Command Climate Investigations

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At an increasing rate, commanders are being relieved not for findings of any criminal or unethical behavior, but because the senior commander loses confidence in that subordinate leader’s ability to lead.


While we all want to do what we can to improve the conditions for military service members, there are also serious questions about the veracity of some climate command complaints along with the frequently in which adverse action is being taken against commanders. In fact, there are many different recent examples of commanders being relieved from duty following climate investigations. In the year 2015 alone, many dozens of different commanders were removed from their posts in all different branches of the United States Military. A Navy skipper was relieved after complaints. The skipper, a commanding officer on a cruiser based in San Diego, lost the confidence of the senior leadership. Soon after, the commanding officer of a Multinational Medical Unit and the Master Chief Hospital Corpsman were removed from the leadership of their unit, which had been stationed in Kandahar, Afghanistan. Once again, this occurred due to an allegedly toxic climate. Later in the year, the commander of a Navy recruiting district of Seattle was removed because others lost confidence in him. Also in 2015, a commanding officer of a Naval Computer and Telecommunications station was fired after a climate investigation. Further, “Hard charging” units are not exempt either. Recently, the commander of the 75th Ranger Regiment was reprimanded for concerns about his “command climate, perception, and judgment.”

These are just a small sample of recent cases, but they make the point clear. Ultimately, no matter the service branch, or type of unit, any commander can be removed for climate reasons. This is a trend that has been on the rise. Unit climate is an issue that needs to be constantly assessed and considered by commanders in the modern era, as there is no reason to think that this trend will reverse anytime soon.

What is the ‘Command Climate’?

Defining a command climate is more difficult than it might seem. In simple terms, a command climate is the shared feeling and perceptions of the members of the unit. Generally, the climate involves shared feelings towards how the unit operates in regards to important broad principles, such as:

  • Fairness;
  • Efficiency;
  • Order;
  • Positivity:
  • Trust;
  • Spirit:
  • Teamwork; and
  • Collective responsibility.

Of course, all of these principles can be difficult to define in practice. Further, there may be significant disagreement over whether a unit is ‘fair’ or ‘orderly’. Different unit members may have completely different views. In some cases, commanders may even run into a situation where a relatively small, but extremely passionate, minority of unit members find the climate to be unacceptably poor or hostile. This creates some very complex situations. Command investigations often lead to serious disputes over whether or not a commander is doing an effective good job at  creating and managing the unit’s ‘climate’.

Military Service Branches Try to Proactively Assess Climate

Increasingly, military higher-ups are taking steps to gather ongoing information about the climate of units. For example, the Commander’s Equal Opportunity Guide, published by the Department of the Army, takes assessing a unit’s climate very seriously. The guide even includes instructions for commanders on how to conduct required annual climate assessment surveys. The purpose of these surveys is to provide military leadership with a picture of how members view the unit on many different grounds. Beyond the previously mentioned broad principles, these surveys also ask unit members about:

  • Their perception of the effectiveness EO process;
  • Whether or not a hostile work environment exists based on race or gender grounds;
  • General views on unfairness within the units:
  • Views on polarization within the unit;
  • Whether or not there are frequent, and unhealthy, verbal or physical conflicts within the unit; and
  • Their overall morale.

What Happens if a Commander Receives Indication of a Complaint?

If a commander is informed a complaint regarding the climate of a unit, or an equal opportunity complaint, he or she needs to take immediate action. Under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, unit commanders have responsibility to take steps to ensure that proper investigations are conducted. More specifically, when receiving or learning of a complaint, commanders must uphold the following six important principles:

  • All complaints must be taken at face value and handled with care;
  • A specific course of action must be determined to address the issue;
  • There must not be any reprisal against the complaining party;
  • The investigation must be completed without any undue delay;
  • The complainant should be kept up to date as to the status of their filing; and
  • Corrective action must be taken that is consistent with the findings of the investigation.

How Can a UCMJ Attorney Help During a Command Climate Investigation?

Senior military leadership can use the results of a climate assessment survey or any other part of their investigation to take adverse action against the unit’s commander. Adverse action can come in many different forms. In some cases, the action may simply be a warning or an official reprimand. When possible, this type of punishment must be avoided as this type of action could restrict one’s ability to make career advancements. Though, there may also be far more severe consequences for commanders. Not only does this include the removal of a commander from a leadership position, but it can include discharge from the military altogether. The bottom line is clear: Commanders must continuously take proactive steps to ensure that the climate of their unit is healthy. If a command climate assessment survey suggests any problems within the unit, a commander should take action. Leaders cannot afford to ignore indications of a non-routine command climate survey. These problems do not go away on their own. Further, if an investigation into the unit’s climate begins, commanders must take the process extremely seriously. Leaders should not make a statement to an investigating officer without obtaining seasoned representation first. An experienced UCMJ attorney will be able to help you prepare your statement to ensure that your rights and interests are full and fairly protected. Do not go through this process alone; your career may be on the line.

Contact Our Office Today

At the Law Office of Jocelyn C. Stewart, our UCMJ professionals have extensive experience protecting the legal rights of those in the military. Ms. Stewart is herself a former military member and dedicated her practice exclusively to military cases. If you are in a position of leadership and a command climate investigation has been initiated against you, you need to take immediate action. Please contact our team today at 253-317-8494 to set up a comprehensive review of your case. Our firm representatives look forward to assisting you.