FORT CARSON, Colo. — As a captain in the Army with just four years under his belt, one Soldier set a goal to exceed standards, and his ambitions haven’t gone unnoticed.
Capt. Robert Loftus, administrative law attorney with the 117th Legal Operations Detachment, an Army Reserve unit headquartered in Phoenix, came to Fort Carson on temporary orders as a judge advocate general (JAG). And while he only served at Fort Carson about nine months, his presence left a positive impact.
“Without any coaching or mentoring, Robert quickly integrated into this division,” said Col. Ryan Dowdy, staff judge advocate, 4th Infantry Division and Fort Carson. “It was clear to me that he was reading everything from the hard written policies that are going out, to studying the history and culture of this division, to understanding our place and what our role is … it speaks to his professionalism, his confidence, his dedication.”
Choosing a path
Before Loftus attended law school, he was intentional about what he wanted to do with his life. He said there were three areas of his life he wanted to develop: education, exposure to the world and to develop his leadership skills.
“I was thinking about different paths where I can be impactful … and I was looking at how I can make myself a better person in terms of adding more value,” he said.
Loftus began checking the boxes. After traveling the world, he pursued his education.
He began in the finance field and achieved a bachelor’s in finance and a finance-focused Master of Business Administration before he attained his Juris Doctorate degree.
Loftus said each degree impacted several areas, such as critical thinking, writing, analyzing and researching. Each degree afforded its own way of shaping Loftus. His law degree was more individually focused, pitting him against his peers, but his master’s degree was group oriented.
“Which helps out with the military (because it’s) very team-based, and working together trying to solve problems and execute the mission,” he added. “So combining the two is nice, where I have the critical thinking skill sets and the ability to work autonomously as an individual, but also I have those skill sets of working together in a group.”
Coming from a military Family — his father served 30 years in the Air Force in California and Nevada, Loftus said he always wanted to serve and joining the Army allowed him to chart his own path.
Fortunately, much of his work on the civilian side translated to his military career as a counselor and adviser.
“I’ve always wanted to serve. I’ve always wanted to get involved and after finishing law school, I knew that my window was closing,” Loftus said. “So I reached out and applied to the JAG Corps program. Fortunately, I was brought on, and it’s been one of the best decisions I’ve made.”
Loftus said he felt blessed to mobilize to Fort Carson with a fellow captain, Capt. Chandos Culleen, deputy brigade judge advocate and legal assistance attorney with 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 4th Inf. Div. The two officers have served their entire military career together before being put on active-duty orders at Fort Carson’s Office of the Staff Judge Advocate (OSJA). The two have used each other for advice and motivation.
“Rob and I came in together having gone through the same direct commission course and being assigned to the 117th before coming to Carson together,” Culleen said. “I can’t speak highly enough of Rob; he truly inspires me as a JAG and a Soldier.”
Integrating at 4th Inf. Div.
Meeting Culleen was just the beginning of many great military relationships, Loftus said, and it didn’t stop when he arrived in Colorado.
“I was fortunate where leadership has been great, my team has been great,” Loftus said. “The initial work that I was doing was in the administrative law shop, the mentorship from the SJA to my chief, helped me develop as a Soldier, as well as a military attorney and a JAG.”
He hit the ground running as he participated in the Warfighter exercise in October. Loftus said it was a different area of law — national security and operational law — and proved to be helpful as a JAG.
Dowdy said Loftus is a “first-term” judge advocate, which means he’s brand new to the Army.
“As judge advocates, we come in maybe a little bit different than the regular Army,” Dowdy added. “We will commission and go to the JAG course.”
Loftus came to Fort Carson as a critical need to backfill for deployed JAG officers.
“He crushed it. He came to us from his Reserve unit and he was immediately engaged, wanted to jump into the breech; be part of the team,” Dowdy said. “Immediately it was clear to me that he was a cohesive member of the team … he helped build up those around us and we fed off his energy. And there really wasn’t anything he wouldn’t do or volunteer for; he took every job we gave him.”
The Warfighter exercise has three command posts, and Loftus was put in charge of one, albeit a demanding one. Dowdy said he made Loftus the legal lead in the Support Area Command Post (SACP), advising Brig. Gen. Isaac J. Peltier, deputy commanding general for support, 4th Inf. Div. and Fort Carson.
As the senior legal officer, Dowdy said typically he would have had to bounce around the command post during the exercise, but due to COVID-19 that wasn’t possible.
