Top Article 15 Violations in the Military: Common Offenses Explained

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Ever found yourself wondering about military discipline and what happens when service members step out of line? You’re not alone. In the military’s justice system, Article 15 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) plays a crucial role in maintaining order.

It’s the go-to for commanders handling minor breaches of conduct, and you might be surprised to learn which offenses are most frequently addressed under this article. Dive into the world of non-judicial punishments and discover the most common Article 15 offenses that keep the chain of command busy.

Understanding Article 15 of the UCMJ

When you’re serving in the military, it’s crucial to grasp the full scope of Article 15 and how it functions within the framework of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). It serves as a disciplinary measure that enables commanders to address and manage non-judicial punishments for minor offenses that don’t warrant a formal court-martial.

Article 15 is commonly referred to as non-judicial punishment (NJP). You might hear military personnel mentioning “Captain’s Mast” in the Navy and Coast Guard, or “Office Hours” in the Marine Corps. The Army and Air Force simply call it an Article 15.

Key Aspects of Non-Judicial Punishment

Under Article 15, punishments can be meted out by a commanding officer and may include:

  • Reduction in rank
  • Forfeiture of pay
  • Extra duties
  • Restriction to certain areas
  • Correctional custody for enlisted members
  • A reprimand

The goal here isn’t to permanently mar a service member’s record but to correct behavior and maintain the order necessary for military efficacy.

Your Rights Under Article 15

You have specific rights when faced with an Article 15 proceeding:

  • You can decline the Article 15 and demand a trial by court-martial.
  • You’re entitled to review the evidence against you.
  • You have the right to present your side of the story.
  • Legal counsel is available although not in the same capacity as in a court-martial.

If you accept the Article 15, the commander will listen to your side before making a decision on guilt or innocence and subsequent punishment. The burden of proof is lower than in a court-martial; guilt must be proved by a preponderance of the evidence rather than beyond a reasonable doubt.

Considerations Before Accepting Article 15 Punishment

Bear in mind that accepting Article 15 punishment is not an admission of guilt. It’s merely an acceptance of the commanding officer’s authority to judge the case non-judicially. However, your decision should be well-informed:

  • Weigh the severity of the offense and potential consequences.
  • Consider the possible impacts on your military career.
  • Assess whether you have a viable defense.
  • Consult with legal counsel before making your decision.

The Purpose of Non-judicial Punishments

When you’re serving in the military, non-judicial punishments (NJP) like those meted out under Article 15 are essential mechanisms used to correct misconduct without the need for formal court proceedings. These punitive actions address minor offenses swiftly and allow for the reinforcement of good order and discipline within the unit. Understanding their purpose is critical to appreciating the military justice system’s efficacy and fairness.

NJP serves several key functions, most notably:

  • Swift Correction: By allowing for immediate reprimand, NJP ensures that issues are dealt with promptly, preventing minor offenses from escalating.
  • Maintaining Order: It supports the chain of command by ensuring that superiors have a direct method to enforce discipline.
  • Rehabilitation: NJP focuses on rehabilitating the service member, often avoiding the need for more severe consequences that could result from a court-martial.
  • Preserving Careers: A service member might recover from an NJP more readily than from a court-martial, which could leave a more significant stain on their military record.

It’s essential to realize that the NJP process is not arbitrary. Commanders use it judiciously, often after careful consideration of a service member’s overall record and the circumstances surrounding the offense. While the potential penalties can include rank reduction, forfeiture of pay, or extra duties, NJP punishes infractions in a way that’s proportional to the offense.

You’ll also find that NJP proceedings can be more personal than court-martials. They provide an opportunity for you to present your side of the story directly to your commander, who will then weigh both the facts and your personal circumstances before deciding on the appropriate punishment.

This personalized approach reinforces the leadership’s commitment to their personnel. Recognizing that everyone can make mistakes, NJP is structured to affect change without unduly compromising a service member’s future. It’s about teaching a lesson, not ending a career.

Exploring the Most Common Article 15 Offenses

When you’re serving in the military, understanding common Article 15 offenses can help you avoid potentially career-damaging pitfalls. Dereliction of duty, failure to obey orders or regulations, and misconduct are among the top reasons why service members might find themselves facing non-judicial punishment under Article 15 of the UCMJ.

Dereliction of duty entails a willful or negligent failure to perform assigned duties or a stark deviation from prescribed procedures. This can range from sleeping while on watch to mishandling classified information. It’s vital to adhere strictly to all protocols and to remain attentive to your responsibilities.

Disobedience of orders, another leading cause for Article 15 actions, includes refusing to carry out lawful orders from superiors. Orders are the backbone of military operations, and disregarding them can destabilize unit cohesion and operational security.

