Americans have the highest confidence in the U.S. Armed Forces–and for a good reason.  The armed forces instills integrity, service before self, and excellence as core values into its members.  Public service is a public trust.  To protect this trust, the United States Government expects employees to adhere to ethical principles.  While some intentionally violate the public trust for monetary or other personal gain, others unknowingly or unintentionally violate ethical standards.  Below are some examples of ethical violations when military members did not do the right thing.  And, there were serious consequences.

It is a slippery slope—best advice is to stay far away from the slope.  If you have questions, you can always ask your installation Judge Advocate (JAG) for an ethics opinion.  But–do this before doing something that is unlawful or questionable.  If you think you may have already violated the ethics regulation, talk to a Defense Counsel.  Don’t seek the advice of the installation JAG after the fact.

Violations of ethics rules can result in courts-martial, civilian prosecutions, administrative discharge, non-judicial punishment, loss of rank for enlisted members (through non-judicial punishment) and retirement in a lower grade for officers through an officer grade determination (OGD).

Below are cases of misconduct involving military members.  They are short extracts of the summaries made public by the Department of Defense.  Reading these extracts will hopefully allow you to spot the ethical issues.

  • A military officer advocated to increase funding for a government contract. While doing this, he was seeking employment with the contractor.  If you are seeking employment with a company, you should disqualify yourself from the particular matter.
  • A military officer extended official government trips and claimed travel expenses to go on job interviews during his official travel. You cannot use government duty time to conduct personal business.
  • A military officer used his personal credit card instead of his government credit card so that he could receive bonus points or air miles on his card. .
  • Military members in a unit set up a Fantasy Football League. Participants in the league used government computers and contributed $20 to participate in the league. The funds would then be used to buy lunch for all of the participants.  Even though this occurred during lunch, it is considered gambling in the workplace and is prohibited.
  • A military officer received a bottle of expensive liquor during an official trip and failed to report it to the government. Always check with your installation judge advocate on the types of gifts you can and cannot accept.
  • A military officer who was going TDY asked one her employees to make a reservation for her mother on the same flight. This was a misuse of Federal resources, including personnel and equipment for official purposes.
  • Military members extended their official TDY to attend a golf tournament following their official duties. They used government transportation and got travel pay for the day of the tournament.  Attending the golf tournament was not part of the official trip.  They misused Government property and time.
  • A military officer traveled on official flights in business class, adding thousands of dollars in government expenses by using non-contract carriers and flying business. He used the non-contract carriers so he could get frequent flyer miles on his personal frequent flyer program.
  • Military officers sent an email to members of their command “expecting attendance” at certain Association events. This was improper as ethics rules prohibit official endorsement of non-Federal organizations.

The above violations could have been prevented if the military members sought legal advice before the misconduct.  In some cases the misconduct was intentional.  However, in some cases, the misconduct was not obvious to the member.  To be safe, get legal advice first.  Why take a chance and risk your career once you’ve made it to the top.

Ferah Ozbek is a retired from the United States Air Force where she served as an active duty judge advocate for over 20 years.  She continues to practice military law and represents military members and veterans who are facing injustice.  She specializes in helping military officers respond to Officer Grade Determinations.  To learn more about how Ferah can help you, you can send her an e-mail at [email protected] or direct message her on LinkedIn.  Visit Ferah’s website at