Mock court martial in Alabama sets the bar for training

By Maj. Andrew J. RichardsonAugust 14, 2018

Mock court martial in Alabama sets the bar for training
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Mock court martial in Alabama sets the bar for training
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Mock court martial in Alabama sets the bar for training
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Mock court martial in Alabama sets the bar for training
4 / 4 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Mississippi National Guard Maj. Jonathan Bullock, Trial Defense Council, questions the accused during the 4th annual 167th Theater Sustainment Command mock court martial, Aug. 2, 2018, at the Calhoun County Courthouse, Anniston, Alabama. Military jud... (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

The 167th Theater Sustainment Command Judge Advocate General section culminated a year-long training exercise Aug. 7-8, 2018, at the Calhoun County Courthouse, Anniston, Alabama. The exercise was designed to train the entire Judge Advocate General section on military justice and the conduct of military tribunals.

The event was planned and executed by the JAG section of the 167th and lead up to a formal court martial. Alabama National Guard Soldiers (mostly from the TSC) filled nearly all the roles of the accused, counsel, judge, panel (jury), and witnesses. The commanding general, the staff judge advocate, and the JAG staff all played their own roles as they would in an actual case. The participants worked through all of the preliminary proceedings leading up to the trial throughout the last year during drill periods, exercising the entire JAG section, other staff members and the commanding general.

This was the fourth annual 167th TSC mock court martial, and was held in the Calhoun County Courthouse, just a short distance from the TSC headquarters. The event looked, sounded, and felt like a real court martial, with Soldiers in their Army Service Uniform, and attorneys for each side calling witnesses and making arguments, all against the backdrop of an actual courtroom. The case was based on real-life military disciplinary issues to keep the scenario as realistic as possible.

The charge against the Soldier in the scenario stemmed from events that took place during an annual training event in a country in the U.S. Southern Command area of responsibility, which reflects the 167th's new mission to support SOUTHCOM. As an added level of realism, one of the witnesses was a Soldier in the South American nation's military and required an interpreter to translate between Spanish and English for the court. Since the majority of the people living in the SOUTHCOM area of responsibility are Spanish speakers, this was a critical training point for the command.

Military attorneys from several other states' National Guards travelled to Alabama to observe the training and take back valuable training tips for their own organizations. JAG personnel came from National Guard Bureau, Georgia, Florida, Illinois, Kentucky, and Mississippi.

"If you're thinking about how to do this in your own state, go back to what you know," said Col. David H. Estes, 167th staff judge advocate. He told the visitors from other states that the planning for the training had come from his years of experience in the military.

As the senior logistics command in the National Guard, the 167th TSC works hard to ensure its training is a leader for Guard units everywhere. "As the only TSC in the Guard, we feel we have a leadership role in the sustainment community, especially as it regards training," said Maj. Gen. Donald B. Tatum, commanding general of the 167th TSC. "We're very pleased that other states sent some JAG officers to observe this training, and we will help them in any way we can to craft similar training in their organizations."

Not only were Soldiers from other states on hand to observe, but some were actually participating in the training. Maj. Jonathan Bullock of the Mississippi National Guard was part of the defense team. He has driven the five hours to the TSC for drill for six months in preparation for the trial.

JAG officers "could be using (training) time in a courtroom setting like this," said Bullock. "Working from the beginning of the initial charge sheet until the court martial. It's definitely a good experience -- getting into the courtroom." Bullock also expressed a desire to take the benefits of the training back to Mississippi with him. "We could at least somewhat emulate what Alabama is doing right now, which is incredible."

Illinois National Guard Soldier Staff Sgt. Stephanie Moore from the 108th Sustainment Brigade served as the court reporter.

After the realism of hearing two days of court action from seating the panel to interviewing witnesses and making arguments, the after action review conducted after the reading of the verdict served as a reminder that the event was, in the end, still an Army training exercise.

When the trial was complete, the verdict read, and after action review complete, the 167th JAG section packed up and headed back to the armory. They have until drill in October to digest the training points of this mock court martial before they begin preparing for the next one.