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What it means to get an Article 15

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Most Airmen know what the words "Article 15" mean. Few, however, really understand what misconduct warrants an Article 15 and what consequences it may have on a person's career.

An Article 15 is a significant event, and there is no better way for an Airman to make his or her path more difficult than receiving an Article 15 from a commander. An Article 15 is a prompt tool used by a commander to maintain good order and discipline within his or her unit. An Article 15 is more severe than a letter of reprimand and less severe than a court-martial. Unlike a letter of counseling, letter of admonishment, or letter of reprimand (which are administrative in nature), an Article 15 can have much more severe consequences because it is considered punitive. The punishments can include reduction in rank, forfeitures, 60 days restriction, 45 days extra duty, 30 days correctional custody, a reprimand and a possible Unfavorable Information File (UIF) initiation. The maximum punishment will differ depending on the rank of the accused and the commander offering the Article 15.

For officers, an Article 15 can have a lasting effect on the officer's reputation. An Article 15 that an officer receives establishes an automatic UIF and could be placed in his or her promotion selection record. The UIF remains active for two years. Officers can receive all the types of punishment listed above except for reduction in rank and correctional custody.

For senior noncommissioned officers, an Article 15 also may be filed in the member's promotion selection record and it can affect assignment decisions. For senior master sergeants and chief master sergeants, the process for reduction in rank is a bit different because the MAJCOM commander must impose the reduction unless delegated to the Numbered Air Force commander. Again, all the types of punishment listed above may be imposed on a senior enlisted member.

For other enlisted members, an Article 15 can be just as damaging, especially with the possibility of reduction in rank and forfeitures. Enlisted members below E-8 can receive all the types of punishment listed above with no exceptions. Often times, the most effective way for a commander to get an enlisted member's attention is to take forfeitures of pay. With an enlisted member, Article 15 placement in a UIF can be mandatory or optional, depending on the length of punishment the commander has imposed. However, regardless of whether a UIF is created, all Article 15s are placed in the member's electronic permanent record with the Air Force Personnel Center.

Although an Article 15 sounds unforgiving, it can also be a positive experience of sorts. It may serve as the sort of "wake up" that some require to get back on the right path for their families and career. While some believe that Airmen cannot recover after receiving an Article 15, this is far from the truth. Most Airmen, as a result of this process, take the opportunity to correct their misbehavior and continue to have a successful, fulfilled career.

The most difficult hurdle to overcome is the often trend of one infraction snowballing into multiple ones. An Article 15 can be a positive tool to rehabilitate an Airman, but it can also lead to an administrative discharge or even a court-martial, when the situation started out as simple lapse in judgment.

What does an Article 15 mean? It differs with each individual. An Article 15 can have either a positive or negative outcome. The key is how the Airman responds.

For additional information, contact the Legal Office or your Area Defense Counsel.