Just like any other organization, the US Military personnel have to abide by strict rules and as strictly as possible. The Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) was the bible of the US troops, to which a set of legal guidelines are listed. While most of them are similar to civilian laws, which basically tell you to act like a decent human being, some of the laws are unique, if not downright weird.

History Of The Uniform Code Of Military Justice

The Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) can be traced back to the Articles of War enacted back in June 1775 by the Second Continental Congress. Just a few months before that, the Provisional Congress of Massachusetts Bay sealed the Massachusetts Articles— their first written code of military justice in the Colonies. Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina all followed and similarly codified their military conduct.

Uniform Code Of Military Justice Court Martial Manual
UCMJ Court Martial Manual. (James Sims, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

When the 69 Articles of War was enacted, it regulated the Continental Army with specific applications and directives to cover a lot of military aspects. It was later expanded in 1806, with a new set of Articles of War with 101 articles. The Uniform Code of Military Justice was the first major revision of the military law since its establishment. In 1950, President Harry Truman signed the UCMJ into law. Since then, there have been changes due to some executive orders or as a result of the passage of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2006 and the National Defense Authorization Act 2007. The latest update was on Jan. 1, 2019, as part of the 2016 Military Justice Act, reviewing the set of rules and regulations that dictate criminal offenses for service members and how they are adjudicated.

Anyway, into the unique laws.

Drinking liquor with prisoners

Appendix 2, 896. Art. 96, B states that “Any person subject to this chapter who unlawfully drinks any alcoholic beverage with a prisoner shall be punished as a court-martial may direct,” which was we supposed would be an obvious thing. I mean, if you are guarding prisoners you really shouldn’t be drinking on duty or drinking with the prisoners you are guarding.  We don’t know what incident inspired this addition to the UCMJ, but it must have been pretty legendary.

In this case, the maximum punishment would be three months of confinement and forfeiture of two-thirds pay per month for three months.

Straggling

If you’re struggling to keep up and tend to fall behind or lose your way during marches or runs, then you might be in for legal trouble. As written by Bilecki Law Group, “A service member who becomes separated from his organizational unit during a march, a training exercise, or military maneuver, is at risk of being accused and convicted of “straggling” under Article 134 of the UCMJ. Straggling breaks down the military’s organizational structures, making them susceptible to enemy attacks.”

While stragglers were often just told to hurry up and motivated to march toward their destination by their non-commissioned officers, this could result in confinement for three months and forfeiture of two-thirds pay per month for three months. So to sum it up, don’t get left behind.

To this could be added the grave offense of “malingering” which involved feigning injury or illness to avoid duty or some other unpleasant task.

Jumping Into The Water

Wearing a combat load and carrying his weapon, Sgt. Scott Larson, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, Brigade Troops Battalion, 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, swim to safety after jumping from the high dive as part of a Combat Water Survival Training event held at Fort Wainwright’s Melaven Gym. (Sgt. Thomas Duval, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

 

This one may seem crazy but it actually has some reasoning behind it.  Life aboard ship can be dull sometimes and it’s easy to imagine sailor A saying to sailor B, “I’ll bet you $5 you won’t jump from the radar mast into the water.  Sailor B takes the bet climbs the 80ft mast and jumps.  The fall breaks both his legs and compresses three of the disks in his back.  Stunts like these were once common enough to require a general addition under Article 143 which covers “all neglects and disorders which are adverse to the discipline and good order.”

Any many going overboard on a ship will send into frantic activity, the ship will turn about and search for days for a missing sailor which pretty much stops any operation it is trying to conduct.  Sailor A is having a really bad day and in an act of defiance to authority, jumps overboard interrupting the operations of the ship for several hours while he is recovered.  What do you charge him with?  Art 143, jumping overboard.

This offense can also be committed under more serious circumstances.  In 2012 a colonel charged with a list of crimes including bigamy, misuse of funds, and sexual assault was being transported by ship stateside to face trial. He escaped custody, killed his guards and jumped off the ship trying to escape.  He was recaptured and in addition to the two murders, he was charged with Art 143 for jumping off the ship.

It’s excusable if you accidentally fall off the ship or are ordered to by an officer, but if you intend to really take a dip, you have to make sure your commander allowed you to, or else you might just get got yourself a bad-conduct discharge, forfeiture of all pay and allowances, and confinement for 6 months.

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