Air Force fraternization policy is contained in Air Force Instruction 36-2909, Professional and Unprofessional Relationships.
General. Professional relationships are essential to the effective operation of all organizations, both military and civilian, but the nature of the military mission requires absolute confidence in command and an unhesitating adherence to orders that may result in inconvenience, hardships or, at times, injury or death. This distinction makes the maintenance of professional relationships in the military more critical than in civilian organizations. While personal relationships between Air Force members are normally matters of individual choice and judgment, they become matters of official concern when they adversely affect or have the reasonable potential to adversely affect the Air Force by eroding morale, good order, discipline, respect for authority, unit cohesion or mission accomplishment. Professional relationships are those interpersonal relationships consistent with Air Force core values: integrity first, service before self, and excellence in all we do. Military members understand that the needs of the institution will sometimes outweigh personal desires. This guidance focuses on the impact of personal relationships on the interests of the Air Force as an institution. The guidance set forth in this instruction is based, in part, on the custom against fraternization that has been a part of and enforced within the American military for over 200 years.
Professional Relationships. Professional relationships are those that contribute to the effective operation of the Air Force. The Air Force encourages personnel to communicate freely with their superiors regarding their careers, performance, duties and missions. This type of communication enhances morale and discipline and improves the operational environment while, at the same time, preserving proper respect for authority and focus on the mission. Participation by members of all grades in organizational activities, unit-sponsored events, intramural sports, chapel activities, community welfare projects, youth programs and the like can enhance morale and contribute to unit cohesion.
Unprofessional Relationships. Relationships are unprofessional, whether pursued on or off-duty, when they detract from the authority of superiors or result in, or reasonably create the appearance of, favoritism, misuse of office or position, or the abandonment of organizational goals for personal interests. Unprofessional relationships can exist between officers, between enlisted members, between officers and enlisted members, and between military personnel and civilian employees or contractor personnel. Fraternization is one form of unprofessional relationship and is a recognized offense under Article 134 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ).
Fraternization. Fraternization, as defined by the Manual for Courts-martial, is a personal relationship between an officer and an enlisted member that violates the customary bounds of acceptable behavior in the Air Force and prejudices good order and discipline, discredits the armed services, or operates to the personal disgrace or dishonor of the officer involved. The custom recognizes that officers will not form personal relationships with enlisted members on terms of military equality, whether on or off-duty. Although the custom originated in an all male military, it is gender neutral. Fraternization can occur between males, between females and between males and females. Because of the potential damage fraternization can do to morale, good order, discipline, and unit cohesion, the President specifically provided for the offense of fraternization in the Manual for Courts-martial
Military experience has shown that certain kinds of personal relationships present a high risk of becoming unprofessional. Personal relationships that are not initially unprofessional may become unprofessional when facts or circumstances change. For example, a close personal relationship between officers or between enlisted members can easily become unprofessional if one member becomes the commander, supervisor or rater of the other. Air Force members, both officer and enlisted, must be sensitive to the formation of these personal relationships, as well as the possibility that relationships that are not initially unprofessional may become so due to changed circumstances.