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The Army Lawyer


49th Staff Judge Advocate Course Wrap-Up



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(Credit: Jason Wilkerson/TJAGLCS)

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Leadership and taking care of your people—those were the two consistent themes permeating the 49th Staff Judge Advocate (SJA) Course held at The Judge Advocate General’s Legal Center and School (TJAGLCS) in June. The content of each day of the week-long course focused on a specific developmental area for rising SJAs and Deputy Staff Judge Advocates (DSJAs). This article provides highlights from the week.

The 40th Judge Advocate General (TJAG) Lieutenant General (LTG) Charles N. Pede kicked off the course with his presentation titled, “TJAG Expectations of JAGC Leaders.” Lieutenant General Pede culminated his presentation and emphasized the importance of the role shared by SJAs and DSJAs when he stated, “You are in the room now.” He explained that, based on assuming the role of an SJA, they will be asked to remain in the room to advise commanders in situations when everyone else is asked to leave the room. This statement also nests with one of LTG Pede’s three priorities in how to “be ready.” Staff judge advocates must be ready to step up and lead their offices and to be in the room to provide principled counsel on the pressing issue of the day.

Lieutenant General Pede also discussed how leaders of our OSJAs have a great “opportunity to change how people think and practice law.” Again, this statement overlaps with the Corps’ priorities to take care of our people and prepare the future JAG Corps to support the future Army. Lieutenant General Pede then illustrated these concepts together as he shared a story of then-Captain (CPT) Pede. He described that CPT Pede was doing what he believed to be the right thing both professionally and personally in making a decision, when he was unable to reach his SJA while deployed with the 10th Mountain Division. Despite the time-sensitive nature of the situation, when the servicing SJA heard that CPT Pede had acted without waiting for the SJA’s guidance, the SJA admonished CPT Pede, saying, “You 10th Mountain guys are all the same.” Upon redeploying and informing the 10th Mountain SJA of his actions and the servicing SJA’s response during the deployment, CPT Pede was surprised at the 10th Mountain SJA’s response: “You could have paid me no higher compliment.” Lieutenant General Pede’s learning point and closing comment: “We trust you; trust yourselves; trust your instincts.”1

Continuing with the first day’s leadership theme, COL (Ret.) Marc Warren followed. In advising SJAs on their working relationship with the staff, he cautioned that nobody likes to work with a careerist—someone who is only concerned about their officer evaluation report, their next job, and themselves, but not concerned about advancing the team. Instead of bragging about their relationship with the Commanding General to the staff, COL (Ret.) Warren offered that SJAs would be better served as a team player—using their relationship with the Commanding General to highlight the successes of the other staff members.

Colonel (Ret.) Warren imparted another dose of humility when he offered the following equation: PG + L = S. He explained that they all are Pretty Good, plus some experienced Luck, which allowed them to be Successful. Providing advice on how to lead an office, COL (Ret.) Warren strongly encouraged a personal, caring approach to the team. As part of his encouragement to follow principles-based leadership, COL (Ret.) Warren challenged the room to “set the example but have fun.” He advised SJAs to “recognize your people often, always be ready to hand out a coin—even if it’s a nickel, . . . write personal notes of encouragement, . . . [and] walk around the office talking to your people in person.” In closing, COL (Ret.) Warren said, “Being a senior lawyer-leader is an honor, being responsible for people and the institution is a sacred trust, and [leaders should] have the heart of a Soldier and the mind of a lawyer.”2

Wrapping up the first morning, COL Gail Curley and COL Chuck Poche led a session titled “Leadership and Management: Arriving at the OSJA and Checking Systems.” They started by informing the attendees that, “TJAG chose you to be an SJA, not because you’re the best lawyer, but because you’re good at leading people.” Therefore, the SJAs should focus on providing leadership while allowing individual members of the OSJA the autonomy and responsibility to focus on their assigned area of the law. One area noted as ripe for the SJA to provide leadership was counseling. Again, highlighting the importance of the SJAs providing meaningful leadership to the office, COLs Curley and Poche concluded their presentation with, “Leadership is part of multiplicative function. If leadership is zero, it does not matter what else you throw at the problem—the result is zero.”3

