John knew it was wrong when it happened, but it happened and now he was going to pay for his actions. John’s wife told his biggest, darkest secret to his first sergeant and he is now facing possible discharge from the Army. He had an affair and now his 20-year Army career is dangling by a thread.
Even though John is a fictional character, his story isn’t so far fetched in today’s military. Adultery in American culture is sadly not uncommon. We see it in politics, we see in Hollywood and we see it in real life. The military isn’t shielded from it either, however, the military deals with adultery a little more strictly than the civilian populace.
According to the Uniform Code of Military Justice, adultery is a crime and the military penalty is pretty harsh. A servicemember can face up to a year in confinement plus a dishonorable discharge, which mean a loss of retirement pay. “But a Soldier’s odds of facing such punishment are slim, at least if adultery is all they’re charged with. In fact, courts martial on adultery charges alone are almost unheard of; the charge is usually added to a list of other crimes, like failing to obey orders, lying to a superior, or sexual misconduct,” explained Brendan Koerner who in 2003, wrote the story ‘What Happens to Cheating Soldiers?’
Lt. Col James Bagwell, chief of Military Justice for XVIII Airborne Corps and Fort Bragg, agrees.
“Even though it’s a criminal charge, normally we don’t prosecute,” Bagwell explained. “There’s normally other charges involved like drug use or other misconduct.”
Just as any investigation, proof is what seals the deal. Without the proof that the act was performed, the military can’t charge a Soldier with the misconduct.
“Adultery is very hard to prove,” said Bagwell. “Adultery, according to UCMJ, Article 134, (is when) the accused wrongfully had sexual intercourse with a certain person when the accused or the other person was married to someone else. Unless there is an eyewitness or the accused confesses, it’s very hard to get viable proof.”
Not only does viable proof have to be presented, according to Article 134, proof of the Soldier’s conduct has to be found to have been “to the prejudice of good order and discipline in the armed forces or was of a nature to bring discredit upon the armed forces.” Basically, did the conduct of the Soldier hamper their ability to their job or damage the public’s view of the armed forces.
“If a Soldier confesses or the conduct is proven, the punishment is handled administratively. A letter of reprimand will be given, in which case the Soldier can respond to it if they want. Once the letter is given back to the filing officer, that officer will determine if it’s recorded on the Soldier’s permanent record or not,” explained Bagwell. “In generality, most letters of reprimand sent to a Soldier’s permanent record affects schooling and promotion boards and ultimately may end his or her Army career … Sometimes charges can be administered locally, in which case it won’t be filed on his or her permanent record. It really depends on a case by case basis.”
There’s no secret that angry spouses looking for blood during nasty divorces have provided hunches or far-fetched accusations to hurt their Soldier’s career and the military does understand fairness. When allegations are given, an investigation will be conducted and the accuser will have to provide proof. However, the military only deals with the Soldier. If the Soldier is found guilty and the spouse wants further action, it then becomes a civil matter and he or she will have to look outside the military for help.
“Commanders can restrict movement of their Soldiers if the Soldier appears to be a threat to his or her spouse,” added Bagwell.
According to an executive order signed by former President George W. Bush, “adultery is clearly unacceptable conduct,” and went on to explained a number of factors that commanders should take into consideration before going through with a court martial. Some of the factors included the accused Soldier’s rank, the impact of the affair on the involved parties’ job performance and whether any of the misconduct took place while the accused was on the job. This is where adultery won’t be the only misconduct charged and a number of other charges can be tacked on like fraternization, misuse of government facilities, etc.
Adultery doesn’t just happen. Little issues in a marriage can lead up to an affair and ultimately divorce. The Army offers many programs to help Soldiers’ marriages thrive. Counseling, support groups, and other programs are offered through Army Community Service, chaplains, and Womack Army Medical Center.
For more information on marriage counseling, visit www.fortbraggmwr.com/acs/ or call your unit’s chaplain. Don’t ruin your career like John did — seek help.