No restrictions on communication

Master Sgt. Rory Smith
USAFE IG Complaints and Inquiries office

The following anecdote is completely fictitious and its sole purpose is to help clarify what “restriction” means in the Air Force.

Staff Sgt. Jones was assigned to a customer service section. The office had four other individuals assigned to it including Master Sgt. Williams, who was the NCOIC, Senior Airmen Smith and Adams and Airman 1st Class Baker. The office was very busy and morale was good.

One morning during the high PCS season, things at work were unusually hectic. Sergeant Jones noticed that Sergeant Williams’ friends were showing up and moving ahead of others who had signed in and had been waiting for service. It appeared to Sergeant Jones that Sergeant Williams was showing his friends preferential treatment.

Later that day, Sergeant Jones went to the commissary and bumped into the wing command chief. They started talking and the Chief asked Sergeant Jones how things were at the MPF. Sergeant Jones mentioned the preferential treatment issue and how to approach Sergeant Williams about it.

That evening at the softball field, the command chief and Sergeant Williams were warming up for a game. The Chief briefly approached the subject of customer service at the MPF without mentioning any specifics. Sergeant Williams thought the word may have gotten out that he was helping his friends without an appointment or signing in.

The next day, Sergeant Williams provided Sergeant Jones a midterm feedback. Based on the discussion with the Chief, Sergeant Williams wanted to ensure that all of his folks did not take flight issues outside the unit. Sergeant Williams told Sergeant Jones that she must go through him first, and not directly to the first sergeant, commander or especially anyone outside the unit on any issue, no matter what.


AFI 90-301, Inspector General Complaints Resolution, defines restriction as “To place boundaries or barriers upon military members through the use of direct or indirect means.” Additionally, 90-301 defines restricted access as “To place boundaries or barriers upon military members through the use of direct or indirect means that reduce protected communications.”

AFI 90-301 specifically identifies two ways a lawful, protected communication may be made:

• A communication is considered protected when members of the armed forces make or prepare to make a lawful communication to a member of Congress, an inspector general, or a member of an inspector general’s investigative staff when they are not conveying an admission of misconduct or violation of the UCMJ
• A communication is also considered protected when the member reasonably believes he or she has been the victim of or has evidence of a violation of any law or regulation, including laws or regulations prohibiting sexual harassment or unlawful discrimination, gross mismanagement, a gross waste of funds, an abuse of authority, or a substantial and specific danger to public health or safety: and, the member makes this communication to any of the of following people: MEO, family advocacy, squadron or flight commanders, command chief master sergeants, first sergeants or any investigative agency

The difference between the two is that with the first group, any lawful communication is protected. In the second group, the communication is protected when the member reasonably believes he/she has evidence of a violation of a law or regulation.

What this means is that military members can not be restricted from talking to the Inspector General or a member of congress. It also means that a military member can not be restricted from taking an issue of wrongdoing (violation of law or regulation), or what they perceive to be an issue of wrongdoing, to their first sergeant, command chief, flight commander or commander, etc. Violators are subject to punishment under the UCMJ.
Your job as a supervisor is to encourage the use of the chain of command to resolve issues at the lowest possible level. However, you cannot make it mandatory if an individual has an issue of wrong-doing he or she wants to bring forward. You can enforce the use of the chain of command for normal day-to-day operations.