Officers in the United States Army follow rules of conduct, engaging with juniors and superiors with professionalism and respect. Officers represent the Army, meaning personal misconduct reflects poorly on the service and the nation as a whole. Repeated infractions and displaying general poor performance might result in an Article 15. Although rare, Article 15s might result in a reduction in rank.
What Is an Article 15?
Article 15s are formal reprimands, typically issued after repeated or severe instances of misconduct not sufficient to warrant a court martial. Article 15s may be accepted by officers, which only means he accepts the hearing and subsequent ruling -- it's not an admission of guilt. Article 15s often result in lower degrees of punishment, such as confinement, reduction in rank and loss of pay.
Court martial convictions are the same as any other federal conviction -- it stays with with officer after he retires and becomes a civilian. This makes it more difficult to find suitable civilian employment, receive loans and hold other government positions. In contrast, although Article 15s might destroy an officer's promotion prospects, there is no impact to the individual outside of his military career. However, issuance of an Article 15 is not a bar to a court martial indictment later down the road, especially if the infractions are related. An example might be verbally disrespecting a superior officer -- resulting in an Article 15 -- with a future criminal infraction involving striking that or a different officer. The complaint in the Article 15 might be later used against the soldier during the court martial as evidence of behavioral patterns.
How to Get an Article 15
Article 15s are usually doled out in cases of misconduct rather than instances of criminal behavior. For example, actions that would result in criminal prosecution in civilian life -- such as dealing drugs, rape and grand theft. Conversely, hazing, fraternization and conduct unbecoming of an officer are all charges not necessarily great enough to warrant a court martial -- although they might be in some cases depending on the level of severity. More commonly, Article 15s are given to those officers continually displaying a lack of personal and professional discipline as opposed to morally deficient behavior.
Letters of Reprimand
Letters of reprimand are not as severe as Article 15s. Although there is no reduction in rank, continued receipt of professional counseling may eventually result in getting one. Many officers opt to retire after getting a letter of reprimand, since receiving promotions is exceptionally competitive. Letters of reprimand, for this reason, may be damaging enough to an officer's career to force him to leave the Army, because he will be continually passed over for promotions and stuck in the same rank.