Salute to Spouses Blog

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Military Myth Busters

There’s a lot of unbelievable things that we witness as military wives, but sometimes the things we hear are just the stuff of modern fairy tales. Staff writer Sandra Moyer is here to dust the darkness off those closely held, widely believed rumors in our new monthly column, military myth busters.

Myth: You can charged with damaging government property for suffering a severe sunburn.

Background: There are many times that service members (including myself) have been told that getting a sunburn can earn them consequences under the Uniform Code of Military Justice’s (UCMJ). Typically, the portion of the UCMJ that is used to enforce the claim is Article 108, which deals with the destruction of government property.

Research and Analysis: Under Article 108, people and property are discussed separately, rather than people being considered property. That is because people are not property. They cannot be assigned a monetary worth, and, are not legally subject to being purchased or sold. That being the case, a sunburn on a service member is simply not defined as damaging government property.

Unfortunately, I can’t drop my microphone and walk out just yet, because there are two another articles of the UCMJ that make this situation sticky.

Article 115 refers to malingering, which is just a fancy word for faking or exaggerating an illness or injury in order to avoid duty. The issue here means that someone would not only have to get sunburned, but also excessively seek medical treatment and claim that because of the burn they are incapable of performing their duties.

Article 192 references disobeying direct or lawful orders or regulations . . . and that’s where the real possibility of reprimand comes into play. If a regulation or someone appointed over a service member clearly states that, say, service members must stay inside to avoid sunburn (which is likely never, ever going to actually be said) and a service member willfully disobeys that order and gets a sunburn, they could indeed be punished for disobeying that order. As the chances of anyone being ordered to stay inside to avoid sunburn are seriously slim to none, so are the chances of someone being punished for violating it.

Myth (mostly) Busted: The short answer to this question is no, you cannot be charged with damaging government property for getting a sunburn. The longer answer is that service members are not free to damage themselves all willy-nilly without the possibility of repercussion.

Regardless, you should just be smart about your health and your job and follow the wise words of Mary Schmich: “Wear sunscreen.”

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