Bullying in the Army

Bullying in the Army

December 23, 2023

Bullying in the Army is regulated by AR 600-20, paragraph 4-19.  Also regulated by this paragraph is hazing and discriminatory harassment. Violations of this paragraph are punitive, and therefore can result in many different types of punishment (discussed later in this article).

Bullying in the Army, which the Army characterizes as a form of harassment, is defined as "acts of aggression by Soldiers or DA Civilian employees, with a nexus to military service, with the intent of harming a Soldier either physically or psychologically, without proper military authority or other governmental purpose."  The Army clearly states that bullying in the Army can be indirect or subtle and can be done with electronic devices, such as with social media.

Bullying in the Army will be judged on a reasonable person standard, meaning that the Commander/JAGs will consider whether an objective reasonable person would consider whatever happened to be bullying. The following examples are provided by AR 600-20, paragraph 4-19:

  • Physically striking another person or threatening to do so;
  • Intimidating, teasing, name calling, mockery, threats of violence, harassment, taunting, social exclusion, isolating, manipulating, blackmailing, and spreading rumors. Often times this can include a power differentials, which could include a rank disparity, position disparity, physical size difference, or social standing disparity;
  • Oral or written berating of another person with the purpose of belittling or humiliating;
  • Encouraging another person to engage in illegal, harmful, demeaning, or dangerous acts;
  • Playing abusive or malicious tricks;
  • Branding, handcuffing, duct taping, tattooing, shaving, greasing, painting, hitting, spitting on, shoving another person;
  • Subjecting another person to excessive or abusive use of water;
  • Forcing another person to consume food, alcohol, drugs, or any other substance; and,
  • Degrading or damaging another's property or reputation

Furthermore, the Army's bullying policy makes it clear that Soldiers will still be held accountable, even if the victim of the bullying consents to the behavior in question.

The following activities are explicitly excluded from being bullying in the Army, when authorized by the chain of command:

  • The physical and mental hardships associated with operations or operational training;
  • Lawful punishment imposed pursuant to the UCMJ;
  • Administrative corrective measures, including verbal reprimands and command-authorized physical exercises;
  • Extra military instruction or corrective training that is a valid exercise of military authority intended to correct a Soldier's deficient performance in accordance with  AR 600-20, paragraph 4-6;
  • Physical training (PT) and remedial PT; and,
  • Other similar activities that are authorized by the chain of command and conducted in accordance with this or another applicable regulations;

Leaders in the Army, who are charged with enforcing discipline, often have to walk a fine line as their conduct could easily be characterized as bullying OR legitimate military discipline.  Disgruntled subordinates can, and often do, report their supervisor for bullying simply because they do not like having the standard enforced. The Army has informally adopted a policy of investigating every allegation made to them through the use of a 15-6 investigation. Investigating Officers (IOs) are usually inexperienced and tend to lean towards substantiating allegations that they are investigating.  For officers, any substantiated finding from a 15-6 investigation will be uploaded into the Army's Adverse Information Program (AAIP) Database. Furthermore, for both Officers and Enlisted Soldiers/NCOs, a substantiated finding of bullying in the Army can result in a GOMOR, Article 15, Referred OER, referred NCOER, administrative separation (enlisted), officer elimination (officer), and even a Court-Martial if the conduct in question is extreme enough.

If any Officer, NCO, or enlisted Soldier is under investigation for bullying in the army, or is facing adverse action (i.e. GOMOR, Article 15, referred OER/NCOER, or separation/elimination), it is imperative that they consult with an experienced military lawyer. Proper representation during an investigation can result in an allegation being unsubstantiated. Furthermore, proper representation when responding to an adverse action can result in a GOMOR being locally filed/rescinded, a not guilty finding at an Article 15 proceeding, or an Officer/Enlisted Soldier being retained through the separation/elimination process.  Officers, NCOs, and Soldiers do have Trial Defense Services (TDS) at their disposal; however, they are typically overworked and inexperienced.  Civilian Lawyers can be retained, which gives the Soldier in question the option to choose his/her counsel and vet their background, experience, results, and client testimonials.

This article was written by Attorney Matthew Barry.  Contact him today for a free consultation.