In addition to the more serious discipline tools under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, commanders and supervisors have a diverse set of administrative tools to assist them in correcting inappropriate behavior. Counseling, admonitions, reprimands, and extra training are tools that, while they derive their status and authority from the unit commander, are usually delegated down the chain to the supervisory level.
Such administrative actions are sometimes called "nonpunitive measures." The use of nonpunitive measures is encouraged and, to a degree, defined in the Manual for Court Martial, R.C.M. 306(c)(2), which states:
Administrative action. A commander may take or initiate administrative action, in addition to or instead of other action taken under this rule [e.g., NJP, court-martial], subject to regulations of the Secretary concerned. Administrative actions include corrective measures such as counseling, admonition, reprimand, exhortation, disapproval, criticism, censure, reproach, rebuke, extra military instruction, or the administrative withholding of privileges, or any combination of the above.
Other administrative actions available to a commander include matters related to fitness reports, reassignment, career-field reclassification, administrative reduction for inefficiency, etc.
Counseling. Counseling can be good or bad (or neither good nor bad, but rather "informative", "instructive", or "preventative.") Counseling can be formal or informal, and can be verbal or in writing.
A "pat on the back" would be an example of a "good" counseling; its purpose is to reinforce positive behavior.
A "mild chewing out" would be an example of a "bad" informal counseling, its purpose to prevent a recurrence of inappropriate behavior.
In truth, most military folks are probably counseled to one degree or another several times per day.
When most military people think about counseling however, they usually think about the more formal, written counseling.
You might hear a military person say, "I received a letter of counseling, because I was late for work." This means that the individual's supervisor noted inappropriate behavior, talked to the individual about the behavior, solicited input or a response from the individual concerned, and provided avenues or methods to correct the deficiency. In some of the services, a "letter of counseling" is also known as a " letter of instruction."
Some of the branches have pre-printed forms to document a counseling session, but many supervisors prefer to document a counseling session using "letter format," hence the name, "Letter of Counseling," or "Letter of Instruction."
While the effects of a single counseling session are not all that significant, one should be aware that counseling which documents inappropriate behavior can be used against an individual at a later time, for example in support of an administrative demotion action, administrative separation, or in justifying lowered performance evaluations.
Admonitions and Reprimands. The only difference between an admonition and a reprimand is the degree of censor. A reprimand is more severe than an admonition. As with counseling, admonitions and reprimands can be verbal or can be in writing. When they are in writing, they are often referred to as a " Letter of Reprimand," or a "Letter of Admonition," or sometimes a " Letter of Caution."
Unlike counseling, admonitions and reprimands are "censors." It means one did something wrong and one is getting chewed out for it. Records of admonitions and reprimands can be filed and later used to justify more serious measures, such as nonjudicial punishment actions, administrative demotions, and administrative separations.
A note here about providing written responses to counseling, admonitions, and reprimands: Such responses become an attachment to the original document, and if the document is later used to support an administrative demotion or administrative discharge, one's response will be available for view by the approval authority, who may use such response to make a judgment on the person's attitude and professionalism. Whining, making excuses, unsubstantiated statements of "unfair," etc., -- while it may make you feel better at the time -- can hurt you later. One should be very careful when providing a written response to counseling, admonitions, and reprimands.