Misconduct, such as fraternization or substance abuse, also ranks high on the list. Realize that personal conduct is always under scrutiny, and actions that compromise the integrity of the military structure or its members can lead to swift disciplinary measures.

Offense Type Examples
Dereliction of Duty Sleeping on duty, Mishandling information
Disobedience Refusal to obey orders, Insubordination
Misconduct Fraternization, Substance abuse

It’s critical to familiarize yourself with these common offenses and understand how they can affect not only your career but also the safety and effectiveness of your unit. Always maintain professional conduct and seek guidance if you’re uncertain about an order or your duties. By doing so, you can steer clear of facing an Article 15 and uphold the high standards of the military. Remember, the purpose of these proceedings is corrective, rather than punitive, aiming to guide you back on the right path while preserving the integrity of the armed forces.

1. Absence Without Leave (AWOL)

Within the military, Absence Without Leave, commonly abbreviated as AWOL, stands out as one of the most frequent violations leading to Article 15 action. AWOL is the unapproved departure from your assigned location or absence from your unit for any period. The nature of an AWOL offense can vary, ranging from being late to musters or formations to unauthorized leave from a designated area or post.

Understanding the gravity of an AWOL offense is critical. An AWOL status not only disrupts unit cohesion and readiness but also undermines the command’s authority. AWOL cases are taken seriously because every service member plays a vital role in their unit’s ability to perform its mission. When you’re absent without proper authorization, not only does it reflect poorly on your professionalism, but it also places unnecessary strain on your unit, which might have to compensate for your absence.

The process for handling an AWOL incident under Article 15 often begins with your immediate command. They’ll evaluate the circumstances and duration of the absence to determine the appropriate level of punishment. Potential consequences for going AWOL might include reduction in rank, forfeiture of pay, and extra duties. Severity can escalate based on factors like the length of the absence or the impact on operational capacity.

It’s worth noting that repeat AWOL cases or instances involving lengthy absences can lead to more severe disciplinary action, potentially including court-martial. This amplifies the importance of adhering to duty requirements and communicating with your chain of command if issues arise that may affect your ability to serve as scheduled.

Engaging with your unit and being proactive in managing your leave schedules is a reliable way to steer clear of an AWOL designation. Remember, military duty prioritizes discipline and responsiveness; as such, reliability and accountability are essential qualities for every service member to embody.

2. Drunk and Disorderly Conduct

Drunk and disorderly conduct is among the most commonly cited offenses for Article 15 actions within military ranks. This misconduct often involves service members displaying inappropriate or disruptive behavior due to the effects of alcohol. Such behavior not only tarnishes the image of the military but also jeopardizes safety and can lead to wider implications for unit discipline and morale.

When you’re facing charges under Article 15 for drunk and disorderly conduct, your actions are evaluated critically by your superiors. Incidents typically occur off-base yet reflect directly on military standards and control. It’s essential to understand that even though military culture may accommodate social drinking, there are definite lines drawn that once crossed, can invite penalties.

  • Location of the incident: An offense taking place on a military installation holds different weight compared to one that occurs in a civilian environment.
  • Impact on military operations: Your conduct could affect readiness and the ability to perform duties, which is taken very seriously.
  • Previous conduct record: A spotless or problematic history can sway the severity of the NJP.

It’s not uncommon for violations like fighting, inappropriate language, and public intoxication to be bundled under the drunk and disorderly umbrella. Commanders consider these actions as they may indicate deeper issues with alcohol use. In response, part of your rehabilitative process may include substance abuse counseling or programs designed to prevent future incidents.

As you navigate through an NJP for drunk and disorderly conduct, remember that the military’s focus is on maintaining a professional and responsible force. Staying informed of the UCMJ and the consequences of violating its standards is your best defense against making decisions that could lead to disciplinary action. Make sure you’re aware of services that offer counseling and support for managing alcohol use, which can help in maintaining the high standards expected of a service member.

3. Unauthorized Use of Government Property

Unauthorized use of government property ranks among the most common reasons service members face Article 15. This violation can include a range of actions, from taking vehicles for unauthorized purposes to the misuse of military equipment or systems. If you’re in the military, it’s crucial to understand that government property is there for official purposes, and any deviation could have serious repercussions for your career.

When dealing with this offense, commanders consider several factors before deciding on the appropriate level of punishment under Article 15. They look at the item’s value, the intention behind the unauthorized use, and its impact on unit functions or readiness. Minor infractions might result in counseling or extra duties, while more significant violations could lead to forfeiture of pay or even reduction in rank.

