Republic of Korea air force Capt. Choi Jang Geun, right, 237th Fighter Squadron pilot, gives a squadron T-shirt to U.S. Air Force 1st Lt. Samantha Latch, 25th Fighter Squadron pilot, during Buddy Wing 15-8 at Osan Air Base, ROK, Dec. 18, 2015. Latch and Choi participated in combined tactical discussions, mission briefings and debriefings during the exercise. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Dillian Bamman)
No one wants to wind up in trouble on the wrong end of a court martial for a mistake they didn’t realize they were making. That’s why it’s important for airmen to have a good grasp of the service's ethics regulations, some of the finer points of service rules and regulations, said retired Maj. Gen. F. Andrew Turley, the deputy general counsel for the Air Force and a retired major general.
Speaking to Air Force Times following an event hosted by the Air Force Association April 12, Turley said high-ranking officers, who command that with the power of command over thousands of people and oversee multimillion-dollar budgets, are more likely to encounter dollar millions of dollars, ethical quandaries are more often seen among high-ranking officers.
Yet enlisted personnel can also run afoul of ethics rules, especially often when it comes to giving or receiving gifts. Here are some general guidelines of the top tips Turley said you should follow:
1) Don't accept that first-class upgrade
As you're boarding a plane while wearing your uniform, a flight attendant comes up, thanks you for your service, and says you've been upgraded to first class. Can you accept? According to Turley, no.
"The Air Force actually has a policy that you cannot accept the upgrade in uniform," he said, though he noted many commanding officers will try to get an airman assigned to first class ahead of time if that person is traveling to or from a war zone.
However, certain benefits may be offered at and events are open to all the military members and are considered acceptable. Take, fFor example, the Air Force Association typically offers free tickets to airmen attending the annual Air Force Association’s large Air, Space and Cyber Conference held each year near Washington, D.C. AFA offers the chance for airmen to attend for free, andtThe Air Force has ruled that decided that airmen can go and accept the comped tickets for the event.
2) You can give gifts to others, within limits
As a general rule, the Air Force limits gifts from airmen to their commanders to $10. But Turley said he often counsels officers and NCOs not to accept gifts from those under their command.
"The $10 limit, it's more of what we recommend," he said. "We also tell people, if you're a superior, don't accept gifts from your subordinates. It just doesn't look right."
There are exceptions to the $10 rule, Turley said, such as those for including those exemptions made for celebrations or hospitality. If you’ve been invited to a commander’s house, it’s okay to bring a $20 bottle of wine. Likewise a small congratulatory gift is fine for someone having a child.
3) You can accept gifts from foreign governments
Despite the rules, the Air Force realizes that gift-giving is an integral part of some cultures. Rather than turning down a gift from a foreign government — potentially insulting those people in the process — the Defense Department has made an exception to the usual limits.
"The rules are different, recognizing that in many cultures an exchange of gifts … is really part of the customs and the culture," Turley said. "We want to recognize that, because the last thing we want to do, especially for our allies, is to offend."
Therefore, airmen are allowed to accept gifts from foreign governments, as long as they do it does not exceed $375 in value, he said. Any more than that, and the item or items will need to be turned over to an official Air Force gift custodian.
4) When is gift giving or receiving OK?
Certain items are exempt from the usual rules regarding gift giving or receiving. gift okay to give to others or accept yourself, and don’t break regulations on gift giving. These those include light snacks like coffee or donuts, greeting cards, certificates or trophies of little intrinsic value, and discounts, as long as they are available to all government or military employees, such as a restaurant offering a 20 percent military discount..
An aAirmanmen can also accept gifts from an individual, as long as the item does not exceed $20 in fair value, and the airmen doesn't you don’t accept gifts totaling more than $50 from that person during a period of 12 months.
The Air Force regulations don’t apply to family and personal relationships outside of military service. So if you’ve become close to your neighbors and have an ongoing friendship with them, giving and receiving gifts of any amount is fine. If, however, your neighbor is a fellow member of the armed forces, or works for a company like a defense contractor, be aware of how your gift exchange might look and question whether any ethical problems could arise from it.
5) If in doubt, ask
"If it doesn't feel right, it probably isn't," Turley said. "We tell people to trust their instincts."
Most units will have an ethics officer or other legal representative you can talk to if you have any questions about the proper course of behavior, or whether you should or shouldn’t accept a gift.
Turley said to speak with ethics counselors early and often if you have any concerns, especially because many situations are decided on a case-by-case basis. What works in one instance might be unethical in another.
"The key is, is it reasonable under the circumstances, and a lot of that is judgment," he said. "But also, when it's not reasonable, you'll know it when you see it."