In an effort to consolidate advocacy training for the Army’s legal professionals, the first Advocacy Center in the Department of Defense is set to open on Fort Belvoir in early May.
According to Lt. Col. Theo Voudouris, the center’s operations officer, the advocacy center is a new initiative, started by the previous Judge Advocate General of the Army.
Now, construction on the center is finished, with equipment expected soon at the facility, across Belvoir’s Gunston Road from Bldg. 1450, the U.S. Army Legal Services Agency. The center is housed in what used to be Belvoir’s Kawamura Human Performance Center.
“The advocacy center will synchronize all advocacy training, within one facility on Belvoir,” Voudouris said. “This will serve as a centralized location for members of the Army JAG Corps, worldwide, to attend training courses in civil and military justice litigation. The center will also have seven, state-of-the-art courtrooms for training and mock trials.
“This new facility is in line with the Secretary of the Army’s priorities to combat sexual assault and enhance military justice capabilities, merging all advocacy training into one facility,” he said.
JAG Corps Soldiers and civilians have their initial training in Charlottesville, Va., and other locations, with follow-on advocacy training conducted in a variety worldwide locations.
“Having one location makes it easier for experts in the National Capital Region to come together, join forces and learn and train together,” Voudouris said, adding it will be the only advocacy center in the Defense Department. The Advocacy Center is modeled after the Justice Department’s National Advocacy Center in Columbia, S.C.
“This is truly a major development for the Army and for the DoD,” he said. “No facilities outside of the Justice Department have this.”
Also, the new facility will offer new, civil litigation courses such as deposition training, which allows for more intensive training, when legal professionals can learn the intricacies of the military justice system, all in coordination with the JAG.
“This will provide the next level of training, after the JAG School. They can come here, learn in state-of-the-art courtrooms, with judges and experts in the legal field, as teachers,” Voudouris said.
He also said the center will offer an electronic evidence course, which is a new focus over the last decade in both military and civilian legal fields. “There are millions of electronic documents in many of our cases, and the center will bring in guest speakers and civil litigators to train the JAG Corps on electronic evidence.
“The intent is to have everyone come in for hands-on, state-of-the-art training, from a group of experts,” Voudouris said.
Michael Mulligan, a prosecutor and former judge on the Army Court of Criminal Appeals, the advocacy center’s first civilian director, also greatly anticipates the opening.
“This center will increase our proficiency and our practice,” Mulligan said. “It’s more than just criminal law, but environmental law, housing law, safe water laws … topics military lawyers are working on, now.”
Brig. Gen. George Smawley, commander, U.S. Army Legal Services Agency and chief judge, Army Court of Criminal Appeals, said, "We're really looking forward to the advocacy center's opening. This will certainly have long-term, positive benefits for all the personnel in the Army JAG Corps. We expect the advocacy center will also be a focal point for advanced-trial advocacy across the military justice and civil law disciplines and community of practice.”
Lt. Gen. Stuart W. Risch, the Army’s Judge Advocate General, said he knows the center will be successful. “The sheer volume of collaboration and learning, at the center, will be incredibly powerful. Also, with the mock courtrooms, Army JAG Corps personnel will become even better in the work they do,” Risch said. “And, it’ll be a superb facility for everyone to learn from experts in their field. This center is just what the Army needs, at the perfect time.”
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Baltimore District worked on the design-build project, in partnership with a local, small-business contractor. Together, they converted an existing gym into a modern training space.
"Our installation support team did an incredible job on this,” said Col. Estee Pinchasin, district commander. "Our team members worked through complex challenges to modify the mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems; and install audio-visual equipment. We are so proud to deliver such facilities and perform this type of work for our military partners, which helps ensure their continued readiness."
Construction began last fall on the $7 million, nearly 9,300 square-feet facility.
Army Advocacy Center opening
10 a.m. May 5
Fort Belvoir, Va.
First in-class session begins May 9, with courses scheduled through this fiscal year, which ends in September.
Belvoir Garrison Public Affairs plans to cover the center’s opening on Facebook live.