[Phone rings] “Did you see JAGCNet?! TJAG and DJAG approved reimbursement of bar dues—awesome!”1
The flurry of Sends, Special Announcements, and JAG Connectors is not (just) the product of the Good Idea Fairy’s wand. Rather, it is a consequence of an Army in transition. After more than eighteen years of a counter-insurgency/terrorism fight, the Army is embracing a “new” paradigm. To quote the bard, “the past is prologue.”2 And, more specifically, inter-state strategic competition is back. As the Army prepares to meet that future, so, too, must the Judge Advocate General’s (JAG) Corps.
Of course, as Yogi Berra observed, predictions are hard, especially about the future.3 Yet forecasting remains essential if we are to prepare for an uncertain future. It takes ten or so years to develop a field grade officer, which means that the managers of the JAG Corps in 2030 are (mostly) already serving today. It also means that any policy affecting who we recruit, how we train and educate, and where and when we employ our officers, Soldiers, and Civilian employees is often only fully realized several years after that policy is implemented.
In short, the JAG Corps must prepare now for the challenges and opportunities of tomorrow. This means that the JAG Corps must make decisions today, about tomorrow.
The Judge Advocate General’s (TJAG) Strategic Initiatives Process is the JAG Corps’s mechanism to deliberately prepare for the coming future. While many in the Corps see its messages, it is important for all to understand the process that generates the decisions and their implementation.
Today’s process builds upon the successes of—and lessons learned from—earlier efforts. For instance, Lieutenant General Flora D. Darpino, the thirty-ninth TJAG, instituted TJAG’s Strategic Planning Process. Among other things, that process created the position of the Strategic Initiatives Officer within the Office of the Judge Advocate General (OTJAG).4 Thanks to the efforts of many, it has evolved into its current form, which is reflected in TJAG’s Strategic Initiatives Charter and Process.5
The Charter forms the Strategic Initiatives Office (SIO) and the Board of Directors (BoD). Overall, the SIO “is responsible for collecting legal service gaps from the field, senior leaders, and OTJAG; conducting an initial review of the gaps; and shepherding proposed solutions to these gaps through the strategic initiatives process.”6 In other words, based on feedback from leaders, subject-matter experts, and the field, the SIO team identifies gaps between today’s capabilities and tomorrow’s requirements for legal support. The SIO team then works with the BoD and others throughout the Regiment and Army to develop suitable, feasible, and acceptable plans to fill those gaps.
The BoD itself is the critical mechanism. It is composed of a rotating pool of senior judge advocates from across the active component, Army Reserve, and National Guard, appointed by TJAG or the Deputy Judge Advocate General (DJAG). Composition of the BoD is based on position, representing the corporate body of the JAG Corps, and it brings together our most experienced leaders twice a year to reflect on where we are and to recommend how we get to where we need to be.
The BoD process begins months in advance of its meetings. A variety of means identifies capability gaps, including members of the JAG Corps directly, through their staff judge advocates(SJAs), or even through the Virtual Suggestion Box. Once received, the SIO team conducts an initial analysis to determine whether the proposed topic addresses a known or emerging capability gap and, if the suggestion included a proposed solution, whether it is feasible. Through periodic meetings with the JAG Corps leadership, the SIO refines the list of possible discussion topics, ultimately receiving approval from TJAG and DJAG to further analyze the problem and proposed solutions (if any) to present to the next BoD meeting.
Leading up to the BoD meeting, the SIO works with experts to analyze the proposed problem and identify potential solutions or key facts and assumptions. The experts and SIO team develop concise discussion papers and provide them to the BoD members a few weeks before the meeting. This enables BoD members to review the topics and conduct their own analysis (including sharing with members of their offices), enabling them to arrive at the BoD fully prepared to participate in problem solving. Board of Director members consider each initiative and make recommendations to TJAG and DJAG.
For instance, over the past years, the practice of law within the Army has changed, including new requirements and areas of practice. This led to the conclusion that the JAG Corps needed to develop, systematically, more expertise within its legal functions—something that takes significant resources, including time. As a consequence, the BoD recommended, and TJAG and DJAG approved, initiatives ranging from the expert-and-versatile career model to extended tour lengths to the Military Justice Redesign (MJR).
These initiatives are all designed to further the development of that expertise—but also to maintain the versatility within the regiment, necessary to meet new, unplanned requirements. Indeed, the “hedge” against getting that future wrong is ensuring that our structure remains flexible enough to adapt to the unanticipated.
Board of Director meetings are not just about new ideas. They play a key role in evaluating ongoing efforts. As the process has evolved, the BoD now includes time dedicated to assessing previously-approved initiatives to ensure that those initiatives are implemented as planned, and to help identify any issues, additional required resources, or other refinements. Indeed, an initiative is not complete until it is fully planned, implemented, studied, and, if warranted, refined.
The future may be hard to be predict, but one prediction is certain—the future is coming, one way or another. Any policy is a bet on a future: even the policy to continue the status quo is a bet that tomorrow is going to be—in all material respects—like today. That may well be the case, but it also may not. The Strategic Initiatives Process is about deliberately preparing the JAG Corps for that tomorrow, so that each us is ready for what we may be called to do. TAL
1. TJAG & DJAG Sends, Vol. 40-13 (August 2019 - Bar Dues Reimbursement) (29 Aug. 2019). This is available on the JAGCNet website for authorized users.
2. William Shakespear, The Tempest, Act 2, Scene I (Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press 1958) (1611).
3. This quote is often attributed to Lawrence Peter “Yogi” Berra (1925-2015).
4. Policy Memorandum 14-07, The Judge Advocate General, subject: TJAG’s Strategic Planning Process (28 Apr. 2014) (copy on file with authors).
5. Memorandum, The Judge Advocate General, subject: The Judge Advocate General’s Strategic Initiatives Charter and Process (14 Mar. 2018) (copy on file with authors).