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DJAG’s Advice to the Newest LL.M Graduates





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Members of the 66th Graduate Course stand during their commencement ceremony, which was held at the University of Virginia Law School’s Caplin Auditorium in May (Courtesy LtCol Tony Burgos).

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Major General Stuart W. Risch, Deputy Judge Advocate of The Judge Advocate General’s Corps (JAGC), delivered the commencement address to the 66th Graduate Course on 31 May 2018. Below are excerpts from his speech.

In thinking about what to say to you today, that had some real meaning as you head out from the Legal Center and School to destinations far and wide, I discussed my comments with our Assistant Executive Officer, Lieutenant Colonel Toby Curto—a fairly recent graduate from the School and the Course—and I put the question to him: looking back, what did you want to hear?

What he liked most in the Graduate Course was when people talked about “How does Toby get from the lofty ideas to the nitty gritty,” and I believe that this is a great observation on his part.

So we developed the following four basic points, which I will briefly discuss: (1) Know Your Craft; (2) Know Your Client; (3) Know Your Crew; and (4) Know Yourself.

1. Know Your Craft

As Lieutenant General Pede and I have talked about since assuming our positions, you must be ready, personally and professionally, and ensure that those in your unit, office, and section are as well. That is, be the premier lawyer providing premier legal services that we talk about in our JAG Corps vision, a jack-of-all-trades and, quite honestly, a master of many.

What does this mean to me? As I have always said, and it’s in my leadership philosophy, you/we must provide what those we advise expect: timely (Is it great advice that came too late?), relevant (Does it address the identified issue? Is it both legal and practical? Does it ensure that the action is both lawful and not awful?), comprehensive (Have you considered all aspects of the problem and all potential solutions?), and legally-precise (Is it correct?) advice and counsel.

And the struggle to continue providing premier legal service is a never-ending one, which means the learning never stops. It is a constant focus to remain the subject matter expert (SME).

2. Know Your Client

Whether working for a Commander, Legal Assistance or Trial Defense Services client, or a Staff Judge Advocate (SJA) as an action attorney, you must know at least two things:

  1. What that individual expects from you as the legal advisor/SME in their unit or office—and this includes your capacity as a lawyer and as an officer, staff or otherwise—and then ensure that they get it.
  2. What are that individual’s blind spots—that is, what is it that they don’t know, and don’t know that they don’t know—which is the most dangerous area. Figure it out, and then train and educate them on what they need.

As a Corps SJA, I had five different Commanding Generals in four years, and they all had different methods of receiving and processing information, and making decisions, and they all came from different backgrounds with unique preconceptions and expectations, and it wasn’t them who had to change to fit my style and methods, trust me.

3. Know Your Crew

Simply stated, you cannot take care of your people if you don’t know them—what they are made of, what makes them tick, and what they want and need—and the same goes for their families as well.

4. Finally, Know Yourself, and Trust Yourself

I left the Graduate Course as a brand new major headed for our Litigation Division and 80 plus pending cases, undoubtedly wondering if I had what it takes. In two short years, I was serving as a Deputy in a Combat Division with the 4th ID at Fort Hood, Texas, and I survived both assignments, and then some. How?

Because, first and foremost, our Regiment had properly prepared me, in prior assignments and through my prior leadership—and certainly in my year here in Charlottesville—for all that I was going to face. I wish someone had told me when I sat where you now sit—and maybe they did, and I just failed to listen—that I had an awesome set of tools that equipped me to succeed in all that I did and I was only going to add a lot more really cool equipment at each new assignment. So, trust yourself, trust your training, and trust your instincts. We have provided you, and will continue to provide you, a really gnarly set of gear. So you’re ready for this, and you’ll only get even more ready over time.

But know yourself as well, what you bring to the fight, your weaknesses, your blind spots, your comfort zones, and always remain a work in progress.