(Credit: Jason Wilkerson)

The second day of the 49th SJA course focused on talent management. Lieutenant General Pede started the day with a presentation on “Strategic Talent Management.” He began with a discussion of the JAG Corps’ developmental philosophy expert and versatile (vice broadly skilled). The intent with his expert and versatile philosophy is to have “experts in the field as the need arrives.” He commented that sometimes the Corps needs to fill a specific role now and there isn’t time to grown an individual into the position. This philosophy also nests with the Army 2028 philosophy: “Employing multi-domain capabilities requires the Army to attract, retain, and employ leaders and Soldiers who collectively possess a significant breadth and depth of technical and professional expertise.”4 Lieutenant General Pede stressed the importance of developing experts and building a bench behind these experts ready to step up when needed. In doing so, TJAG believes that if judge advocates (JAs) want to, they can spend 60-70% of their assignments in two practice areas. He disagreed with the rumor that it would be career-ending for individuals to fill two similar jobs consecutively. In order to develop experts, some JAs need to fill two consecutive military justice billets or two administrative law billets. In fact, TJAG said he believes JAs become experts through persistent training combined with repeated experience in one or two legal functions over a career.

At the same time, he tasked SJAs and DSJAs with identifying future experts and “building the bench.” He began by saying that the assignment process is not just a Personnel, Plans & Training Office (PPTO) responsibility; it’s SJAs and DSJAs reviewing their people and making recommendations to PPTO after polling their subordinate leaders. Lieutenant General Pede then informed the crowd of significant changes in the personnel arena that he expected. Under the Assignment Interactive Module 2.0, a new, double-sided officer record brief (ORB) is pending release. The front will be the ORB that everyone is familiar with, and the back will be a professional resume. Importantly, the resume portion will not be visible by promotion boards and SJAs will not have access to the resume, though he indicated SJAs might have access in the future.5

Colonel Warren Wells, Chief of Plans at PPTO, provided a Force Structure Essentials brief which encouraged new SJAs to pay strict attention to managing and preserving legal positions on their Tables of Distribution and Allowances (TDAs) and Modified Tables of Organization and Equipment (MTOEs). The presentation also went over the steps SJAs can take to grow additional positions at their offices. As an update on recent projects, COL Wells announced that a new version of JALS Publication 1-1, Personnel Policies, had come out in May, and noted that the Judge Advocate Continuation Pay (JACP) program is now known as the Judge Advocate Officer Retention Bonus (JAORB).6

In her “Managing Active Component Personnel” brief, COL Tania Martin, Chief of PPTO, explained how JAs can become “experts” in TJAG’s call for expertise and versatility. She echoed TJAG’s explanation that JAs become experts in a special area through persistent training and repeated experience. To this, she added that aspiring SJAs should strive to be experts in a couple areas, but also must be able to perform in all areas. She also described the downstream effect of unexpected or late assignment changes. Moving one JA causes approximately seven assignment changes. In those situations, as with all other assignments, COL Martin said PPTO will be as honest and transparent as they possibly can; however, PPTO will not disclose what caused the assignment changes if it involves private personal reasons. Regarding on-station stability, COL Martin said the norm should be three-to-four-years at one location, but not necessarily in one job. Colonel Martin also described how the stability policy is easiest to implement at the junior ranks, but gets more difficult in the field grade ranks. Lieutenant General Pede said the goal of the three-to-four-year stability serves to increase retention, since this is one of the major reasons cited by JAs considering leaving the Corps. The other goal was to help individuals feel empowered to request to stay on station longer—they should not feel “institutionally forced to move.” Separately, Major General Stuart Risch, the Deputy Judge Advocate General (DJAG), commented on the reemergence of Skill Identifiers (SIs) and the concern from captains that SIs will be used to force JAs into certain careers. The DJAG assured the audience that SIs will not close the door on individuals pursuing positions in a practice area, regardless of having an SI in a different practice area. Instead, the SIs will open doors as PPTO will use them as one data point in determining a possible pool of individuals to fill billets that require a certain level of SI. This is in line with the “bench building” model for experts—as individuals continue to develop an expertise in a practice area, their SIs will increase to reflect this growing expertise.7

Command Sergeant Major Jeremiah Fassler, outgoing TJAGLCS CSM, provided a session on the management of paralegals on Tuesday afternoon with the goal of helping SJAs take care of their paralegals. He emphasized the importance of JA leaders reviewing the paralegal’s position name within the unit manning documents. The paralegal’s noncommissioned officer evaluation report (NCOER) will reflect whatever the position is named in manning documents and cannot be altered after the fact. Compared to JAs evaluations, paralegals have even fewer opportunities to receive “top block” NCOERs. Whereas officer senior raters are limited to rating 49% of individuals as Most Qualified, senior raters for enlisted are restricted to rating only 24% as Most Qualified. If an officer rates their first noncommissioned officer (NCO) as Most Qualified, they will not be able to award another Most Qualified until the ninth NCOER. Therefore, leaders should closely manage their NCO evaluation profile and be judicious in awarding Most Qualified ratings to their paralegal NCOs. As a result, NCOs have far fewer Most Qualified NCOERs. Command Sergeant Major Fassler also encouraged leaders to recognize the difference in officer and enlisted Soldiers being passed over for promotion. He said that even paralegals at the highest level are often two-time pass-overs to the next rank. Finally, he emphasized the importance of on-the-job training for paralegals. From their initial enlistment up to the point they are selected for Sergeant Major, paralegals only receive twenty-one weeks and three days of in-house school training.8

Brigadier General (BG) Joseph Berger, outgoing Commanding General of U.S. Army Legal Services Agency, started the afternoon’s Talent Management and Recruiting and Board Process sessions by saying that in the JAG Corps, “people are a pacing item.” Colonel Tania Martin described who actually makes up the General Officer Steering Committee (GOSC): DJAG, all three active component JAG brigadier generals, the Chief of PPTO, the Deputy Chief of PPTO, and the assignment officer for the rank being discussed. The GOSC generally determines assignments in descending rank order: first, colonel assignment selections, then lieutenant colonels (LTCs), and then majors to create a slate of proposed assignments for TJAG’s approval. She said that PPTO employs a “leadership team” approach in determining the individuals who make up an OSJA leadership team. After selecting the SJA, PPTO tries to ensure that the entire foundation, including the DSJA, legal administrator, and command paralegal, has complementary skills and personalities. Regarding promotion boards, BG Berger said that first impressions count. The first thing promotion board members see is a “larger than life” DA photo. While a good DA photo alone will not get the officer promoted, it does serve as a positive first impression similar to meeting someone. Brigadier General Berger said to think of a good DA photo as saying, “Hi, I’m Joe Berger. Please take a look at my file.” Brigadier Generals Berger and Pat Huston both commented on how often they see ORBs that were not updated and contained “surplus Soldier” or “known losses” in the assignment history.9

The third day focused on a variety of challenges and opportunities facing the JAG Corps in the future. Lieutenant Colonel Eric Widmar, Chief of Strategic Plans, Strategic Initiatives Office, and a representative from Army Futures Command began the day with a discussion of the Army’s new warfighting concept—Multi-Domain Operations (MDO) 2028—and its impacts for the JAG Corps. The concept is rooted in four interrelated trends that are shaping the future operational environment: increased competition across all five warfighting domains, an increasingly lethal and hyperactive battlefield, an operational environment that is volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous, and challenges to deterrence. Multi-Domain Operations 2028, which stems largely from the assumptions and guidance provided in the National Security Strategy and National Defense Strategy, explicitly identifies the return of great power competition and the rise of China and Russia as strategic competitors with the latter characterized as the leading tactical and technological pacing threat. These revanchist competitors, with new and formidable capabilities across the warfighting domains, are causing the Army—and the JAG Corps—to reevaluate how it is organized, trained, and equipped to meet the needs of the Army, both now and in the future.10

