ROCK ISLAND ARSENAL, Ill. -- First Army brought its headquarters, brigade, and battalion legal team members together to better equip them to carry out their duties during the third annual First Army Legal Summit here Aug. 14-16.

The approximately 35 attendees were staff judge advocates, paralegals, and civilian attorneys, according to Lt. Col. Matthew Kemkes, First Army staff judge advocate. Kemkes outlined what those attendees got out the summit.

"I had three goals for the summit," he said. "First, I wanted to provide an opportunity for the legal teams from across First Army to meet me and each other in person, many for the first time. We had new leadership arrive at the headquarter level to include the SJA, deputy SJA, and the Chief of Justice. We also had some recently-arrived attorneys and paralegals at the division and brigade level. It was important to me that we build positive relationships with each other so we can accomplish the mission more effectively in the coming months and years."

It was also vital to drill down on specialized areas of military law, he added.

"Second, I wanted personnel, both those newly arrived and those who have been with First Army a while, to learn from subject matter experts and each other about the topics included on the agenda," Kemkes said. "While some of the training was familiarization, other blocks of instruction were focused on specific areas of the law that attorneys and paralegals need to master, especially those tasks that are unique to or more frequently arising in First Army units."

He also wanted legal team members to understand the value of their contributions.

"My third goal for the summit was to convey to the attendees the importance of the work they do for First Army and the Army," Kemkes said. "It was important for me to express to the attendees, especially our newly arriving teammates, that what they are undertaking is important and to encourage them to be passionate about their duties."

Attendees were mostly from First Army units.

"We invited our colleagues from the Army Sustainment Command Staff Judge Advocate at Rock Island Arsenal to attend our legal summit and a few of them attended portions of the training," he said. "The vast majority of attendees, however, were assigned to the OSJA at the First Army Headquarters, Division West, or Division East. In fact, we had all 10 attorneys present who advise First Army's 10 subordinate brigades, as well as nine paralegal NCOs. Attendees also included judge advocate active and Reserve career managers from the Pentagon, legal personnel from the 85th ARSC, a representative from the USAR Legal Command, an attorney from the Center for Law and Military Operations at the Judge Advocate General's Legal Center and School, and an OC/T judge advocate from JRTC at Fort Polk."

They were advised on a number of topics and given crucial information they can take back to their home stations. Among those giving briefings were Maj. Gen. Chris Gentry, First Army deputy commanding general for support, and Elliott Rogers, First Army G3/G5/G7.

"Maj. Gen. Gentry provided guidance to the attendees about being effective legal advisors from a commander's perspective. Mr. Rogers spoke about how First Army conducts operations and provided helpful background information to assist personnel new to First Army," Kemkes said. "The SJAs from each division, as well as each brigade judge advocate, introduced themselves and gave a presentation to familiarize other attendees with their legal section's unit and mission. On days two and three of the summit, we focused on best practices when dealing with a variety of military justice and administrative law matters. Days two and three also included breakout sessions where attorneys and paralegals met in separate locations to focus on different topics with classes instructed by First Army legal personnel or outside subject matter experts. Having representatives from the command and outside subject matter experts speak provided important lessons and perspectives we could not have provided without their participation."

This will all help down the road, Kemkes added.

"The attendees should be able to better understand how their mission fits in with the rest of what First Army is doing on a daily basis around the country," he said. "Legal advisors should have gained a common understanding of the way ahead for partnering with Reserve Component personnel, enabling them to better perform their observer coach/trainer duties. When faced with issues at their home installations, attendees can rely on their training from the summit to help them support their commands. While they may not always know the exact answer initially, I hope they have established a rapport so they will feel comfortable calling their peers or those of us at the headquarters for assistance. Knowing what issues to be looking for, and knowing who to call for assistance when those issues arise, will enable the division and brigade legal teams to accomplish their missions more effectively and best serve our client."