Relationship between officers and enlisted

Discussion in 'Life After the Academy' started by Melitzank, Mar 27, 2013.

  1. Melitzank

    Melitzank Member

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    This is something I've been wondering about lately-no, not relationship as in dating/marriage, but as in, how officers and enlisted interact. I know they won't be best friends, but it is all formality between the ranks?

    Was just curious because I couldn't find a lot on it and was wondering.

    Does your specific job in the military change how your relations are with your men/women you're leading? (Example: Would a pilot interact differently with his/her men and women compared to a...infantry officer, say?)

    Thanks. Couldn't think of a good way to explain my question, hope I explained it well.
     
  2. LineInTheSand

    LineInTheSand USCGA 2006

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    You'll find the officer-enlisted relationship not only vary from military branch to military branch, but also vary within the services between communities.

    BUT, I won't kick this one off, someone else can, and I'll hop in later.
     
  3. Spud

    Spud BGO

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    M that is a great question and probably gets to the guts of leadership and the academies quicker than any talk of majors, grades, MOS, or any of the other things on this site. I hope this becomes a long and interesting thread. Rather than the posters trying to cover the whole gamut of interaction in each post, I would hope everybody posts a particular hot button they formed in their careers.

    I'll start with saying that as a junior officer aboard a ship I quickly learned that I did NOT give orders to my division unless it was a screaming emergency. Everything that needed to be done I talked to my leading enlisted man, a Chief, and told him the problem, asked for his suggestions, and gave him what I wanted done and when I needed it completed. It was a normal conversation like between a shop owner and his foreman. I called him by his rank and he called me by mine when it was conversationally appropriate. The "mission" was now his and he had the authority and responsibility to get it done. From that point on, I came through the compartments, looked in on the work, had the troops explain to me what they were doing, chatted a bit, and moved on. If I saw something being done wrong, unless it was safety item, I did NOT correct them but immediately found the Chief, discussed the situation and usually within minutes HE was chewing their butts and correcting things. I never went around my Chief to the men and I protected his tail from duties and encroachments on his work as he protected mine by running a top notch division. It was a great work "marriage" and I wish all my future civilian work relationships was as satisfying. When I say I never went around the Chief, I am referring to giving orders. However, there were many a boring hour on various watches that gave me an opportunity to chat with the enlisted troops and find out about them and their backgrounds and it was always a pleasant conversation. There was always a respectful appreciation of our rank differences but it was not a "formal" conversation.

    I can also add that do not think that Hollywood military movies are even remotely accurate in depicting the enlisted-officer relationship.
     
    Last edited: Mar 27, 2013
  4. USMCGrunt

    USMCGrunt Member

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    Agree with both LITS and Spud.

    It will vary by military branch, MOS, command culture, and even rank.

    What will not vary is that there is a line that is not crossed. Hard to define but both sides know it. For lack of a better term I will call it "familiarity".

    Officers will typically have a completely different relationship with a senior NCO than they will with a junior enlisted man.

    Its not boot camp and its not hanging with your friends. There is a professional respect that exists within the chain of command.

    Thats a quick answer to a much deeper question. Hope it helps. Here are two resources that give an answer from the USMC perspective (but it applies to all services)

    https://www.mcu.usmc.mil/LLeadership/LLI Documnets/Relations Between Officers and Men.pdf

    http://www.marines.com/videos/-/vid...ARINE_OFFICERS?WT.mc_id=QA_ENLISTEDANDOFFICER
     
    Last edited: Mar 27, 2013
  5. QA1517

    QA1517 Member

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    Relationship

    Let me start by saying I was never in the military. However I have had this very conversation with my father-in-law who is a 22 yr retired Marine Sgt-Major as it relates to a business world also.

    He related it to a good business relationship. You can be friendly with those under you, but at work only. It is difficult to have a friendship outside of work with those you have to give orders to and an occasional but chewing to.

    You have to maintain a professional relationship and not let personal relationships interfere with business decisions.