“I really had to rely on Robert to do his job; and the feedback I got was, again, he crushed it,” Dowdy added. “He did such a great job there in the SACP as my senior legal adviser for that command post and advising Brig. Gen. Peltier. And I couldn’t have been more pleased. He operated at a level that I would expect from a much more senior judge advocate captain.”
While working in the law shop, Loftus pursued a specialized school, Air Assault, and with little time to apply and prepare, he jumped through necessary hoops to make the commitment.
“It was an easy answer for me — when he came to me — as we were several weeks out from his demobilization with the idea of sending him to Air Assault school,” Dowdy said.
Dowdy said he cautioned Loftus that he would only have one chance to get through the course.
Loftus was accepted, and in under a week, he had to show up physically and mentally ready to endure the 10-day course.
The school took place in Fort Campbell, Kentucky, and is broken into three phases each lasting three days: combat assault, sling load and rappel. Loftus said “day zero” included administrative tasks, a 2-mile run and an obstacle course — all before the course even began.
The captain said some events were more difficult than others, but Maj. Neil Alcaria gave him helpful advice before arriving at the school.
Having attended the school in 2006, Alcaria, deputy division public affairs officer, 4th Inf. Div., was a prime teacher to prepare Loftus with techniques for the school, and with only days to do so.
“I haven’t done a rope climb in years … so it required some strength and endurance, and fortunately I like to stay fit and active, like other Soldiers, and workout with my legal team,” Loftus said. “With the fitness levels that the (OSJA) teammates have, as well as my personal fitness, I was able to overcome the obstacle course.”
Loftus said the course was designed to weed people out with various runs, ruck marches, obstacle courses and “smoke” sessions — many Soldiers were disqualified.
“It was instrumental to at least have that basic level of fitness to be able to handle those physical requirements,” he added.
Along with the physically demanding tests, the Soldiers must also be sharp minded, as they would not advance to the next phase if they didn’t pass the written tests. But Loftus pushed through and excelled in each area of the course. The training didn’t stop on graduation day. The Soldiers had to complete a 12-mile ruck march before graduation. Loftus came in top 10 out of about 130 cadets.
Culleen said Loftus doesn’t just “keep up,” he excels. While Loftus is in his mid-30s, he outperformed many of the 18-19 year olds at the course achieving distinguished honor graduate, a testament to the JAG Corps motto: “Soldier first, lawyer always.” Loftus encapsulates that motto and requires others to uphold it, he added.
With the successful completion of the ruck march, the course ended and Loftus earned his wings as an official Air Assault Soldier.
“So he goes up there and not only does he successfully graduate, he’s the (distinguished) honor graduate,” Dowdy said. “So we couldn’t be more pleased with Robert and his performance and professionalism.”
Even states away, Loftus said the support he received showed the level of care from the division.
“There isn’t anything that he can’t do,” Alcaria said.
Loftus is the type of person to spend his days off studying and reading manuals, Alcaria said. Due to weather the 10-day course became longer than three weeks, but Loftus spent his time learning.
“He is so physically and mentally tough, he is dedicated, resilient — focused … he’s exceptional,” Alcaria added. “It wasn’t a surprise he got distinguished honor grad.”
Thankful for experience
While Loftus said he feels fortunate for the mentors at his civilian job, where he serves as a general counsel for a technology company, the military brings aspects to the table not enforced on the civilian side.
“On the (active-duty) military side … the volume and the amount of mentorship and camaraderie is very impressive,” he said. “Just the amount I have learned by interacting with leadership at different levels — I’ve grown tremendously with the amount of time that I have been here. I am walking away very grateful for all the relationships that I’ve built, but (also) all the data points I’ve gathered from watching other people and how professional and how squared away they are.”
Loftus said spending all day with Soldiers resonated with him and the focus on the people was important and not something so prominently seen on the civilian side.
And while he has seen the care and attentiveness throughout his chain of command at 4th Inf. Div., he was specifically impressed with Dowdy.
“(Dowdy) always has an open-door policy; he’s always investing into his Soldiers,” Loftus said. “With the amount of responsibility he has, he knows Soldiers on an individual level, which is quite impressive for the fact that he has limited time and how many people he has under his leadership.”
While Loftus serves as an Army Reserve Soldier, Dowdy said there was no difference when he arrived at Fort Carson.
“This just reinforces not only the importance of the integration of the total force, but the fact that our Reserve and National Guard brothers and sisters are professional and they are ready to serve right alongside us, and I couldn’t be more proud to have them as a part of our team,” Dowdy said. “I hate to lose him … and certainly hope to serve with him in the future.”