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Occasionally a Soldier will get into trouble and be subject to some sort of formal punishment where he is judged by members within or outside the unit. Because he is being judged by strangers who don't know him, character statements will be required for his defense. A character statement helps judges, Commanders, First Sergeants, and other strangers make fair decisions by providing a factual description of a person's character. The people who will read your character statement don't know the individual personally, want to judge him or her fairly, and are depending on you to accurately and honestly describe their character.
The most effective character statements are those written by someone who has known the accused person for a long time and who can be considered to be impartial. An NCOIC or manager would usually be considered to be impartial.
If you are asked to write a character statement, don't worry if you can't write well. The important thing is that you cared enough and took the trouble to write. Usually, when things get to the point where character references are requested, the person is in potentially serious trouble and his career is on the line. He will be grateful for any effort on his behalf. And the members who will be judging the case don't care if you use bad grammar. They just want to get an idea of the person's history so that they can make a fair decision based on the evidence.
Type your statement and print it on good quality paper. Your statement will represent both you and the subject and its appearance will have some influence. Make it as presentable as possible. Use plain bond paper and the official memorandum format.
If you are called on to write a character statement on someone's behalf, make sure what you write is 100% factual. To do otherwise would hurt your reputation and possibly make you subject to UCMJ action.
In general, character statements have three sections:
Introduction. Normally a single paragraph of a couple of sentences explaining who you are (rank, place of work, etc) and your relationship with the subject (co-worker, friend, supervisor, etc). This is important. The reader will automatically assign a certain level of credibility to the letter based on the relationship. The more distant the relationship, the more credible the letter will be perceived to be.
Body. The body is the majority of the letter. It can be one or several paragraphs. Here is where you make the case for the subject by describing your experiences with him or her and giving examples of the subject's good qualities. The first sentence should state your overall opinion of the subject and everything else written should support that statement.
Make sure you address the type of behavior that the person is accused of having. If the person who needs the character statement was accused of reckless behavior, you should emphasize aspects of his or her behavior that demonstrate a serious regard for the safety and welfare of others. This will suggest to the reader that the incident was a one-time, out-of-character act, not likely to be repeated. Spend some time thinking this through so that you can come up with material that will cast doubt on the charges. The Army can and has moved surprisingly swiftly to discharge offenders and your statement will have a lot of weight in determining the subject's fate and may just save him or her from being discharged.
Ask the subject of the character statement if they have any information that could help project a positive image such as a list of accomplishments, organizations that he or she belongs to, or any other relevant information. Ask your co-workers too. This is important.
Closing. Normally a single paragraph that reinforces your belief in the subject and summarizes your statement. Expressing a willingness to go further in defense of the subject by providing a phone number or offering to show up at any hearing will double the letter's effectiveness.
Make sure you address specific traits. An effective character statement focuses on specifics. It can't be a rambling, general statement that "John is one of the nicest guys I have ever met". It must directly describe traits that support the person's character and counters the alleged bad behavior. The prosecution will methodically present arguments proving their case by focusing on specific traits and if you want to have any hope of defending your pal, you must present specific examples in your statement.
If, for example, someone is being prosecuted for dereliction of duty, a character statement on that person's behalf should include information describing your experience with that person's earnest dedication to his assigned responsibilities. Describe incidents where he was encouraged to cut corners or leave his post but refused.
If someone has been accused of insubordination, a character statement for that person should address your direct knowledge of that person's respect for authority and willingness to follow orders with examples if possible. List incidents that you observed where he accepted orders or even punishment without argument.
Of course, along with this focused description, you should also include your subject's other positive attributes. If possible, these additional positive attributes should overlap with or complement your main assertion. For example, a central theme of respect for authority and a natural willingness to follow orders would be supported by additional positive attributes of dedication to duty, an understanding of the need for order, and a positive attitude.
Character Statement Example
15 Sep 2010
My name is SSG Smith and I am SGT Johnson's immediate supervisor. I am writing this character statement in support of SGT Johnson. I understand that he got into an altercation at the NCO Club on 10 Sep 10 and is now subject to UCMJ action.
I have worked with SGT Johnson (as a supervisor) for almost two years and in that time I have never seen him lose his temper or even raise his voice to anyone. He is one of the most quiet members of our work center. I have always known him to be quietly cheerful and, to my knowledge, he has always had a good attitude and a positive outlook. He does his share of the work without complaint and appears to enjoy his job and being a member of the Army.
I remember one incident that illustrates his non-confrontational nature. One day, as SGT Johnson and I were walking back to the barracks after working all day on a temporary detail, we were stopped by a Senior NCO and accused of shirking our duties. The NCO apparently thought we were assigned to his work detail and accused us of direlection of duty and even put his hand on SGT Johnson's shoulder as if to arrest him. Despite the unjustified provocation, SGT Johnson remained calm and answered in a respectful manner, explained our situation, and then just walked away. He doesn't like confrontations and always avoids them.
He has never been in trouble before or involved in any kind of altercation. He has not received any discipline here in our work center, not even a verbal reprimand. Despite his young age, he is one of our most mature Soldiers and never has to be told what his job is or be reminded to do something. In fact, I once heard our Maintenance NCO praise him at a meeting with the NCOIC, saying he wished he had more Soldiers like him.
In summary, I am shocked to learn of SGT Johnson's behavior. It is completely out of character for him and I can't help but wonder if there were mitigating circumstances. He is one of our best troops and I would not hesitate to recommend him for retention and promotion. I feel certain that our Section Chief would agree. If you have any other questions that I have not addressed or if I can be of further service, please don't hesitate to call me at DSN 123-4567.
Overlapping positive attributes for character statements: