GAITHERSBURG, Maryland - Commanders and senior paralegal noncommissioned officers from U.S. Army Reserve Legal Command joined by The Judge Advocate General of the U.S. Army, Lt. Gen. Charles N. Pede, met on Sept. 14 for a three-day information sharing and readiness summit.
Lt. Gen. Pede and Brig. Gen. Mitchell R. Chitwood, commander of the U.S. Army Reserve Legal Command, kicked off the annual event, called the Commander/Chief Paralegal Sync Training. In all, 108 Soldiers attended, to include 30 commanding officers, 36 senior enlisted paralegal NCOs, several warrant officers, and 42 USAR Legal Command staff members.
By visiting, Pede reinforced "the absolutely vital role that our Reserve Judge Advocates and paralegals play in the total Army and in the Judge Advocate General's Corps," he said. Known as TJAG, Pede provides oversight and direction to all Army lawyers, called Judge Advocates, as well as all legal warrant officers and paralegals.
"We couldn't do our job, we couldn't support the Army and commanders in the field or Judge Advocates on active installations without our Reserve component brothers and sisters," Pede said.
Pede provided an overview of the Judge Advocate General's Corps' (JAGC) current operations and fielded dozens of questions in a lively exchange. Leaders discussed issues USAR Legal Command
Soldiers face when supporting active duty operations, to include technological access and cost-sharing. Mostly, they searched for ways to increase support and training opportunities between Active and Reserve component Soldiers in the JAGC. The concept, known in Army terms as AC-RC integration, remains a persistent focus despite the mobilization and deployment of thousands of Reserve Soldiers in support of their active-duty counterparts in the past 16 years, Pede said.
"AC-RC partnerships are right at the top of my list," he added.
USAR Legal Command Soldiers offered Pede proposals on how to achieve tighter and cost-efficient AC-RC integration, including increasing joint training opportunities, inviting active-duty Soldiers to battle assembly and linking active duty Judge Advocates with their Reserve counterparts earlier in their careers.
The Army Reserve provides approximately 40 percent of the Army's attorneys. USAR Legal Command controls operations for 28 Legal Operations Detachments (LODs). Most of the LODs provide general legal services, and administrative and operational law. Three LODs focus on trial defense advice and service. One provides Army judges for courts-martial and another provides attorneys with specialized legal knowledge.
"I'm truly grateful for what you do for our service and our profession. You have a TJAG who knows that every day you are working harder than I am," Pede said. "I know that you have two or three jobs, with your work, the Reserve and your Families, and that you have to balance that."
Pede encouraged the USAR Legal Command leaders to focus their Soldiers on core legal competencies -- writing, speaking and briefing. "We practice law face to face," Pede said. "Teach junior Soldiers how to practice law."
Engaging and in-depth discussions, rather than presentation slides, made the training worthwhile, said Sgt. 1st Class Mariela Rodriguez, chief paralegal NCO for the Chicago-based 91st LOD.
"I got a better grasp of what deficiencies are in my unit and began brainstorming ways to correct them," Rodriguez said, adding that knowing the command's full-time staff gives her an advantage to helping Soldiers.
A clinical research coordinator at the University of Illinois Cancer Center, Rodriguez said she was glad to hear the TJAG and other leaders recognize that Reserve Soldiers are managing two careers.
"I appreciated that the TJAG just asked us how we felt about active duty and Reserve components," Rodriguez said. "He truly wants the active duty and Reserves to work together more."
Setting the tone for the weekend event, the Legal Command's most senior officer, Chitwood discussed the Legal Command's role if mobilized. Legal Command Soldiers can expect to support contingency missions at home and abroad, he said. Therefore, he stressed the need for unit leaders to continually emphasize training and readiness.
Headquartered in Gaithersburg, about 25 miles northwest of Washington, D.C., the USAR Legal Command oversees 1,800 personnel stationed in 104 cities in 43 states in the continental U.S. and two overseas locations. This includes Soldiers serving as Judge Advocates, warrant officers, paralegal noncommissioned officers, junior enlisted personnel, plus civilian professionals. The command serves the legal needs of Army Reserve Soldiers, Families, and retirees. It also mobilizes individuals and teams to support the active Army, backfilling units, working at installation legal offices and supporting forward deployed military missions.
"We are on standby for any upcoming operations," Chitwood said. "We have to be more purposeful and focused in the training we do, so it's linked to the bigger picture."
Chitwood pinpointed three key areas legal units must emphasize and develop when preparing to mobilize -- trust, discipline and fitness. Soldiers must also prepare their civilian lives for the eventuality of world-wide deployment, to include school, work and family, Chitwood said.
"Have that conversation with your Soldiers now; it's too late when the alert hits," Chitwood said. "This is what we do at the Legal Command, mobilize and deploy to support our Army. When called, we serve."