
There are certain kinds of personal relationships that are prohibited. These include unduly familiar relationships between an officer and enlisted member, between a chief petty officer (E-7 to E-9) and a more junior member (E-6 and below) of the same unit, or, generally, between an instructor or recruiter and a student or applicant, respectively.
- Clarification that “prohibited relationships” include personal relationships between Chief Petty Officers (E-7 to E-9) and junior personnel (E-1 to E-6) who are assigned to the same command that are unduly familiar and that do not respect differences in grade and rank. The previous instruction did not explicitly delineate this as a “prohibited relationship,” but did include a discussion of the unique role of Chief Petty Officers in a separate section. The new policy should help clarify any confusion on this issue.
- Unduly familiar relationships may exist with individuals outside one’s direct chain of command. In all cases, the key analysis will hinge on whether the relationship is prejudicial to good order and discipline or, if known, could discredit the naval service.
- Members who violate the policy cannot absolve themselves by getting married. However, a preexisting relationship or marriage may require a different result. For example, if two enlisted servicemembers are married and one member subsequently commissions as an officer, their relationship will not violate the instruction.
- The new reporting procedures explicitly require that records must be maintained through the Department of the Navy Directorate for Administration, Logistics, and Operations, Directives and Records Management Division portal page. The old instruction only mandated that records be maintained.
Generally, personal relationships between members are acceptable provided they do not call into a question a senior’s objectivity or undermine that senior’s authority, result in even the appearance of preferential treatment, or otherwise compromise the chain of command. Going to an off-duty event, like a baseball game, as a unit is probably fine. An officer going to a number of baseball games with an individual enlisted member of the unit is probably not.
All members – not just the senior member in a potential relationship – are accountable for their own conduct and adherence to the instruction. Commanding officers (COs) and officers in charge (OICs) are responsible for ensuring that members of their command are aware of, trained on, and held accountable to the policy. COs and OICs are also responsible for reporting allegations of fraternization and corresponding investigations via Navy unit situation report (SITREP) and for ensuring that no member of their command faces reprisal for reporting any such allegations.
Please contact your staff judge advocate or your Region Legal Service Office
with any questions about the Navy’s new fraternization policy and its enforcement.