    That is not to say that you cannot be social outside of work, you just cannot maintain a personal relationship/friendship.

    It's a fine line, but that is what makes a good leader.
     
  6. Melitzank

    Melitzank Member

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    Thanks everyone, I appreciate everyone's stories and takes on it so far!

    USMCGrunt, thanks for the links.
     
  7. Aglahad

    Aglahad Member

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    In my roughly 6 month short tenure as a 2LT I can tell you there is a big difference between professional and social interactions with enlisted folks.

    OK

    Getting lunch with your platoon sergeant
    Getting lunch with your platoon sergeant and a couple squad leaders
    Attending a hail and farewell with your platoon sergeant
    Holding an ALL platoon get-together at your house

    Not OK

    Picking up a female SPC at a bar
    Hanging out with members of your platoon one on one
    Getting lunch with SPC Brock and PFC Lesnar
    Putting yourself in a situation that would compromise your integrity or role as the PLT leader

    From one I have seen you can be cordial and sociable but maintain your professionalism at all times.
     
  8. Jcleppe

    Jcleppe Member

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    Nice Breakdown of the basics ^^
     
  9. raimius

    raimius USAFA Alumnus

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    It is an interesting topic. There are certain bright lines that one should never cross. There are also a few grayer areas that may or may not cause problems. Now, in my experience (by the way, I'm an Lt :yllol:), there is a temptation to be social with some of the same-age enlisted that work around you. Sometimes you can be sociable, but you can't be overly friendly (e.g. if someone thinks there is favoritism or such, you went way too far). I've had guys invite me to go drinking with them on the weekend, and politely declined. There have been times where I was at a training class, and the class (just a few people) had a cook-out and traded stories over beer late into the night. I've also been part of a big group where there were mixed O's and E's out on the town. That's a bit grayer, and you need to be considerate of potential issues. That time, I enjoyed the night, but made sure I never got too drunk. I've seen people do stupid things after drinking too much! My advice is to think twice anytime you've got non-peer ranks and alcohol.

    My experience is from a more relaxed community. The vast majority have a pretty good feel for where the lines are, and can tread them pretty deftly. I think part of it is because younger CGOs and the mid-experience NCOs wind up doing very similar duties, especially in the aircraft. At the squadron, there is a lot of good-natured banter, but jokes only go so far.

    With more senior NCOs, they tend to watch out for and advise the new Lts. They often act as advisers and subject experts. For a new Lt with 100 hours of experience in an aircraft, that NCO who has 5,000 can be a HUGE help. Here, my advice is to listen more than you talk! If you disagree, ask why things are done a certain way, or if the NCO crossed a line, discuss the issue in private. I'd say 99%+ of the time, that works out pretty well.
     
  10. Melitzank

    Melitzank Member

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    Thank you Aglahad and raimius, great input!
     
  11. Christcorp

    Christcorp Member

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    As has been said a number of times, there are many different scenarios. Unlike on a ship, an air force base has a lot of separation between commands. Numerous squadrons and groups with totally separated chains of command. Add to that being stationed possibly overseas where ALL military personnel are naturally closer because of the lack of social familiarity with the locals; and you have the opportunity for a lot of "EXCEPTIONS" to what some may say ARE the rules.

    As an enlisted, I had MANY close friends who were officers. These close friends were not in my squadron or in any way in my chain of command. When stationed overseas, in Holland, I lived about 15 miles from base in a small quaint village. My next door neighbor was an O-5. He, I, and our wives became best friends. 30 years later we STILL keep in touch. Our wives shopped together; went on MWR trips together. We were at each other's house for dinner or drinking at least 2 days a week. We even started a local community theater together, and added a few other individuals (Both enlisted and officer) and we did some plays on the base together. We lived together this close for the entire 4 years while stationed together.

