5 Steps to Request a Character Letter
Service members facing an administrative separations board, court-martial, or non-judicial punishment will often seek to develop character evidence in the form of character letters. Character letters are evidence of the person’s character, not evidence regarding the facts of the allegation. Some character traits military members may choose to develop include: truthfulness, peacefulness, and good military character. Here are the 5 steps:
- Draft a List of Potential Supporters
- Write an Email Explaining the Situation
- Follow up With a Phone Call
- Gather Character Letters
- Write a Thank You
Developing character evidence takes effort. But by following the steps outlined below, a strong character could be the difference between staying in the military or separated out.
1. Draft a List of Potential Supporters
When service members start developing their character evidence, the first step is to list all potential supporters. This includes officers, senior enlisted advisors, staff non-commissioned officers, civilian employees, military contractors, family, friends, and others who can speak on the service member’s character trait. Service members should focus on seeking character letters from people who actually know their character, rather than a random Captain who can confirm the service member previously served in his or her unit.
An effective way to do this is to use this free resource from Kevin Courtney Law to organize your character witnesses and their information.
2. Write an Email Explaining the Situation
After the service member develops their potential list, they should draft an email explaining their situation. Because most people want to help, a service member should not be afraid to ask for help in the form of a character letter.
The service member and his or her attorney should discuss what to write in the email. There are strategic and tactical considerations as to what should and should not be included. But an outline to consider could include:
- A sentence stating this email is about a request for help.
- Brief Summary of the Situation (Discuss with Attorney)
- Why Character Evidence is Important
- How the Reader Can Help (Write Character Letter)
- Make the Ask: Will you be willing to support me by writing a character letter by [date]?
- Link to “How to Write a Character Letter”
- Thank You
As a service member could imagine, if they reach out to random people they previously worked with but never really got to know, a cold email like this could be a turnoff. That’s why it is important to focus on the people who they have maintained a personal or professional relationship with first.
3. Follow Up with a Phone Call
A service member should wait at least two business days before following up with the recipient.
If the recipient responded positively by stating they would write a character letter, a brief call is suggested to (a) thank them for being willing to write a letter and (b) to offer them any help they may need (i.e. details of past events in which they served or worked together; awards; past letters of appreciation the recipient wrote for the service member; etc.).
Sometimes, a service member may not get a response within two business days. When the email recipient has not responded, the service member should call to ensure (a) the recipient has seen the email and to check it did not go into a spam folder; (b) ask for their support in the form of a character letter. If the potential character witness is unable to commit to writing the letter, the service member should ask: “I understand you are unable to commit to supporting me today. My hearing is scheduled for [date] and it is my only chance to present my evidence. Would you mind if I follow up with you in two weeks to see if you are able to support me then?”
While service members should not aim to pressure anyone into writing a letter for them, they should recognize character evidence can be strong evidence in mitigation or for retention in the service. Politely following up with potential character witnesses is what it may take to develop the evidence they need to for retention in the service or to defeat the allegation.
4. Gather Character Letters
Using the character witness list developed in step one and updated throughout the process, the service member will need to gather the character letters from their witnesses. The most effective and organized method for collecting character letters is to receive them via email and in PDF format. The reason for this is it allows the service member to digitally store the letter, transfer the letter to his or her attorney seamlessly, and it is nearly instantaneous.
Once the letters are in the service member’s inbox, labeling the letters with the writer’s rank, first and last name, and character trait(s) will help the military defense attorney organize and present the evidence effectively and cogently.
For example, if SgtMaj Anthony Kennedy writes a character letter discussing the service member’s character for peacefulness, the file name could be labeled like this: SgtMaj Anthony Kennedy (peacefulness).
5. Write a Thank You
After a service member receives the character letter, it is important to write a thank you note to the character witness. This person has just put their personal and professional reputation on the line to support the service member. Writing a thank you note should be personal and genuine. If the administrative separation board members’ decide to call this person during the hearing or if a command reading the letter at an non-judicial punishment hearing decides to call the writer, you’ll want your writer to know how grateful you are for their support.
Developing and gathering character evidence can be labor intensive. However, it doesn’t need to be done alone. If a service member is married or has a partner they trust, their spouse can assist by calling friends and family to solicit their help. The service member can then focus on the military co-workers.
When time is of the essence, consider using this resource developed by Kevin Courtney Law to streamline your process. It is an in-depth character witness tracker, pre-drafted email, character letter request template, and follow-up script to use on the phone call.
If you or a loved one finds themselves facing a court-martial, administrative separations board, non-judicial punishment or something else related to military justice, Kevin Courtney Law is here to help. Scheduled a free call today.