mjsdn msoyMember post by MSJDN member and MSOY nominee Marcelina Rivera-Chambers, Esq.

Longstanding rules within the military typically prohibit officers and members of enlisted ranks from personally associating outside of their duties and orders. There are good reasons for these rules prohibiting fraternization – they prevent even the appearance that someone may be using their rank or friendship in an unfair manner. No one wants to perceive that they were passed over for promotion or a good assignment because of a personal relationship the commander might have with a certain NCO.

However, these rules can make personal connections or relationships difficult for spouses of servicemembers – especially when a spouse’s colleagues generally come from the officer corps. As a spouse, we are not constrained by the same limitations. At the same time, our family comes first. This is MSJDN member Marcelina’s story. Marcelina has been nominated for 2013 Military Spouse of the Year – voting starts today, go vote for her here.

Choice. Freewill. Association. These are just a few of the rights we enjoy every day as Americans. As an enlisted Air Force spouse, however, I am not always privy to those same rights. Personally speaking, I often enjoy associating and networking with other attorneys, both civilian and military (a.k.a. JAG). While it’s one thing to be an enlisted spouse, it’s a whole other story when you add attorney to the mix. Let’s just say my social network of attorney friends is civilian only.

I have been a military spouse for over 11 years, and have been a licensed attorney for almost 2. As an enlisted military spouse-attorney, I can’t honestly say that I have experienced any social discrimination based upon my husband’s rank and my career. What I have experienced, however, is a lack of freewill and the feeling that a choice has already been made for me.

As a military spouse, I follow my husband’s lead; if there’s a rule he must follow, I too, will follow when the rule potentially affects us as a family. That’s my choice. The military is a structured unit and that includes all ranks adhering to the rule of “no fraternization.”  As a spouse, I do not wear rank, but will always respect my husband’s. Military spouses can hang out as often as they choose and with no barriers. As an enlisted servicemember, however, my husband is prohibited from fraternizing with Officers and this includes social gatherings.  But, as a family, we socialize together and our social gatherings are typically only comprised of enlisted servicemembers. So, what happens when I want to personally connect the two? What if I want to invite a JAG, i.e. a commissioned Officer, and their family over for a party? Well, I can always invite them, but chances are the Officer will not be present because my husband and his enlisted colleagues will be there.  Sure, only the spouse and family might come, but then this creates a division in their home. Of course I can invite the spouse only, but why divide families as the military divides its ranks? Truth is, I would not give the invite to the Officer and their family for those reasons and because my husband will always be present and this breaks the fraternization rule.

So, it’s my choice, right? It’s my choice to follow my husband’s lead? It’s my choice to invite other Officers over, necessarily excluding my husband and his enlisted friends?  It’s my choice to exclude myself from social gatherings and only have one-on-one time with other Officers? It’s my choice to only hang with spouses of Officers, and never commingle our families? My husband has always said he will never tell me I can’t be friends with any Officer and/or their spouse-I get that and I love him for it. But the thing is, I don’t play like that; I don’t play alone, we are a social family and I will always keep it that way. I will not separate my family as the military separates its ranks. But, I knew that was the case the day I said, “I do,” and I will respect that. I don’t have to like it, but I will always respect it.

Regardless of the choices the military has made for us, we, as Americans, are entitled to make our own choices and I have made mine. I choose my family first. I will not separate my family based on my husband’s rank solely because I want my family to commingle with other Officers and their families. My choice? Yes. Will I continue to establish professional relationships with military Officers and their spouses? Absolutely! While I can’t change the military’s fraternization rule, it’s there for a reason and it’s something I choose to continue to live with.

MSJDN is open to all military spouse attorneys, regardless of rank or affiliation. We are charged with representing military spouse attorneys and providing better access to justice for military families.