    But again; each scenario is different. Our jobs never really crossed paths. We rarely saw each other on base except maybe once in a while at the BX or commissary. Would it have been inappropriate if any of us were in the same squadron or chain of command? Yes. We were fortunate. I can see how on a ship, everyone is basically part of the same organization. That is even more difficult. And again; an air force station overseas, is different than when stationed stateside. Commissioned and Non-Commissioned Officers know the rules on Fraternization. They also understand the intent and purpose behind the rules. When it's a problem, it's usually quite obvious that it's a problem and such relationships should never have happened. When it's not a problem, it's also pretty obvious. I won't get into legalism. Suffice it to say, it is quite possible for an officer and an enlisted to be very close friends, and it doesn't cross the line of fraternization or impropriety. But it's also possible to not know better and to allow that line to be crossed.
     
  12. BR2011

    BR2011 USAFA Cadet

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    Size of the unit has an impact too. On the larger ships in the Coast Guard there is a pretty definite line between ranks. My experience is on smaller patrol boats where you tend to all be a little closer. Generally the O's would call the E's by their first name but the other way around was sir/ma'am or Mr/Ms X. If you follow the general rules listed above you should usually be fine though, you just have to continually evaluate the relationships to make sure you or they aren't starting to cross any lines.

    I think what gets most O's in trouble is they strive to liked rather than respected. The simple fact that you are an officer will generally draw people, especially the younger ones, to you and they will think you are cool or chill if you engage in the "shenanigans" of a normal 20-something (make inappropriate comments, get drunk, etc). The benefits of having someone like you are usually short lived because they will see you as someone they can act out or bend the rules around and you find yourself in compromising situations.
     
  13. osdad

    osdad Member

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    We interrupt this program for the following special announcement:

    DS (enlisted sailor) to younger sister (currently 2/C at NA):

    "In public you'll get the respect your rank warrants...but once we're inside the house all bets are off..." :biggrin:

    Now back to our regularly scheduled braodcast.
     
  14. Melitzank

    Melitzank Member

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    Thanks Christcorp and BR2011! Great explanations!

    osdad, that's great!
     
  15. LineInTheSand

    LineInTheSand USCGA 2006

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    Good responses. My experience will be similar to BR2011.

    My first tour was on a 210' cutter. While it's a 210' medium endurance cutter, which would be small in most services, it's a decent size for the Coast Guard. We had a wardroom (officers) of 12 and an enlisted crew of 63.

    I was the assistant operations officer, so I managed a few divisions with maybe 12-15 folks, bridge BMs, OSs, ETs and an IT. For my bridge BMs I had a chief and a few mid-level petty officers. For the rest, I had an OS1 (eventually an OSC) and an ET1. We had some good leadership. I made my mistakes Early on I bypassed by OS1, but eventually understood the errors of my ways. Our divisions were close, made even closer by a relatively difficult operations officer (my boss) we worked for.

    In their spaces the relationship was "friendly." As in "IT2 how's it going..." "Good Mr. LITS."

    I didn't have a first name relationship with my guys and I wouldn't have thought it, in that setting appropriate. I used their ratings, like BM3 or ET2. That doesn't mean they were rolling out "sir sandwiches" but generally there was a sir in there every now and then (as I used for my boss, the XO and the CO).

    After two years on a ship, in a fairly organized structure I went off to Coast Guard Headquarters where half of my co-workers were civilians, 1/4 were officers and 1/4 were enlisted. This was more of an office setting, typical of most agency HQs in DC. I still referred to my enlisted co-workers as "Master Chief" or "PA1", and I was generally "sir". Civilians were first names. Some referred to the enlisted by their ranks, but usually just names.

    In the military, specifically the Coast Guard, for me, the situation matters. As BR2011 said, the size of the unit matters. While a seaman on a 87' cutter has a closer relationship with his commanding officer, the seaman on a 378' likely rarely interacts with his captain. A small land unit, or an isolated unit, is closer than a large unit or a unit in a highly populated area.

    Even between units the relationship can vary, but the general relationships remain. It has to be professional. It has to be work-related. You should not socialize or hang out in your private life.

