Will a complaint help me deal with my mean Chief, NCO, or unreasonable CO?
When things aren’t going well with your Chain of Command, most military members are going to consider, at some point, filing a complaint. It’s a difficult decision, one that I’ve helped with many times, and it is VERY situation dependent. However, here are a few things to keep in mind:1. Complaints cannot substitute for strong performance or healthy dialogue. If you’re not meeting the chain’s expectations, filing a complaint is not going to get you there. So, if you're considering filing a complaint, that usually means that whatever differences you have are irreconcilable and you're willing to risk burning bridges to get relief.
2. Complaints are not the only way to communicate with the chain of command. Try seeking help from a senior enlisted or other advisor from outside the chain could help. An outside perspective who can be trusted to tell you if YOU are the problem will save you time, money, and a truckload of stress. Bonus points if your trusted advisor knows anyone in the chain and can help you communicate with them.
3. In the military, NO ONE can complain their way into success or out of trouble. Primarily because the system relies on your CO's support. You need that endorsement, and no one can or will make them change their personal endorsement of your potential or suitability for service. Complaining is hard. It takes courage. The services even give credit to “whistleblowers” (at least in public). But make no mistake – it is a bumpy road.
EO, IG, and Article 138 are great avenues if you have been the victim of discrimination, harassment, or have witnessed waste, fraud, or abuse of position and feel obligated to report it. Getting an investigation started or obtaining relief through these processes is VERY hard, and the language you use is critical. From my experience, complaints are most valuable in that they preserve an issue and show you tried to exhaust all lower-level avenues for relief as part of a larger plan to appeal the issue to higher authority or federal court. Obtaining actual relief in the short term is usually a bit of a long shot.
If you’re going to file a complaint:
1. Do your homework and know what kind of relief the EO, IG, or Art. 138 recipient can give you and write for that relief. Know the standard and understand the kinds of problems they exist to fix. If you have access to prior decisions, read them and model your complaint after successful ones. It also helps to know where your next avenue for relief lies - GCMCA? BCMR? DRB? Federal Court?
2. Don’t get emotional. This is where a lawyer can really help you. Be objective and discuss the unlawful conduct and how the relevant rule or policy was violated (be specific!).
3. When writing, if it makes you feel good, it’s probably too harsh. Be professional in your complaint. Strong criticism of the command can cost you credibility.
4. KEEP IT SHORT. This is not a vent session. Stay on track, get in, and get out. If it’s longer than a page or two, you are at a significant risk of losing your high-ranking readers.
Good luck and remember, attitude and hard work can fix a whole lot. If you’ve tried that and nothing is working, maybe it’s time to file. Just remember that It’s a decision that should be made with great care, planning, and precision.