NORMAN, Okla. -- Army and Air National Guard lawyers and paralegals gathered this week to train on new developments in the National Guard for the future of the Judge Advocate General (JAG) profession at the National Center for Employee Development in Norman, Oklahoma, May 16 through 19.
Approximately 300 Army and Air Guard members from nearly every state and territory attended the four-day training event that encompassed military justice, fiscal law, first responder training, a sexual assault survivor panel, domestic operations discussions and high-level briefings from top ranking officials from the legal community.
Brig. Gen. Stuart W. Risch, assistant JAG for Military Law and Operations for the U.S. Army, on Tuesday, gave a briefing about the state of the Army JAG Corps, discussing topics such as the current political and military environment, readiness, the future of the Army, caring for troops and military justice.
The Army JAG mission is to, "Provide principled counsel and premier legal services, as committed members of the legal and Army professions, in support of a ready, globally responsive and regionally engaged Army."
"There are seven Army values, but I believe one stands out above the rest and that's integrity, and that's what we do," Risch said. "We [JAGs] need to be people of character, people of credibility, people to trust."
Lt. Col. Erin McMahon, deputy chief counsel for the National Guard Bureau (NGB), said the training event was a great way to push information to all the JAGs at the same time, for team building and a great venue for JAGs to give their feedback to NGB.
"To give them an opportunity to learn about changes to law and policy in our field and to ponder these bigger challenging issues," McMahon said. "They can see how other states are dealing with their challenging issues."
"There was a lot of valuable information," said Maj. Jeremiah Hagemeier, deputy JAG for the Oklahoma National Guard. "It's important for all the JAGs to get together and get the different perspectives from different states. At the end of the day, we all do the same job, but we have a different set of experiences. So when we get together, we can share those experiences with each other to help prepare all of us."
Lt. Col. Tracianna Winston, chief of the special victim's counsel division at NGB, provided Sexual Assault Prevention and Response (SAPR) First Responder training for JAG personnel on Tuesday. Following their annual training requirement was an in-depth panel discussion with 10 professionals who are involved with the response process from start to finish. Using fictional stories based on past cases, the panel took turns addressing their part in the administrative legal process.
Winston stressed the importance that the JAG is responsible for "enhancing the safety and well-being of all persons by providing a culture free of sexual assault." They accomplish this via prevention, education and training, response capability, victim support, reporting procedures and appropriate accountability.
"You as JAGs are instrumental in ensuring these processes we put in place are actually being implemented," McMahon said. "Because if it breaks down at the legal level, it can almost never get back on track."
Five survivors of sexual assault participated on a panel, sitting next to their legal representation, and told the story of their sexual assault case and the legal process that proceeded.
"I think the panel members provided a unique perspective on what it was that largely impacted them," McMahon said. "As first responders, we are always trying to do what is in the best interest for the victims, but we can't always put ourselves in their shoes."
On Friday, attendees were briefed about the basics of cyber warfare and the legal implications of the National Guard's cyber protection teams (CPT). Cyber activity has been a hot topic lately with the rise of hacking attempts and ransomware such as "WannaCry."
"The cyber process is something that is relatively new, we haven't had an opportunity to work with a lot of these issues brought up at the training," Hagemeier said. "It's critical for us to get together with other JAGs who have worked these cyber issues."
McMahon had specific reasons to discuss this new topic to the military, "To ensure everybody is thinking about this issue of cyber-attacks and how we can utilize our Guard to assist in that venue. And the Guard is really at the forefront to provide that capability with our cyber protection teams."
McMahon said NGB is working on specialized training for JAGs to teach them the legal ramifications and issues that could arise with cyber warfare.
"We're at a very unique time right now [with cyber-attacks]," McMahon said. "This training is a good opportunity to give JAGs the latest and greatest information about National Guard capabilities, the laws that are impacted and the DOD policies that apply.
After the cyber 101 presentation, a four-person panel discussed domestic operations and the importance of the legal aspects when Guardsmen are called up for their state mission.
"The domestic operations is the first mission and one of the most important missions that the National Guard does," Hagemeier said. "I think the domestic operations panel was my favorite in the training overall because of that high importance."
There are about 10,000 personnel in the JAG field Army-wide. Army JAG has military occupation specialties of paralegal specialists and Army Judge Advocate General's Corps Attorney. The Air Force has positions in Judge Advocate Officer and paralegal.