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Military Missteps: 10 Surefire Methods to Mangle Your Military Career

Updated on November 12, 2016

As a former military paralegal, I wrote Article-15s and took part in court-martials more likely in fiction than fact. But every one of them began with monstrous missteps that ended in shameful discharges, reductions in rank and often prison time.

So what are the ten surefire ways to end your military career?

Drug Use

Zero tolerance in the military means zero tolerance. Get caught even once and your career is done. Period. It doesn't matter if you are the star troop of your platoon or squadron-there will be no leniency. None.

My first run-in with Military Justice was with my own troop. He was to be awarded with his Below-the-Zone stripe. For those that do not know what this is-it's where an outstanding airman is given a stripe six months earlier than his or her peers. This step-up allows for early pay increase as well as earlier testing for Staff Sergeant in the Air Force.

My troop got heads-up about this award and decided to celebrate that evening with his first and only taste of cocaine. The next day, there was a random drug urinalysis in an attempt to nab someone else.

They got him instead.

In one day he went from Airman-Below-the-Zone to The Accused. His career was officially over a month later. He was the squadron's star troop and its biggest disappointment.

Government Travel or Purchase Card Abuse

People get crazy with credit cards. But abuse Uncle Sam's credit card and you might end up making big rocks into little rocks. I've had people purchase anything from burgers and fries to new houses and businesses with their Government Credit Cards. They are all treated with the same result: reduction in rank, discharge and/or a reprimand.

Drinking and Driving

As much as the military goes out of its way to help troops with such programs as Dial-A-Ride, Taxi-Free, First Sergeants, Commander-on-Call, there is never a shortage of troops getting busted for DUI. While you may not get kicked out of the military for it, it will put your advancement in rank to a screeching halt. Commanders do not like being embarrassed, and all information about this goes to his or her boss and even higher.

If you are marked as a problem, you will be fixed. Permanently. So please, call somebody. Believe me when I tell you a commander rather come get you at the bar than stand in front of his or her general with you in full dress uniform to explain why you were so stupid. Three of my former supervisors ended their careers at the ten, fifteen, and nineteen-year mark with dishonorable discharges because of DUI. One year from retirement and nineteen yers wasted over a bottle of beer.

Failure to Go and AWOL

This is a favorite among the younger troops. Just because your supervisor said go to a certain place or be back at a certain time, doesn't mean you can't just go home and sleep right? Why yes. Yes it does. Duty time is duty time, not go to the store time for the rest of the day. Also, being On-Quarters means you stay home in bed because you are sick. It doesn't mean you get a free pass to go to the mall.

Financial Irresponsibility

This is another favorite among younger troops. Just because the government will pay for your missteps doesn't mean they won't take it out of your hide later. If you don't have the money, don't write the check, don't overcharge your BX/PX card, and don't avoid speaking to those creditors. If you do, they will call your First Sergeant and Commander next. After all, they know where you work. Commanders want to keep in good relations with the community. If certain businesses refuse to deal with the military because of your actions, you will be made an example. On that note, please avoid those loan or fast cash businesses. They will just get you into deeper trouble.

Underaged Drinking

This was my most common Article-15 writing topic and some of my craziest experiences. Young, drunk and dumb equals dishonorable discharge. One of my peers was getting her NCO of the Year Award in front of the entire base when I had to call her to my office. Her troop decided to honor her with a little booze, got drunk in his living quarters, got naked, urinated on the stairway on a woman who did not appreciate it, got arrested and attempted to escape via the third-story balcony still naked and handcuffed. He landed on his head, but was so drunk he suffered only a fractured hip. At least his supervisor was already properly dressed to see the Base Commander.

If you are under 21, please don't drink.

False Official Statement

This is the military's fancy way of saying you are a liar. While this may not end your career off the bat, it is where most troops begin their downward spiral. Don't lie. There is an old saying that is very true in the military: It is better to ask forgiveness than permission. While I'm not saying to do something illegal, just don't lie. And if someone read you your rights, shut up! Ask to speak to a lawyer or the Area Defense Council. Anything you say after the Miranda Rights WILL be used against you. Trust me on that one.

Disrespect or Dishonorable Behavior

Just because your supervisor or commander is a jerk doesn't give you the right to say it to his or her face. Suggesting you go "toe-to-toe" with him or her to settle a disagreement might work in the movies, but not in the modern military. Yes, I've written an Article-15 on that too. Remember this phrase if you have doubts about what you are about to say and your emotions are out of control: With all due respect.

It will save you later.


But if you take a swing at your peers or supervision, nothing is going to save you. No matter how mad you get, walk away or state you must walk away from the situation. If you are assaulted by your supervisor or peer, do not fight back. Yes, seriously. If you do, both of you will suffer the punishment. Self-Defense in assault is never as effective as it sounds in a Court-Martial. If you can get out of the situation, walk away. You may have saved your career.

Abuse of the Government Computer

This means you surfed for inappropriate images or received inappropriate images via e-mail. It's pornography and usually happens with older Non-Commissioned Officers who are bored on a late-night shift. Idle hands mean idle fingers and web searches. And even if you delete all those cookies, internet history, etc? Guess what? Your communication people keep track of all of it in their own database. The moment you hit certain sites, it flags the computer to the guy watching all activities.

So, even if you are the computer monitor for your people-and you think you got away with it-believe me, you didn't. Yes, that was another Article-15.

Remember that even with the international conflicts of today, the U.S. military is still downsizing and kicking people out to make their numbers. Troops are expensive, and if you give them a legitimate reason to remove you-Military Justice will do just that.

Don't give them a reason to end your career on terms that will haunt you for the rest of your life. Remember an Article-15 and/or a Court-Martial conviction is a Federal Conviction.

And that's forever on your permanent record.

Think about it.


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