The Air Force and Army by instruction have the ability to issue Letters of Reprimand without an Article 15, UCMJ (nonjudicial punishment proceeding). The Air Force characterizes a Letter of Reprimand as an administrative tool to correct rather than punish behavior, even though a Letter of Reprimand will have a lasting impact on the military member’s career.
By definition, a Letter of Reprimand is an official, written censure for performance or personal conduct issues that degrade the individual and unit’s mission. The decision as to whether to issue a Letter of Reprimand is based on the nature of the incident/behavior and the prior disciplinary or counseling record of the member. A Letter of Reprimand may be issued after a single, isolated incident or be part of a graduated pattern of counseling in response to failures to correct behavior. Importantly, a Letter of Reprimand can be issued without any violation the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Finally, there is no set “standard of proof” and no rules limiting the type of evidence (hearsay, written statements, anonymous reports) that can be used to issue a Letter of Reprimand. The Air Force recommends commanders apply a “preponderance of the evidence” standard to determine if a departure from Air Force standards or an incident of misconduct occurred. “Preponderance of the evidence” means that it is more likely than not that the departure/incident occurred.
A Letter of Reprimand must comply with the requirements of Air Force Instruction (AFI) 36-2907. It should be in writing following the format in the instruction. It must be specific as to the basis for the Letter of Reprimand and the improvements that must be made by the recipient.
The recipient of the Letter of Reprimand must be read the letter and acknowledge receipt of the letter. The recipient is given a copy of the letter and informed that, if active duty, he or she has 3 duty days to submit a response. In my experience, additional time is liberally granted, especially if the recipient of the Letter of Reprimand is working with an attorney to draft a response. Once the recipient submits his or her response to the Letter of Reprimand, the commander will make a final decision as to withdraw the Letter of Reprimand, modify it (thereby triggering another response), or keep it as written.
A strong response to the Letter of Reprimand will challenge the basis for the letter and explain why a Letter of Reprimand is too serious of an action for the alleged infraction. It should include documentary evidence as attachments rebutting the basis for the letter and establishing the recipient’s meritorious record of service. I have also included video and audio evidence in responses.
In the Air Force, a Letter of Reprimand that is not withdrawn by the commander is usually placed in the member’s Unfavorable Information File (UIF). For officers, a Letter of Reprimand will trigger an Officer Selection Record (OSR) determination. During that process, the commander will determine whether to submit the Letter of Reprimand to the officer’s record that will be viewed during the promotion boards. This process is detailed in AFI 36-2608.
The best way to minimize the impact of an Air Force Letter of Reprimand is to convince a commander to withdraw it or reduce it to a less severe form of censure, such as an oral or written counseling.
Attorney Patrick Korody has successfully defended Air Force members from Florida to Alaska facing administrative and disciplinary action. He is a former Navy JAG and has practices military law for more than 15 years. He offers a free consultation and can be reached at (904) 383-7261.