LTCs Dave Drake and Ted Martin provided a briefing on “Best Practices from Warfighter Exercises and Combat Training Centers.” One of their recommendations was for JAs to recognize that they are staff officers and they need to perform their staff officer role by knowing and implementing the Commanding General’s priorities. Lieutenant Colonel Drake recommended that JAs in operational billets know who the G3 is and understand the different warfighting functions. For those who might overlook the importance of National Security Law (NSL) within their OSJA, he cautioned that units in the field view the practice of NSL as a top priority and something the staff enjoys doing. The message was to help your subordinate JAs succeed by placing the appropriate amount of emphasis on NSL.11

Colonel Brian Hughes provided an update on reforms to the Military Health System as a result of the Fiscal Years 2017 and 2019 National Defense Authorization Act, which requires the Defense Health Administration to administer and manage all Department of Defense Military Treatment Facilities no later than 30 September 2021. In addition, the Army Campaign Plan directed additional reforms to the Army Medical Department (AMEDD), including the assignment of the AMEDD Center and School to U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command; the reorganization of the U.S. Army Medical Research and Material Command into separate organizations falling under Army Materiel Command (AMC) and Army Futures Command, and finally the tentative disestablishment of U.S. Army Medical Command as an Direct Reporting Unit to the Surgeon General. These reforms will affect legal support to the AMEDD primarily as it relates to torts and medical affirmative claims, contracting, and labor law, and as well as requiring reorganization and reassignment of the Office of Soldiers’ Counsel.12

The third day concluded with COL Jonathan Kent providing a U.S. Army Installation Management Command (IMCOM) update. He started with IMCOM’s new organization under AMC. U.S. Army Installation Management Command will now have five regional directorates: IMCOM Europe, IMCOM Pacific, IMCOM Directorate (ID) Training (U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) focused), ID Readiness (U.S. Army Forces Command (FORSCOM) focused), and ID Sustainment. Each ID will provide support to their named region and ID Training will support TRADOC installations while ID Readiness will support FORSCOM installations. As part of the transition, consolidated legal offices (CLO) will be under AMC. However, TJAG will retain qualifying authority for civilian legal assets under CLO SJAs.13

The fourth day of the course was devoted to military justice. Brigadier General Susan Escallier, outgoing Assistant Judge Advocate General for Military Law and Operations (MLO), began the day with Military Justice Philosophy and Management. The MLO told SJAs they must first consider their commander’s justice philosophy. With the military’s current focus on readiness, she offered that discipline is the foundation of lethality and readiness.14

The MLO was followed by TJAG and DJAG discussing strategic guidance and initiatives with military justice. Lieutenant General Pede said that winning and the length of sentence should not be the goal. Instead, SJAs should focus on the process and how well the government counsel prepared.15

Themes on the final day of the course mirrored the start of the course with MG Risch discussing leadership and the importance of caring for your people. Both speakers highlighted the importance of meaningful time outside of work and striving for more balance between work and life. Lieutenant General Piatt discussed the role of JAs advising commanders and how JAs facilitate unit readiness and mission accomplishment. Major General Risch provided his priorities: (1) lead, (2) develop future leaders, (3) be leaders of character (and raise your people the same way), (4) take care of your people and self, (5) just fix it, (6) develop systems and processes, (7) coordinate and communicate, (8) create, cultivate, and sustain relationships, (9) gain and maintain knowledge, and (10) inspire, excite, and motivate your people.16

The course concluded with TJAG and DJAG reminding the attendees of the importance of filling this crucial leadership role within the JAG Corps while ensuring they care for the individuals within their organizations who are all part of the larger JAG Corps family. TAL


MAJ Wegner is an associate professor in the Administrative and Civil Law Department at The Judge Advocate General Legal Center and School, Charlottesville, Virginia.