    As we pulled into ports, especially small ports, the officers went out with officers and the crew went out with crew. Sometimes the groups would run into each other or end up at the same bar, but it generally wasn't (nor shouldn't have been) one going out with a group of the others. Don't ignore them, by a "hey!" or "how are you guys doing tonight" is fine.

    And don't think they really want to. They work with you and there are times they don't want an officer around. They don't want to chill with their boss during liberty in a port. Don't feel bad about it. There are things that come up between officers, including disagreements or issues, that don't need to be the gossip of your enlisted shipmates.


    After saying all of that, you watch out for your shipmates. If you see a junior enlisted shipmate drinking far too much and starting to get in trouble, don't be affraid to take him under your wing and back to the boat. Or, tell one of his buddies to remove him from the situation. You're responsible for each other, officer and enlisted alike.


    Relationships are interesting though. For the Coast Guard it isn't just an "officer v. enlisted," but also variations on the relationships between different divisions or departments, the crew and the chief's mess, the chief's mess and the wardroom, the wardroom and the crew, and even members of the wardroom. I might call my buddy "Bill" in our stateroom, but on watch and when referring to him with a member of the crew, even though we went to college together and were the same rank, it's "Mr. Johnson."

    But as I said in my first post, these relationships, and the tone between the officer and enlisted ranks varies between the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard.
     
  16. USMCGrunt

    USMCGrunt Member

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    I am really pleased to see the responses and recognize the similarity between all the experiences. I really wouldn't have thought there would be disagreement about the nature of the relationship - and the posters all agree (in their own way)

    From my experience (data point one), I would say the Marines are a little tighter on this subject than the other branches. Based on my observations while training and serving with other branches, it seemed the USMC adhered to a slightly higher standard regarding "familiarity" between officers and enlisted. Neither is right or wrong, just different.

    But I want to reitterate that the essence of the relationship between officer and enlisted is the same in all the Armed Forces.
     
  17. DevilDog

    DevilDog Member

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    I was an enlisted Marine and I find your post to be correct. My best friend was an enlisted Navy Corpsman, he was always socializing with Navy officers. I thought that to be odd.
     
  18. LineInTheSand

    LineInTheSand USCGA 2006

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    Having participated in a number of joint programs, I 100% agree with this. The DOD program I coordinated the Coast Guard portion of, allowed us to hop around to a number of different bases, for each service.

    Without a doubt, the Marine Corps officer-enlisted relationship was the most pronounced where ever we went. East Coast, West Coast, north, south.... didn't matter.

    Air Force seemed to be the least pronounced. Army, Navy and Coast Guard fell somewhere in between.
     
  19. catchthefever

    catchthefever Member

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    I was enlisted and I found the most respectable and successful officers to be ones who:
    • Exhibited the confidence of a leader but the humility of someone who understands that he/she can learn something from anyone, including enlisted.
    • Understood that a Senior NCO has wisdom and experience that should not be ignored or disrespected, especially by a junior officer.
    • Understood the difference between "maintaining" the lines of separation for the sake of not compromising leadership credibility to fraternization versus "drawing" those lines because the officer thinks he/she is better than the enlisted.
    • Was friendly toward enlisted troops but not their friend.
    I also think these traits make the best business leaders and also the best parents too.
     
  20. Spud

    Spud BGO

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    Here is one for you, too. When I was in Vietnam, I was the senior advisor to a 3-4 man American advisory team to a Vietnamese river boat unit. We slept together, ate together, went on patrol together, worked together, and went on liberty together (no other Americans around). It was a LOT of togetherness and I had to make many unpopular decisions affecting everybody. From the very beginning we called each other by our Vietnamese ranks and it worked great as it allowed us to disagree and have the usual human conflicts but we used a name for each other that both was a rank but at the same time was, to our American ears, a social term. If I ever called a guy by his US rank, everybody knew I was really pissed about something and the tiptoeing around began. We still stay in touch these days and the first greeting I hear over the phone is "Hey, Dai Uy" followed by some crude remark about liberty in a local cathouse or something. It was a unique setting but even in it, we found a way to communicate like military pros.
     

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