In some scenarios, the misappropriation of sensitive equipment or resources can jeopardize national security or put fellow service members at risk. Such actions often attract harsher penalties. It’s important for you to be aware that even if the unauthorized use seems minor, it could escalate quickly depending on the item’s importance or the situation’s context.

To remain compliant, regularly review protocols related to the use of government property. Ensure that your actions always have the necessary approvals and fall within the prescribed guidelines of your command. Avoid the assumption that casual or unofficial use of equipment is permissible; instances that might seem harmless could be grounds for non-judicial punishment under Article 15.

Learning from your peers and leadership about the importance of safeguarding government property helps build a culture of respect and accountability. By doing so, you not only protect your career but also contribute to the efficient operation and security of your unit. Remember that your conduct reflects on the military as a whole, and treating government property with due care is part of your responsibility as a service member.

4. Disrespect Toward a Superior

One of the most prevalent offenses triggering Article 15 proceedings comes under the banner of disrespect toward a superior. Military discipline is underpinned by a strict hierarchy, and any act that undermines the authority of a superior can lead to non-judicial punishment. Whether it’s verbal insubordination, failure to follow lawful orders, or actual assault against an officer, such offenses strike at the heart of military order and cohesion.

Instances of disrespect are not taken lightly. The UCMJ categorizes these acts as direct challenges to military authority and they can include:

  • Making disparaging comments about a superior officer
  • Openly ignoring lawful commands
  • Displaying contemptuous behavior during official duties

For a functional and effective military, respect in the ranks is not just expected – it’s mandatory. Your actions in direct relation to superiors, whether in the chain of command or during your daily duties, should reflect a high degree of professionalism and discipline. Importantly, should you face accusations of disrespect, be aware that the context of your actions, your intent, and your past service record are all considered in determining the severity of the punishment under Article 15.

Under Article 15, commanders have the ability to impose a variety of consequences, which correlate to the severity of the disrespect shown. Consequences may range from extra duties to more severe repercussions such as reduction in rank or forfeiture of pay. Regularly emphasizing respect and understanding the weight of your words and actions can help prevent such missteps. Remember, communication is key—maintaining transparency with your superiors can often avert misunderstandings that might otherwise escalate to formal disciplinary action.

Service members are advised to engage with their duties with the utmost respect for their superiors. This includes adhering to the protocol of saluting, properly addressing officers, and executing orders with diligence. Your military career can hinge on your ability to uphold respect within the chain of command, so it’s crucial to understand the implications of your behavior and exercise restraint and professionalism at all times.

5. Failure to Obey an Order

In the strict hierarchy of the military, following orders isn’t just expected; it’s paramount to operational success and unit cohesion. Failure to obey an order is considered a major offense under the UCMJ, and it frequently leads to Article 15 proceedings. This breach not only represents a direct challenge to military authority but can also have serious implications for the safety and effectiveness of a military operation.

When you’re in the military, orders come down the chain of command and carry the full weight of authority behind them. Should a service member willfully or through neglect fail to follow these orders, it signals a breakdown in the discipline that is the backbone of military life. The penalties for this infraction can be severe, and like other offenses under Article 15, can include reduction in rank, forfeiture of pay, and extra duties.

The issue at hand isn’t always outright defiance. Sometimes, it’s a matter of a misunderstanding or miscommunication. However, the UCMJ doesn’t distinguish between these nuances without strong evidence to support the claim. It’s crucial for service members to seek clarity on any order they receive to ensure compliance and prevent potential punitive action.

The framework for adjudicating a failure to obey an order starts with the commander’s investigation. Past behavior, the nature of the noncompliance, and the potential impact of the disobedience are all taken into account. A one-time lapse might be met with leniency, while habitual defiance will likely warrant a stiffer punishment.

You’re encouraged to engage actively in the process if faced with such allegations. By presenting a clear account of the situation and any extenuating circumstances, you might mitigate the consequences. Moreover, understanding the subtleties of the orders you receive and the expectations for completion will go a long way in avoiding such a situation. By maintaining clear lines of communication with your superiors, you can help ensure that your actions are always in step with military regulations and commands.


Understanding Article 15 and the most common offenses leading to non-judicial punishment is essential for maintaining your standing in the military. From AWOL to disrespect toward superiors, these infractions can have significant consequences on your career. It’s crucial to uphold the values of discipline, respect, and professionalism at all times. By doing so, you’ll not only avoid the pitfalls of Article 15 but also contribute positively to your unit’s morale and effectiveness. Remember to stay informed about military protocols and communicate effectively with your chain of command to navigate your military journey successfully.


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