* Those quoted in this article consented to their name being used.

1. Lieutenant General Charles N. Pede, The Judge Advocate General, Address at the 49th Staff Judge Advocate Course: TJAG Expectation of JAGC Leaders (June 17, 2019).

2. Colonel (Ret.) Marc Warren, Former Staff Judge Advocate, Address at the 49th Staff Judge Advocate Course: Legal Leadership Principles (June 17, 2019).

3. Colonel Gail Curley, Staff Judge Advocate, U.S. Army Europe, and Colonel Chuck Poche, Staff Judge Advocate, XVIII Airborne Corps, Address at the 49th Staff Judge Advocate Course: Leadership and Management: Arriving at the OSJA and Checking Systems (June 17, 2019).

4. Training and Doctrine Command, PAM 525-3-1, The U.S. Army in Multi-Domain Operations 2028 (6 Dec. 2018).

5. Lieutenant General Charles N. Pede, The Judge Advocate General, Address at the 49th Staff Judge Advocate Course: Strategic Talent Management Guidance (June 18, 2019).

6. Colonel Warren Wells, Chief of Plans, Personnel, Plans, and Training Office, Address at the 49th Staff Judge Advocate Course: Force Structure Essentials (June 18, 2019).

7. Lieutenant General Charles N. Pede, The Judge Advocate General, and Colonel Tania Martin, Chief, Personnel, Plans, and Training Office, Address at the 49th Staff Judge Advocate Course: Managing Active Component Personnel (June 18, 2019).

8. Command Sergeant Major Jeremiah Fassler, Command Sergeant Major, The Judge Advocate General’s Legal Center and School, Address at the 49th Staff Judge Advocate Course: Management of Paralegals (June 18, 2019).

9. Major General Stuart W. Risch, The Deputy Judge Advocate General, Brigadier General Joseph Berger, Commander, U.S. Army Legal Services Agency, Brigadier General Pat Huston, Commander, The Judge Advocate General’s Legal Center and School, and Colonel Tania Martin, Chief, Personnel, Plans, and Training Office, Address at the 49th Staff Judge Advocate Course: Talent Management and Recruiting (June 18, 2019).

10. Lieutenant Colonel Eric Widmar, Strategic Initiative Office, Office of the Judge Advocate General, Address at the 49th Staff Judge Advocate Course: The Army Renaissance in Multi-Domain Operations (June 19, 2019).

11. Lieutenant Colonel Dave Drake, Chief, Operational Law, Mission Command Training Program and Lieutenant Colonel Ted Martin, Director, Center for Law and Military Operations, The Judge Advocate General’s Legal Center and School, Address at the 49th Staff Judge Advocate Course: Legal Best Practices from WFXs and CTCs (June 19, 2019).

12. Colonel Brian Hughes, Staff Judge Advocate, MEDCOM, Address at the 49th Staff Judge Advocate Course: MEDCOM Legal Issues (June 19, 2019).

13. Colonel Jonathan Kent, Staff Judge Advocate, IMCOM, Address at the 49th Staff Judge Advocate Course: IMCOM and the OSJA (June 19, 2019).

14. Brigadier General Susan Escallier, Assistant Judge Advocate General for Military Law and Operations, Address at the 49th Staff Judge Advocate Course: Military Justice Philosophy and Management (June 20, 2019).

15. Lieutenant General Charles N. Pede, The Judge Advocate General and Major General Stuart W. Risch, The Deputy Judge Advocate General, Address at the 49th Staff Judge Advocate Course: Military Justice: Strategic Guidance and Initiatives (June 20, 2019).

16. Major General Stuart W. Risch, The Deputy Judge Advocate General, Address at the 49th Staff Judge Advocate Course: Command Expectations of the SJA and Leading the JAGC Team (two presentations) (June 21, 2019).