Probably one of the most unique aspects of being a military lawyer is the opportunity to change assignments every couple years. As I transition from my current position as a military justice instructor at The Air Force Judge Advocate General’s School in Alabama to my next assignment as a Senior Defense Counsel in Virginia, it provides an opportunity to reflect on how I became a Judge Advocate General (JAG) and what I enjoy most about the job.
During my third year of law school I started looking towards non-traditional legal jobs. Looking in a different direction than many of my classmates were headed with judicial clerkships and law firms, I became interested in the FBI. During a conversation with a family friend, an FBI Agent, she mentioned the JAG Corps might be a good fit for me. Other than watching ‘A Few Good Men’ and noticing JAG informational visits on the career services calendar, I didn’t know much about the JAG Corps and hadn’t really considered it as a career. Because the JAG Corps conducts ‘informational’ visits, and not actual job interviews, I discounted their value in helping me find a job. Thankfully, my conversation with the family friend helped me to consider a career I knew very little about, good advice mentioned by my classmate John Ayres (’06) on this blog in March. I started researching JAG careers, looking at the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard, and ultimately applied to the Air Force JAG Corps. I completed the comprehensive application and scheduled an interview at Whiteman AFB in Knob Noster, Missouri. A few months later they notified me that I was accepted in the JAG Corps pending my security clearance and passing the bar.
As much as I love Missouri, I wasn’t too excited about the possibility of practicing in one state my whole life and one of the advantages of military practice is that I could practice law in the Air Force anywhere without taking multiple state bar exams. For my first assignment I was given a choice between a base in North Carolina and one in the Florida panhandle. I chose Florida and worked in a base legal office there for two years. During those two years I did several jobs. I started as Chief of Legal Assistance, a common first assignment position, where I managed the legal assistance program that provides general legal services (wills, powers of attorney, advice on non-criminal legal matters) to members of the military, their dependents, and retired military members. I also prosecuted several courts-martial during this time and then moved on to manage the adverse actions program which administers non-judicial disciplinary and discharge actions initiated by commanders to maintain good order and discipline. Next, I deployed to Baghdad, Iraq to work at a detainee operations Joint Task Force. In that job, I worked closely with Navy, Marine, Army, and Coast Guard JAGs to ensure the individuals captured by military units during missions were being legally and properly detained. I also helped gather evidence and bring cases in front of judges in the Central Criminal Court of Iraq (CCCI) to prosecute detainees for terrorist activity. After returning from Iraq I came back to Florida and became an Area Defense Counsel, representing Airmen in courts-martial at every military base in Florida (and once at Whiteman which I think is the only time I’ve used my Missouri JD and state bar membership in Missouri!).
Following my assignment as Area Defense Counsel, I moved to Alabama to be a military justice instructor at The Air Force JAG School. One of my favorite parts of being an instructor is teaching judge advocates that are new to the Air Force and JAG Corps. The new judge advocates are extremely talented and intelligent making it an honor and privilege to help them transition from law school or civilian law practice into military practice. In fact, the latest statistics indicate only 5% of applicants to the AF JAG Corps are accepted. The competition has increased significantly since four of my classmates from the Missouri Law Class of ’06 and I joined the JAG Corps.
The best part about being a JAG is the people I work with every day. Whether it is my colleagues in the JAG Corps or the clients I represent in a court-martial, they all joined the military to serve their country and it takes a high caliber person to accept the sacrifices required for military service. However, those sacrifices, while significant, can also be appealing to some people. Some of the things I like best about being a JAG are the adventure (deployments/moving every couple years), emphasis on fitness (working out is part of my job), and constantly facing new challenges (every day is different). Even a typical day as a JAG is pretty atypical; get in a run before work, draft a will for a deploying Airman in the morning, meet with a commander to discuss court-martial charges before lunch, brief a group of commanders in the afternoon, and conduct witness interviews to prepare for next week’s court-martial. That kind of variety may not be for everyone, but if you are the type of person that likes a fast pace, adventure, fitness, seeks out leadership and service opportunities, and doesn’t mind moving every two or three years, then being a JAG might be a good fit for you.