(Credit: SSG Carlos Graves)

Paralegal Warrior Competition

Specialist Anthony Cantini, 25 ID, 1 SBCT, Alaska, in the photo to the left with a rifle over his shoulders, is shown completing his 12-mile ruck march during the USARPAC Paralegal Warrior Competition. The 4-day competition, held 30 April through 3 May 2018, tests Soldier and paralegal tasks to determine the top paralegal NCO and Soldier in the USARPAC AOR.

BG Huston Visits Illinois

Brigadier General R. Patrick Huston, right, poses with Second Lieutenant Makiya Thomas at the Eastern Illinois University ROTC Commissioning Ceremony on 4 May 2018.

Kids to Work

United States Army Legal Services Agency hosted a Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day on Thursday, 26 April 2018, at Fort Belvoir, Virginia. The children enjoyed a morning of physical training, visits from the base police and fire department, a water demonstration by the Environmental Law Division on how pollution and littering affect our waterways, and a mock trial of DAD vs. GAD.

TJAG Presents at MILOPS

Members of the Army JAG Corps senior leadership attended the 31st Annual Military Law and Operations (MILOPS) conference hosted by U.S. Indo-Pacific Command in Singapore from 23-26 April 2018. MILOPS offers a unique opportunity for strategic-level leaders in the Asia-Pacific region to discuss current issues of significance in the areas of law, operations, and policy. Lieutenant General Pede, the senior Army representative at the conference, gave a presentation entitled “The Law of Armed Conflict from the Practitioners’ Perspective.”

Paralegals Complete Situational Training

During every cycle of the Paralegal Specialist Course, Advanced Individual Training students participate in the Quartermaster Situational Training Exercise (QMSTX), at Fort Lee, Virginia. This rigorous and realistic exercise reinforces training of their skill level 1 Warrior Tasks and Battle Drills and evaluates their ability to react to a variety of scenarios in squad-sized elements to help them prepare for follow-on assignments and worldwide deployments.

For two days, Soldiers are given scenarios that test individual and collective tasks while exposing them to mission planning and troop leading procedures. The tasks include: occupy an assembly area, conduct area defense, conduct tactical movement, react to ambush, react to indirect fire, react to possible improvised explosive device and react to unexploded ordinance (UXO).

They also operate in deployed BCT legal teams, addressing a variety of legal issues from operational law to foreign claims to military justice, in a full day field of military occupational specialty (MOS) training.

Retired Major General Michael J. Nardotti, left, with retired Major General Walter B. Huffman and Lieutenant General Charles Pede, the current Judge Advocate General.

Nardotti Named Distinguished Member of JAGC

On 28 April 2018, The Judge Advocate General, Lieutenant General Charles N. Pede, awarded the title of Distinguished Member of The Judge Advocate General’s Corps to Major General (MG) (Retired) Michael J. Nardotti. Major General Nardotti is only the twenty-fifth person in our Corps’ history to receive this honor.

Major General Nardotti began his life of service as a cadet at West Point. In 1970, while deployed to Vietnam, then Lieutenant Nardotti extracted a four-man Ranger recon element while under enemy fire. During the extraction, Nardotti received severe wounds to his neck that ultimately shattered his voice box. He was also hit in the shoulder by a tracer round. He recovered from his wounds and received the Silver Star for his gallantry.

In 1976, MG Nardotti earned his law degree from Fordham Law School. Shortly thereafter he began his career in the JAGC. Over the next twenty years, MG Nardotti served the Corps with honor and distinction. In 1993, he was selected to serve as The Judge Advocate General. He retired in 1997. He is the architect of the JAGC Operational Law Practice. His vision allowed judge advocates to serve at the brigade staff level.

Even in retirement, MG Nardotti continues to serve both the Corps and the nation. In 2001, he testified before Congress regarding the 9/11 attacks and the role of courts and commissions. He served on several blue ribbon panels in order to assist the Air Force with ending sexual assaults at the United States Air Force Academy. He continues to help recruit the best and brightest to our Corps by attending outreaches at schools such as Fordham. MG Nardotti’s selfless service serves as an example that all members of the JAG Corps can strive to emulate.